The Beatles had the Cavern Club. For Dave Grohl, it was the Lake Braddock Community Center.
The Springfield product played many rock shows in the small building near Lake Braddock High School, honing his chops in bands such as Dain Bramage, Mission Impossible and Freak Baby. Then at 17, he joined the Bailey’s Crossroads band Scream, which had a national following. And not long after that, while stranded in Los Angeles with Scream, he hooked up with a Seattle outfit named Nirvana.
In an excellent new biography of Grohl entitled “This is a Call,” British journalist Paul Brannigan spends plenty of time detailing the pre-Nirvana years of Grohl in the Springfield area, and also reveals that all or parts of three Foo Fighters albums were recorded in a house in Alexandria, and that their most recent album was inspired by those Alexandria sessions.
Much of this may be old news to die-hard Foo Fighter fans, but in the interests of historic preservation, and because Fairfax County has yet to recognize its greatest musical export, we list the important landmarks that may someday have their own commemorative historical plaques.
North Springfield neighborhood, Springfield: When Dave Grohl was three, his family moved from Warren, Ohio, to a house in the North Springfield area of Fairfax County. Grohl grew up there with his mother, a Fairfax County school teacher, and his sister. His father, a newspaper reporter for the Scripps-Howard chain, moved out when Grohl was 6 and his parents divorced. Though he left at age 3, Warren, Ohio, has installed a giant pair of 900-pound drumsticks in honor of Grohl, and renamed an alley David Grohl Alley. But his true hometown of Springfield, and Fairfax County, have made no such gestures. So far.
North Springfield Elementary School, Springfield: At the age of 9, Dave started playing guitar, and in the fifth grade at North Springfield, he and his pal Larry Hinkle formed his first band, the H.G. Hancock Band. According to Brannigan, Grohl had read that Lynyrd Skynyrd was named after a school gym teacher, and so Hinkle and Grohl (H.G.) added their gym teacher’s name to their band. The Grohl wit, shining through already.
Holmes Middle School, Annandale: Not mentioned in the book, but the place where Grohl spent his seventh and eighth grade years. For the record.
Thomas Jefferson High School, Annandale: Before it became an exclusive school for smart kids, Jefferson was a neighborhood high school in Fairfax County. Grohl spent his freshman year there and his mother, Virginia Grohl, taught there. The book’s photo section indicates that Grohl was vice president of the freshman class at Jefferson and that he played Bad Brains and Black Flag over the school’s intercom in the morning. People must have loved that.
Huntington Metro station, Springfield: At 14, Grohl began taking the Metro into Washington to see punk rock shows at clubs such as d.c. space and the 9:30 Club. This blog has previously advocated for one of the new Silver Line stations to be named after Grohl, but the
Franconia-Springfield Huntington station would be more historically accurate. If ever any Metro station were named after a person.
Braddock Road Youth Club, Springfield: Grohl played lacrosse in the large NoVa sports group, according to a photo in the book, but he did not wear his jersey for the team picture. He looks to be about 13.
Lake Braddock Community Center, Burke: In high school, Grohl switched from guitar to drums and began playing in bands named Freak Baby, Mission Impossible and Dain Bramage. The latter two groups played many shows at the Lake Braddock Community Center, which is hidden in a Burke neighborhood just east of Guinea Road. There are photos in “This is a Call” of Mission Impossible playing the center. The original building has been remodeled and is now more of a pool clubhouse with no large meeting rooms and the folks there seemed unaware of their place in musical history. No historical markers have been erected. Yet.
Bishop Ireton High School, Alexandria: Where Grohl spent his sophomore and junior years after his parents felt he needed more discipline.
Annandale High School, Annandale: Where Grohl spent part of his senior year, after Bishop Ireton didn’t work out. Dropped out.
Scream, Bailey’s Crossroads: Scream was not a place but a hardcore punk band formed by two brothers, Franz and Pete Stahl, from Bailey’s Crossroads. They developed a large following in the underground punk scene, both in the U.S. and Europe, and toured widely. In 1986, having seen Grohl play at the Lake Braddock Community Center, the Stahl brothers invited Grohl to join them on a European tour. He was 17, but told them he was 20. His mother gave her blessing, Grohl dropped out of Annandale High and launched a career in professional rocking.
