Virginia Grohl isn’t afraid to rock out with her son, Dave. You might know him as the genial front man for heavy heroes the Foo Fighters, or perhaps for his historic stint as the stickman for the generation-defining grunge outfit, Nirvana. He’s been packing stadiums for a quarter century, and his mother, now 79, is often there, front and center, to cheer him on.
Yet one night as Dave rocked the crowd, Virginia noticed an absence in the audience. “I was just sitting backstage and looking around thinking, ‘How come I’m not meeting any other moms?’” she tells PEOPLE. “They really weren’t showing up, and I was showing up all the time. I was sitting with a friend and I said, ‘How come it’s just me?’ And she said, ‘You should go find them.’” That’s exactly what she did.
The result is her new book, From Cradle to Stage, which features interviews with 18 moms of world-famous musicians, including Kelly Clarkson, Adam Levine, Miranda Lambert and Dr. Dre. In many cases, Virginia also spoke to the stars themselves. “They all talk about the strength and the perseverance of their mothers,” she says. “Most of the time the mothers were alone through divorce or widowhood, or just single parenthood.”
Virginia herself was a single mother, working as a high school English teacher in rural Virginia while raising Dave and his sister, Lisa. Their modest house was too small for a drum kit, but the budding musician made due. “He banged on everything around,” she tells PEOPLE with a laugh. Despite his dedication to mastering instruments at home, academics rarely held his attention. “They just couldn’t find any direction in school for him at all,” Virginia recalls. So when a teenage Dave asked if he could drop out and tour Europe with a punk band, she accepted almost instantly. “I thought he’d found a solution,” she says. “It seemed perfectly logical and a great idea. It worked out pretty well!”
In addition to concerts, Virginia has accompanied her son to plenty of unforgettable events, but one sticks out: the night Paul McCartney invited Dave to perform with him at the White House in June 2010. “I have a photograph of me with Paul McCartney, President Obama and David: my three favorite men in the world and me!”
From Cradle to Stage is filled with stories of hard-working, ultra-patient moms, and the talented kids who made them proud.
For more from Virginia Grohl, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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Miranda Lambert & Bev Lambert
When Miranda was growing up, the future country star’s parents, Bev and Rick, worked as private investigators in their native Texas. It truly was a family affair, and the Lamberts sometimes called on young Miranda to help out with “special cases.” When she was just 7 years old, her mother brought her to a country club to help avoid suspicion as she surveyed her mark. As she got older, the missions became more complex.
“[One] caper involved dressing Miranda in a junior-high cheerleading costume and sending her out ‘selling candy for the school’ so that she could look for the incriminating evidence her parents needed,” Virginia writes in her book.
The family would get their “case of a lifetime” in the early ‘90s, when Bev and Rick were hired by lawyers representing Paula Jones to investigate Bill Clinton. “For two and-a-half years they traveled to meet people who would help them build a case,” Virginia relates. “Some spat on them. Many feared any kind of involvement in a case so public and politically charged. But the Lamberts created massive files, which they stored in their Lindale, [Texas] home.”
The files were apparently impressive enough to warrant some high-profile attention. “As Bev tells it, she was in the backyard hanging laundry one day when she became aware of a helicopter circling overhead.” Frightened as the craft zeroed in on their property, she called her husband. “He instructed her to get the binoculars and read the registration number on the copter’s tail. When she told him there was no number, his voice tightened. ‘Listen to me, and listen to me good. Get every file on our property, every single document, every tape, every shred of paper, and your computer. Take everything we have to a safe place and don’t tell me where it is.”
Bev maintains that subpoena was served, and those files became a “crucial part of the Clinton impeachment investigation. ‘It was Ken Starr’s people calling, ripping my files off. That’s what he presented to the House managers.'”
Kelly Clarkson & Jeannie Taylor
As a child, Jeannie dealt with the trauma of her father leaving home. “He just left. We never knew why,” she recalls in From Cradle to Stage. Tragically, this split would repeat itself with her own husband, Stephen Clarkson, who left when daughter Kelly was 6 years old.
Three months after leaving their native Fort Worth, Texas for a job opportunity in California, Stephen dropped the bombshell. “He decided he didn’t want to be married anymore,” writes Virginia Grohl. “Like her mother had been, [Jeannie] was dumbfounded. She hadn’t seen it coming. She didn’t want to accept it.”
Stephen drove his three children and soon-to-be former wife back to Fort Worth, then “dropped himself off at the airport and said goodbye.”
It was a devastating time for the entire family. “I would get the kids off the school every day, then sit in a corner and cry,” Jeannie tells Grohl. “I couldn’t do anything. I was totally devastated.”
Kelly immortalized her father’s departure in her song, “Piece By Piece,” which features the lyrics: And all I remember is your back / Walking toward the airport, leaving us all in your past.
As a teen, the burgeoning talent would stay up all night, filling hundreds of notebooks with songs. Kelly soon became a favorite at auditions for a new series called American Idol. When she couldn’t afford to fly to Los Angeles and continue with the competition, Jeannie secured an advance on her teaching salary and paid for the trip.
Adam Levine & Patsy Noah
From their earliest days, Patsy says she and Adam shared an “almost spiritual connection, a mother-son ESP.” Possessing enormous reserves of energy, the “willful, impulsive little boy” became an avid student athlete growing up in Los Angeles. “He was definitely a handful, no question!” Patsy tells Virginia in From Cradle to Stage. Then one day when he was 14, Adam sat his mother down and made an announcement: “I’m giving up sports.” From then on, music was top priority. The path wasn’t always easy. His first band, Kara’s Flowers, was dropped by their record label.
He bounced back with his new band, Maroon 5, but the early gigs weren’t easy. As Virginia writes, Patsy “recalls her son standing with his back to the audience at the Troubadour because he was so nervous. He recalls the trauma of looking at his acne-spotted face in the mirror and thinking how ugly he was. He couldn’t have known then that he would be named PEOPLE magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive when he reached his thirties. He couldn’t have foreseen that he would act on TV and in movies and be part of this decade’s most popular TV music show, The Voice, where he’s held a seat since 2011.”
According to Patsy, these missteps and stumbles help set the stage for his future achievements. “Failure builds endurance, and that creates the confidence that is necessary for real success.”