Roger Hawkins was the star of Muscle Shoals music. He was a leading composer with drumming legends like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, and others. Without Hawkins, he might make an R&B raver electrifying or manifest a ballad dynamity.
He had 'no idea' why his drumbeats have been so successful. 'I never sat around and thought,' he said. 'I'm going to make up the part that's going to be known for 40 years,' he said. 'It was just doing what you felt.'
On a large part of his work, he was joined by a group of his fellow Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka The Swampers, session musician pals, including bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, and keyboardists Barry Beckett and Spooner Oldham.
In our 2019 interview, Hawkins said, "I was better listener than I was a player" and that they thought the other guys were too. Because they loved music and they had catalogs of music in their brains, as well as I had a catalog of things, which allowed me to pull out certain things and make it work with newer stuff."
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The Swampers' shady country-funk made them music's hit-making secret sauce, in the mid'60s at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals for producer Rick Hall, and then their own studio Muscle Shoals Sound in Sheffield, after branching from Hall in 1969. After an extended illness, the Swampers developed a wide range of health problems, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A memorial for Hawkins will be held at the property of Shoals Community Theatre on April 16 at the time of April 16th. Guests included Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit drummer Chad Gamble, bassist David Hood, and Shoals Sisters vocalists Marie Tomlinson Lewey, Cindy Walker, and Carla Russell, including rock band The Fiddleworms, guitarist Travis Wammack, among those who will perform. Tickets start around $25 with a fee via.
Chad Gamble of Isbell says he has "taken into account the time period" with this type of music that was being developed in Muscle Shoals in the mid'60s and'70s, but it was competing with venues such as New York, California, Motown, and Memphis. While everybody plays a role in that, often times it can be influenced by the drummer.
Before Saturday's tribute, I prepared a list of ten key Hawkins tracks. However, these recordings are a good start. During this list, you may select one track from an artist. Besides, there are a variety of Aretha and Pickett songs you might choose, yet this number is limited to one track each. These songs are filled with joy, emotion, creativity, and selflessness. In other words, Roger Hawkins played on them.
"Respect" Aretha Franklin 1967 After cutting his drum track for Franklin's sassy Otis Redding cover "Respect," Hawkins sat in a chair and watched Aretha and her sisters beat the song's "sock it to me" backing vocals. "I never realized what kind of history was being made, but I knew it a lot."
Clarence Carter's 1968 cut at FAME Studios was a cover of an early FAME single by Jimmy Hughes.
Wilson Pickett's 1966 hit "Land of 1000 Dances" was clap, stomp, and clap. At this point, Pickett referred to Roger Hawkins as "drummer" because he was unaware of his feet and hands, and he realized that he was using a slew of punches to produce the song. "It's not just the best Muscle Shoals grooves ever," Pickett said.
Bob Seger, a 1979 Swampers bassist, told me Michigan blue-collar rock Bob Seger is the most profitable artist The Swampers ever worked with. Because, Hood said, we got to share in the production, publishing, and then played on his stuff. That's a rare opportunity to be involved in all of that stuff.
Etta James' album, written by Tell Mama, was a smash hit due to a smuggled title track and the smuggled swinging ballad 'I'd Rather Go Blind,' which included deft playing and production that currently sound both immediate and contemporary.
Percy Sledge 1966 Hawkins' vocal on "When A Man Loves a Woman" is stunning, revealing a strong sense of humor, shifting subtle changes, and causing tension at exactly the right moment. Hawkins credits the influence of Stax Records drummer Al Jackson with his own playing on Sledge's 1965 smash. "Through listening to Al Jackson is how I learned to develop a drum part in a soul ballad," she said in 2019.
"I'll Take You There," says Jason Isbell, who has been awarded the best Southern instrumental award ever. "Roger took something that might have been played better," Gamble said in 2019, "and turned it upside down."
Paul Simon's pop-folk tune "Kodachrome" says that the loping drum track isn't a drum at all. Hawkins was beating on a tape box filled with paper.
Another Hawkins master class in moving a track, along with restraint and creativity is the Jimmy Cliff Reggae classic "Sitting in Limbo."
Lulu 1970 Shonna Tucker, the bassist during rock band Drive-By Truckers' classic era, loves the Hawkins' cymbals and percussion. The snare hit that opens things open. In 2011, the Truckers covered Lulu's classic "Where's Eddie," with Tucker on vocals. "Roger's relationship with David Hood," Tucker said of The Swampers engine room, "is pretty special."
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