[In one of Brannigan’s few missteps, he calls Bailey’s Crossroads ”a rural no-horse town built around the intersection of Columbia Pike and Virginia’s Route 7.” Yeah, no horses because they’d be RUN OVER by the intense traffic or freaked out by the SKYSCRAPERS.]
Laundry Room Studios and WGNS Studios, Arlington: In 1990, Grohl joined Nirvana and moved in with Kurt Cobain in Olympia, Wash. But he would return to Northern Virginia often, and in late 1990 and mid-1991, before Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album was released, he recorded all the instruments and vocals for his little-known first solo album, “Pocketwatch,” at Laundry Room and WGNS. Barrett Jones would later relocate Laundry Room to Seattle, and Grohl recorded the first Foo Fighters album by himself there in 1994, after the demise of Nirvana.
In November 1997, having formed a Foo Fighters band and completed a tour with them, Grohl began recording a second album with the other musicians, but the process was difficult. He returned to Arlington and Geoff Turner’s WGNS studio, and completed two new songs: “Walking After You” and “Everlong,” one of the Foo Fighters’ all-time classics.
Nicholson Lane, Alexandria: In the spring of 1999, Grohl moved out of Seattle and bought a house on Nicholson Lane in the
Del Ray North Ridge area. Fellow Foos Taylor Hawkins and Nate Mendel also moved in. Here, Grohl built a 24-track recording studio in the basement and the trio recorded virtually their entire third album, “There is Nothing Left to Lose,” which featured the songs “Learn to Fly,” “Breakout” and “Next Year.”
Grohl told Kerrang magazine, “It was one of the most relaxing times of my whole life. All we did was eat chili, drink beer and whiskey and record whenever we felt like it. When I listen to that record it totally brings me back to that basement. I remember how it smelled and how it was in the spring so the windows were open and we’d do vocals until you could hear the birds through the microphone.”
The album won the Grammy for Best Rock Album and the “Learn to Fly” video also won for Best Short Form Music Video. At the Grammys, Grohl told an AP reporter, “We were probably the only band that won a Grammy for an album made for free in a basement that year.”
“Probot,” Alexandria: While living in Alexandria, Grohl also launched an instrumental project called Probot, Brannigan reports, in which he recorded instrumental tracks and then sent them to various musicians from the metal and punk worlds to add music or vocals. That album was eventually released in 2004.
“One by One,” Alexandria: The Foo Fighters began recording their fourth album at Nicholson Lane in 2001, but Brannigan reports that they could not recapture the creative mojo of the third album. They moved to Los Angeles to finish recording, but two songs from Alexandria — another classic, “All My Life,” and “Have It All” — wound up on the album “One By One,” which won the Best Rock Album Grammy for the Foos again. ”All My Life” also won for Best Hard Rock Performance.
“Wasting Light,” Arlandria: Grohl moved to Los Angeles in 2003 when he married his second wife, Jordyn Blum. More albums, tours and accolades ensued. But when the group got together in 2010 to record their seventh album, they wanted to recapture the vibe of the Nicholson Lane basement in Alexandria, Brannigan writes. So they recorded in the garage of Grohl’s home in Encino, Calif., and came up with the album “Wasting Light,” which was released in 2011 and won five Grammys.
The album also includes the song “Arlandria,” which is an Alexandria neighborhood on the southern border of Arlington. It’s not clear what Grohl or the song has to do with Arlandria — Nicholson Lane is probably a mile south of Arlandria, and Brannigan erroneously calls it “the area of Virginia in which Grohl was raised.” But for purposes of meter and drama, it sounds much better than “North Ridge.”
In addition to Brannigan’s fine research on the Early Grohl Era, he does a great job of capturing the D.C. punk scene of the early ’80s and defining its influence on entire genres of punk, hardcore and metal. Seeing those groups live as a teenager, particularly Dischord Records groups such as Minor Threat and Void (Dischord Records’ “house” was in
Falls Church Arlington! — but that’s for another day) inspired Grohl to start thrashing away himself. And he became a singular and fascinating singer, songwriter and performer who has been one of the most accomplished American rock artists of the last 20 years, while still maintaining his punk rock credibility.
Here’s a live clip of the Foo Fighters in London last year playing the song that immortalized a slice of Northern Virginia, “Arlandria:”