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.