Tag Archives: Land of 1000 Dances

Roger Hawkins RIP

The great Roger Hawkins has passed away at the age of 75 after a long illness.

A member of the famous Swampers rhythm section that made their name at FAME studios, becoming so sought-after that they went on to cofound their own place – Muscle Shoals Sound Studio – Hawkins was one of the very greatest studio drummers. Mustang Sally, Chain of Fools, Land of 1000 Dances, Respect, When a Man Loves a Woman – all Roger Hawkins. Ditto Paul Simon’s Kodachrome, the Staples’ I’ll Take You There and Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock & Roll.

The thing that set Hawkins apart was feel, judgement and discipline. Don’t play a tom fill while the singer is singing, said Hawkins in an interview when asked about what it takes to be a studio drummer. It sounds a simple enough maxim to live by, but few enough do. Even fewer can pair that taste and restraint with a backbeat that simply compels you to move.

Hawkins was inimitable, and like many of the truly great musicians, he was incredibly modest. When asked what made him a successful studio drummer, he always said that he was a better listener than he was a technician. But really, listening is the whole thing. In a small-group context, whether it’s folk, jazz, metal or R&B, there’s no great musician who isn’t first and foremost a great listener. Hawkins’s ability to listen and feel, to channel emotion through a musical performance, was rare and unbelievably special. He was one of the best there ever has been, or ever will be.

Montague Terrace (In Blue) & Such a Small Love – Scott Walker

The Walker Brothers’ first three albums had included occasional compositions by band members Scott (born Noel Scott Engel) and John (born John Maus), but those were largely lost in the midst of the covers picked out for them by Maus and producer Johnny Franz, some chosen well, others less so. For a true head-scratching moment, search YouTube for the Walkers performing Land of 1000 Dances live: Scott was not born to sing “Mashed potato, alligator, do the snake, do the hippie shake” for a crowd of teenie-boppers, and even as a young man he was self-aware enough to know it. His body language bespeaks a soul-deep wish to be somewhere – anywhere – else.

And so he only really starts to figure as a songwriter on his first solo album, Scott, although even here his own work represents just one of the album’s interweaving strands; he also tackles contemporary pieces by Tim Hardin and Mann/Weill, a couple of Hollywood movie songs, and English translations of Jacques Brel chansons. The trick is how seamlessly they blend together, how of a piece with each other Walker and Franz make these songs sound.

Such a Small Love and Montague Terrace (In Blue) are the album’s standout Scott originals, and taken together, they say a lot about where Walker was at in 1967. Such a Small Love is most notable for the disquieting cloud of dissonant strings that hang over it throughout. They’re uncannily predictive of Walker’s great masterwork, The Electrician (from the Walker Brothers’ 1979 reunion album Nite Flights), which was over 10 years in the future. The song is a minor work, but here is the sound of Walker ambitiously attempting to create a style for himself whole cloth, and damn near achieving it at the first attempt.

Montague Terrace (In Blue) is a rather different animal. Its arrangement is on an even grander scale than that of Such a Small Love, with swirling strings, crashing cymbals and booming tympani, but the sources for it are more obvious: it’s a cross between Broadway, Hollywood and Gene Pitney-style melodrama. Its lyric, meanwhile, shows a heavy, but gauche, Brel influence: the verses are laden with metaphors and similes (“her thoughts lay cold like shattered stone”, etc), while lines like “his bloated, belching figure stomps” are best left unremarked upon.  Walker would later would absorb and assimilate Brel’s influence, but at this point he could still fall into pastiching.

Yet despite its lyrical clumsiness, the song is more than sturdy enough to bear the weight of its magnificent, enormous arrangement. And that chorus is the most glorious he ever wrote. In the long, strange career of Scott Walker, Montague Terace is a big moment, in every sense of the word.

Scott