Soul Music’s Unsung Hero
A Profile of the Great Soul Drummer Roger Hawkins
Roger Hawkins – Hawkins was the drummer in one of the greatest session bands in the history of American popular music, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. His steady groove anchored soul legends like Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Wilson Pickett. He is a drummer of unparalleled feel, and his drums always sounded impeccable. You can tell it’s Roger Hawkins on drums as soon as you hear the sweet crack of his snare drum. Here are a few songs that represent his best work.
- Aretha Franklin – “Think” – Hawkins’ drumming is never fussy, always tasteful. On this one he keeps straight eighths on the hi-hat to complement the rhythm guitar for most of the song. His best moment comes at the 1:05 mark where his trademark tom-snare 16th note fill that leads into the song’s brilliant lead guitar lick.
- Percy Sledge – “When a Man Loves a Woman” – One of the sexiest songs of all time. Hawkins never gets in the way of Sledge’s vocals. His light ride cymbal touch is perfectly accented by the crescendo-ing snare roll (a Hawkins trademark) that leads the song into Sledge’s opening vocals at the 15 second mark.
- Etta James – “Tell Mama” – Hawkins could be so funky without trying very hard. His open-hi hat on the “and” of the 1 is a Hawkins staple. And those snare rolls are present once again and work in perfect tandem with David Hood’s thumping bass.
- Wilson Pickett – “You Can’t Stand Alone” – Hawkins was equally great playing ballads and upbeat burners like this one from Wilson Pickett’s 1967 release “The Sound of Wilson Pickett.” Hawkins is really pushing the band on this one with his driving 8th notes on the hi-hat. He sounds so remarkably in-control the entire time, especially when he really pushes the song into overdrive in the song’s closing minute. Of course, there are some amazing snare rolls. Hawkins had some chops, but he never let them get in the way of the song.
- The Staple Singers – “I’ll Take You There” – Hawkins is working almost completely on the rim on this one, spiking the song with occasional rimshots and splashes of open hi-hat. So tasteful as always.
Written by Vince Meserko. Tune into the Jookhouse every Friday evening from 6-8pm on 90.7fm KJHK.