The Foo Fighters‘ much-anticipated HBO musical travelogue Sonic Highways premiered Friday night with Dave Grohl and company visiting Chicago to pen a musical love letter to the Windy City. Grohl’s journey as he crafts the Foo Fighters’ new album city by city is at the heart of the series, and in the first episode we get to witness how the band goes from unloading their equipment to “Something From Nothing” in just a week. Sonic Highways also provides a remarkably comprehensive look at a city’s music history through insightful interviews with native rockers and well-mined archival footage.
Like Sonic Highways, Grohl’s own musical journey begins in Chicago: While on a family vacation to visit cousins in his early-teens, Grohl was taken to Wrigleyville’s the Cubby Bear – a Cubs bar by day, a punk venue by night – to see his first punk rock show: Chicago’s Naked Raygun. “It just turned my world upside,” Grohl says of the experience. “That night changed everything I knew about music.”
While the Foos’ Chicago visit touches nearly every aspect of Chicago music history, from Kanye West and Wilco to Gene Krupa and Willie Dixon, the episode focuses mainly on two subjects: Buddy Guy and Steve Albini. On Sonic Highways, Grohl traces Guy’s entire career through interviews and incredible archival footage, from his arrival in the Windy City and signing with Chess Records to his 2012 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.
In the case of Albini, Grohl tells his story beginning when he was a hanger-on in the city’s small punk scene to founding Big Black and crafting his trademark production sound. The Albini segment also allows Grohl to reminisce about Albini’s involvement on Nirvana‘s In Utero, which marked the first time the drummer worked with the producer. “Something From Nothing,” the band’s Chicago-inspired track, was also recorded at Albini’s Electrical Audio studio.
While Guy and Albini were in the spotlight for much of the premiere episode, Grohl had an army of all-star rockers lined up to talk about Chicago’s impact on music: Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, ZZ Top‘s Billy Gibbons, LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy and Cheap Trick‘s Rick Nielsen all appeared in the opening episode.
By the end of the episode, when the “Something From Nothing” music video was unveiled, lyrics that seemed random on first listen now read like a table of contents to the Foo Fighters’ Chicago stop: The lines “A button on a string” and “Looking for a dime but I found a quarter” are exact quotes taken from Buddy Guy’s interview with Grohl, and the lyric “Watch them in a muddy water” is a nod to Guy’s best friend, blues legend Muddy Waters. “You can’t make me change my name” also subtly references how Buddy Guy was asked to change his name to Buddy King when he first arrived in Chicago. Cheap Trick’s Nielsen, who also joined the Foo Fighters on the Late Show With David Letterman, provides the baritone guitar sound on “Something From Nothing.”
Immediately following the Sonic Highways premiere, Grohl returned to the Cubby Bear – this time as performer – as the Foo Fighters took the stage for a gig that was live-streamed to HBO’s Facebook page. The concert featured the live debut of “Something From Nothing.” Sonic Highways the album arrives November 10th.