The Week (US)
The soulful drummer who powered the Muscle Shoals sound
Roger Hawkins provided the heartbeat of dozens of classic R&B and rock hits. As the in-house drummer at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Hawkins drove Percy Sledge’s gospelinfused 1966 No. 1 single “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Aretha Franklin’s 1967 chart-topper “Respect.” Over the next decade, his pared-back beats could be heard on tracks by the Staple Singers (“I’ll Take You There”), Bob Seger (“Old Time Rock and Roll”), and Paul Simon (“Kodachrome”). His most infectious groove erupts midway through Wilson Pickett’s “Land of
1000 Dances”—a top-10 hit in 1966—as Pickett sings “Nah, nah nah nah nah…” accompanied only by Hawkins’ funky, urgent drums. Hawkins, who couldn’t read music, was driven by feel in the studio. “I was always a better listener than I was a drummer,” he said. “I would advise any drummer to become a listener.”
Raised in Greenhill, Ala., “Hawkins first became interested in rhythms while watching services at his Pentecostal church as a youth,” said AL.com. He banged away at home using crochet needles and pots and pans, before getting a drum kit at age 13. Hawkins was soon playing in local bands, and by 1966 was doing session work at FAME.
The Muscle Shoals musicians left FAME in 1969 and set up their own studio in Sheffield, Ala., said The Washington Post. Artists from around the world flocked there, including James Brown, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Cliff, and Willie Nelson. The Muscle Shoals group drifted apart in the ’80s, after the studio was sold, but Hawkins kept playing into the 1990s. “Every musician strives to be the best they can,” he said. “Not every musician gets the chances I had.”