Without a doubt, 1969 is the most important year in the career of drummer, producer, and songwriter Roger Hawkins, without whom the pop music of the '70s would have sounded quite different. Competing only in importance might be the date when Hawkins first held drum sticks in his hands -- the musical kind, not fried chicken. But that date has yet to be as firmly established as the official founding of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, an enterprise also involving splendid rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson, spunky bassist David Hood, and special keyboardist Barry Beckett. For much of the following decade this became the "in" rhythm section for a variety of artists whose main concern was either chart success or the desire to achieve it.

For the most part, Hawkins has a superb reputation; he is clearly on the short list of great American studio drummers. Nonetheless, not every decision involving the utilization of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section is considered brilliant in retrospect. In particular, fans of the free-flowing jazz-rock of the British band Traffic point out that leader Steve Winwood's decision to literally ditch his loyal players, such as Jim Capaldi and Rick Grech, in favor of the Muscle Shoals' mob was the beginning of the end, obscuring the group's happy creativity in a fog of timid funk. Nonetheless, the way many famous artists considered their options during this period was pretty simple: get the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section for that next record, or die. Hawkins' drumming is featured on projects by Paul Simon, the Staple Singers, Leon Russell, Sam Dave, Cher, Bob Seger, Eddie Rabbitt, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, and Percy Sledge. That, of course, is just a short list.

The drummer started out gigging at dances and clubs in Alabama and Tennessee, eventually leading to a house band gig at an Alabama studio optimistically called FAME. In this capacity, he backed up some of the finer recordings of soul giants such as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, establishing a snare drum snap so dynamic that at times it seemed as if the stick had been fired from a tightly-wound crossbow. The aforementioned guitarist Johnson was one of his associates from this studio, and by the end of the '60s they had stepped out to start their own Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The rock giants were soon flocking, with some, such as Winwood and later, Eric Clapton, also nabbing Hawkins for touring assignments.

Often in partnership with Beckett, Hawkins has also branched into songwriting and production. The duo were responsible for the hit entitled Starting All Over Again by Mel Tim, and have also produced tracks for Paul Simon, Bob Seger, and Canned Heat, among others. After selling their original studio early in the '90s, Hawkins opted to continue managing the facility under the new owners. His expertise both as a player and philosophical overlord has continued to be in demand throughout the overlapping styles of rock, rhythm and blues, gospel, and country. Traffic fans just cross their fingers that he won't be the drummer who gets the call if there is ever a reunion of this group. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi

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