Roger Hawkins, drummer heard on many hits, died at 75
Roger Hawkins, who drummed on numerous pop and soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s and was one of the funky sound architects who identified with Muscle Shoals, Alabama, died Thursday at his home of Sheffield, Alabama. 75.
His death was confirmed by his friend and frequent music collaborator David Hood, who said Mr Hawkins suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other conditions.
A naturally moving musician, Mr. Hawkins first distinguished himself in the mid-1960s as a member of producer Rick Hall’s house group FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. (The initials stand for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises.) Were keyboardist Barry Beckett, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, and Mr. Hood, who played bass. Mr. Hood is the last surviving member of this rhythm section.
Mr. Hawkins’ “ less-is-more ” approach to drums from Mr. Hawkins to FAME – often little more than a cymbal and snare – can be heard on Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” , a No. 1 pop single in 1966. He was also a driving force behind Aretha Franklin’s imperative “Respect”, a No. 1 pop hit the following year, as well as her Top 10 singles. “Chain of Fools” (1967) and “Think” (1968).
Remarkably, none of the four members of the FAME rhythm section could read the music. They improvised their pieces in response to what was going on in the studio.
“No one really suggested anything to play; we would perform it, ”Hawkins said in a 2017 interview with Modern Drummer magazine. “Now that I think back to what we did, besides being musicians, we were also really arrangers. It was up to us to create the play.
In his 2015 memoir, “The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to FAME,” Mr. Hall credited the transformation of the center section of Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances”, a Top 10 hit recorded to FAME in 1966, to the genius of Mr. Hawkins.
“All the musicians stopped playing except Roger Hawkins, who continued to play with every ounce of strength he had in his body,” Mr. Hall recalls. “I poured the echo into the drums and Pickett started screaming, ‘Nah, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah.” “
Mr. Hawkins said that one of the main influences on his playing was Al Jackson Jr., the drummer for Booker T. & the MGs, the rhythm section of Stax Records. “It was by listening to Al Jackson that I learned to build a drum part in a soul ballad,” he said in a 2019 interview with Alabama magazine.
In 1969, Mr. Hawkins and the other members of the FAME rhythm section separated from Mr. Hall because of a financial dispute. They quickly opened their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound, in a former coffin warehouse near Sheffield.
Renaming Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the four men appeared on many other hits over the next decade, including the Staple Singers’ chart-topping pop-gospel single, “I’ll Take You There,” a recording. from 1972 galvanized by Mr. Hawkins. Caribbean style drum figurine. They also appeared, along with the Dixie Hummingbirds gospel quartet, on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock”, a Top 10 single in 1973.
Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Hood also worked briefly with the British rock group Traffic; they are on the band’s 1973 album, “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory”.
Mr. Hawkins and his colleagues became known as The Swampers after producer Denny Cordell heard pianist Leon Russell praise them for their “funky and soulful Southern Marsh sound”. Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd mentioned them by that name in their 1974 pop hit “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Mr. Hawkins has also worked as a producer, often in tandem with Mr. Beckett, on records such as “Starting All Over Again,” a Top 20 pop hit for R&B duo Mel and Tim in 1972. The ensemble the rhythm section produced (with Mr. Seger) and played on Bob Seger and “Old Time Rock & Roll” of the Silver Bullet Band, a Top 40 hit perennially cited among the most played jukebox records of all time.
Roger Gail Hawkins was born October 16, 1945 in Mishawaka, Indiana, but raised in Greenhill, Ala. He was the only child of John Hawkins, who ran a shoe store there, and Merta Rose Haddock Hawkins, who worked. in a nearby knitting mill.
Roger fell in love with the beat while attending services at a local Pentecostal church in his youth. His father bought him his first drum kit at the age of 13.
As a teenager he began spending time at FAME, then located above a drugstore in Muscle Shoals, before joining the Del Rays, a local band, led by Mr Johnson, who performed frat parties and d ‘other dances. In 1966 he was doing sessional work at FAME.
He and the other owners of Muscle Shoals Sound sold the studio in the 1990s. Mr. Hawkins remained the studio manager under his new owners.
Mr. Hawkins was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995, along with other members of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Thirteen years later, they were entered into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville.
He is survived by his wife of 19 years, Brenda Gay Hawkins; one son, Dale; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Hawkins’ approach to session work often focused on the moments in a recording when he was silent, just waiting for the right time and place to strike the next note.
“Every musician strives to do their best,” he told Modern Drummer. “Not all musicians have the chances that I had. Some new studio players have an attitude of “Man, I got to play something great here – I have to play the fast thing to get hired again.”
“This is not the way to go,” he continued. “I’ve always said this: I’ve always been a better listener than I was a drummer. I would advise any drummer to become a listener.