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Drummer Roger Hawkins

Black and white photo of a man with a beard and mustache playing the drums.
(Courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
Magnolia Pictures
Muscle Shoals rhythm secction drummer Roger Hawkins, as seen in documentary "Muscle Shoals."

Roger Hawkins went from playing drums in his Alabama church to drumming on dozens of hit singles with Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and The Staple Singers.

As part of the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section, Roger Hawkins was one of the most recorded drummers of the 1960s and '70s.

Aretha Franklin's songs that Hawkins and the rhythm section played on include "Respect," “I Never Loved a Man,“ "Do Right Woman” and “Think.”

Unlike sessions in New York, where arrangers would tell each musician what to play, at Muscle Shoals usually nothing was written out in advance. None of the four members of the rhythm section could read music anyway, so they improvised their parts on the spot.

An example of an unplanned take that became a hit song is Wilson Pickett’s 1966 classic “Land of a Thousand Dances,” featuring Hawkins’ drumming.

As part of the Muscle Shoals and FAME Rhythm Section with guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood and Barry Beckett on keys, the “Swampers,” as they were known, played on about 500 recordings, including 75 gold and platinum hits. They were masters at creating what the New York Times called “indigenous American music, a distinctly Southern amalgamation of rhythm & blues, soul, and country music.”

Based in rural northern Alabama, they were an exception to the mostly urban music industry centered in places like Detroit, Memphis, Nashville and New York.

Famed producer Jerry Wexler (who coined the term “rhythm and blues”) called Roger Hawkins the greatest drummer in the world. He played on “Kodachrome” with Paul Simon, with Percy Sledge on “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll."

Hawkins said that he was a better listener than a drummer, and his playing was often uncluttered, waiting for just the right moment to add a snare drum fill.

Remembering drummer Roger Hawkins, who died in May at age 75.

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.
Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.