In November 1994, Dave Grohl played alongside Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on Saturday Night Live, serving as their temporary drummer. At the time, the band were in search for a new stickman, following the departure of original member Stan Lynch.
While he’d eventually go on to recruit Steve Ferrone, Petty would first offer the position to Grohl, who gave an impressive performance behind the kit during their brief onstage collaboration, and was, at the time, in-between projects due to the April 1994 death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
During their appearance on the long-running US TV show, Petty, Grohl and the Heartbreakers performed two tracks, Honey Bee and You Don’t Know How It Feels, both lifted from Petty’s Wildflowers album.
In the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream, Grohl recalled how the performance came to be, explaining: “Someone from my management calls and says, ‘Hey, Tom Petty just called and wants to know if you’ll play drums with them on Saturday Night Live?’”
Curious as to why the Floridian rock legend would want him in the first place, Grohl pondered: “What the fuck is he calling me for? He couldn’t find a good drummer?”
Speaking of the tracks he performed, he continued: “I was really excited to play both songs but mostly Honey Bee because Honey Bee is just such a rocker. It’s like the kind of thing a bunch of 16-year-olds would play in the garage to get off. It’s killer. It’s a barn burner.”
Reflecting on the moment, specifically being asked to become an official Heartbreaker, the Foo Fighters main-man said in a 2021 interview with Sirius XM’s Howard Stern: “I did Saturday Night Live with Tom Petty, and we had so much fun and we all got along so well. I was like, ‘Wait, why would it be me?’ … He could get like a world-class drummer, like any dude.”
Grohl continues: “We played SNL and afterwards, basically, he [Petty] was like: ‘Man, that was good. It would be a shame if that’s the only time we do it.’ Then he called me at home, and he’s like, ‘Well, look, if you want, here’s how we’d do it: You get your own bus. We don’t tour too hard. … If you’re into it, let’s go out and do it for a little while.'”
In spite of Petty’s attractive invitation, Grohl wasn’t keen on the project, largely because he was still understandably reeling from the death of his Nirvana bandmate, and because he had just started a new project of his own, Foo Fighters.
“I’d just started doing this thing,” he said. “And I just felt weird about going back just to the drums, because it would just have reminded me of being back in Nirvana. It would have been sad, for me personally. It would have been an emotional thing to be behind the drums every night and not have Kurt there. So I was like, Nah, fuck it. I’m going to try this other thing.”
Speaking of his transition from drummer to frontman in an early Foo Fighters interview with The Guardian, he explained: “It’s strange because it was almost like I felt, The fuck I’m going to become a drummer-for-hire. People ask me what I think of being the band leader, and I think, ‘Well, the fuck I’m going to say I’m the band leader. I guess I just imagine the band leader to be this handsome, charismatic glamorous sort of character. I’m not.”
Watch Grohl’s performance with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on SNL below: