Famed Muscle Shoals session drummer Roger Hawkins has passed away. NPR reported on the passing of the drummer who played with a multitude of history’s best musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, and more.
“Jerry Wexler, the producer who coined the very term ‘rhythm & blues,’ called Roger Hawkins ‘the greatest drummer in the world.’ Like all the Swampers, as he and his mates in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were affectionately known, Hawkins excelled at adapting his personal style to the needs of a session,” Rolling Stone wrote of the drummer.
Here’s a bit about Hawkins’ life from Drummer World:
Without a doubt, 1969 is the most important year in the career of drummer, producer, and songwriter Roger Hawkins, without whom the pop music of the ’70s would have sounded quite different. But that date has yet to be as firmly established as the official founding of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, an enterprise also involving splendid rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson, spunky bassist David Hood, and special keyboardist Barry Beckett. For much of the following decade this became the “in” rhythm section for a variety of artists whose main concern was either chart success or the desire to achieve it.
Hawkins’ drumming is featured on projects by Paul Simon, the Staple Singers, Leon Russell, Sam & Dave, Cher, Bob Seger, Eddie Rabbitt, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, and Percy Sledge. That, of course, is just a short list.
The drummer started out gigging at dances and clubs in Alabama and Tennessee, eventually leading to a house band gig at an Alabama studio optimistically called FAME. In this capacity, he backed up some of the finer recordings of soul giants such as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, establishing a snare drum snap so dynamic that at times it seemed as if the stick had been fired from a tightly-wound crossbow. The aforementioned guitarist Johnson was one of his associates from this studio, and by the end of the ’60s they had stepped out to start their own Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The rock giants were soon flocking, with some, such as Winwood and later, Eric Clapton, also nabbing Hawkins for touring assignments.
Often in partnership with Beckett, Hawkins has also branched into songwriting and production. The duo were responsible for the hit entitled “Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim, and have also produced tracks for Paul Simon, Bob Seger, and Canned Heat, among others. After selling their original studio early in the ’90s, Hawkins opted to continue managing the facility under the new owners. His expertise both as a player and philosophical overlord had continued to be in demand throughout the overlapping styles of rock, rhythm and blues, gospel, and country.
Roger Hawkins died May 20, 2021 following an extended illness.
Here’s a tribute to Hawkins from the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum:
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