Remembering Roger Hawkins, Drummer in Muscle Shoals’ Swampers

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Roger Hawkins

Drummer Roger Hawkins, a longtime member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as the Swampers, died May 20, 2021, in Sheffield, Ala. His passing was due to what was described as an extended illness; Hawkins had suffered in recent years from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Hawkins was 75.

The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio posted on social media: “Our hearts are breaking today as the heartbeat of ‘The Swampers,’ drummer Roger Hawkins, passed away this afternoon at his home in Sheffield. He was 75. Jerry Wexler called Roger ‘the greatest drummer of all time.’ Roger was a kind and generous man who loved family, friends and his fellow musicians. Arrangements will be announced soon. We love you Roger. Rest in Peace and watch over us as we are all better for having known you. We will think of you as we listen to your many hits including, ‘Respect Yourself,’ ‘Mustang Sally,’ ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’ ‘Chain of Fools,’ ‘I’ll Take You There’ and so many more.”

Listen: That’s Roger Hawkins’ drums you hear on this R&B classic

In addition to the above hits recorded by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and the Staple Singers, Hawkins’ drumming also appeared on dozens of top 40 hits by artists including Paul Simon, James and Bobby Purify, Etta James, Bob Seger and Clarence Carter. He worked on albums by Levon Helm, Linda Ronstadt, Laura Nyro, Tony Joe White, Helen Reddy, Leon Russell, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Boz Scaggs, Julian Lennon, Art Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, Johnny Rivers, Joe Cocker, Cher, Rod Stewart and Glenn Frey as well.

“One of the greatest drummers I’ve ever played with, a great guy, and a very sad loss,” said Steve Winwood.

Hawkins was born on October 16, 1945, in Mishawaka, Indiana. He became a member of the regular band hired by FAME Studios owner Rick Hall in the early ’60s.

The Swampers (top row, l. to r.): Junior Lowe, David Hood, Barry Beckett; (bottom row. l. to r.): Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins

In his memoir, The Man from Muscle Shoals, Hall wrote, “On drums I used the great Roger Hawkins, who would soon play on Aretha’s biggest singles as well as hits by Percy [Sledge], Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Traffic and many, many others. I’ve always felt that the Staple Singers’ classic record of ‘I’ll Take You There’ was built around Roger’s drum lick. Many have tried to cop that lick, but only Roger has perfected it.”

“The drums he played on ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’ and the other [Wilson] Pickett sessions weren’t too shabby either.”

Of that particular session, Hall wrote, “All the musicians stopped playing except Roger Hawkins, who continued to play with every ounce of strength he had in his body. I poured the echo to the drums and Pickett started screaming, ‘Nah, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah.’ Then we added ten voices singing harmony parts, answering Pickett’s plea of ‘I need somebody to help me now.’ We got a take on tape, and I called the musicians into the control room and shouted, ‘Guys, we are now cutting a smash record.'”

Related: Donnie Fritts, another Muscle Shoals mainstay, died in 2019

That group left Hall’s employ in 1969 and founded their own competing facility, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Other core members of the Swampers, as the musicians came to be known, included keyboardist Barry Beckett, bassist David Hood and guitarist Jimmy Johnson. Lynyrd Skynyrd refers to the Swampers by name in their classic song “Sweet Home Alabama.” The Swampers were also the subject of the 2013 documentary film, Muscle Shoals.

Hawkins’ death leaves bassist David Hood as the only surviving Swamper.

Watch Hawkins and Johnson reminisce in 2008

Related: Musicians we lost in 2021

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. Peter
    #1 Peter 21 May, 2021, 09:10

    Also interesting to note that for a brief period in the early seventies, Roger Hawkins was a member of Traffic.

    Reply this comment
  2. Matt
    #2 Matt 21 May, 2021, 09:22

    Isn’t Spooner Oldham considered a Swamper? He is still living.

    Reply this comment
  3. Skip Chasse
    #3 Skip Chasse 22 May, 2021, 15:16

    My condolences to the SWAMPERS and MUSCLE SHOALS and

    Reply this comment

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