A southern gentleman on drums…

…first off, before I go any further, this post was inspired by the new documentary/movie on Muscle Shoals musicians and recording studios. It is a truly humbling and amazing story. After watching it, as Billy Gibbons would say, I was “filled with the spirit!” I wanted to go and play some music! Check out the trailer:

Muscle Shoals the movie

It’s one of the those movies that makes me fall in love with music all over again. So wonderful. But, it’s also very personal for me.

The main studio drummer from Muscle Shoals is Roger Hawkins, and he’s important to me for many reasons, but I’ll talk about two right now.

First, he played on “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge. This tune was on the first album I ever owned (it was a K-Tel compilation, I think). It’s a classic groove and a classic sound, and if it’s the last music I hear before I pass on, that would be wonderful, yunno? (Though I’m happy to wait a while for that day 😉 That is a groove that is locked into my heart and soul, and it will be one of the last things I ever forget.

The other thing is this–Roger is a white guy. This wasn’t obvious for me listening to the tracks he played on that I loved when I was younger–I learned this much later. But, learning that this guy was white was hugely liberating for me. Just huge. He proved that a white guy could play funky and greasy  with the best of them. And, that meant I could too.

Now, those of you who know me might know that I’m Mexican–that’s true. However,  my family was always oriented to mainstream US, anglo culture when I was growing up. They wanted me to assimilate to US culture as much as possible, and I was never taught Spanish. (The fact that I didn’t look Mexican ‘helped’ this process along, but that’s a whole other issue…)

But really all that meant was, as far as I was concerned, I sure as heck wasn’t black, and all of my favorite drummers were black (at least I thought so). This was a problem as far as I was concerned at the time. How can I be funky and greasy like the music I loved? How could I be more black? I was this skinny Mexican kid who could pass for white–how could I hope to be that funky and greasy?

Well the answer was Roger Hawkins. Learning that he was white was just hugely liberating. That meant that I, too, could be funky and greasy. The fact that I might need to work hard at this for the rest of my life was no issue at all–my dream had just gone from impossible to possible. And that meant everything to me at the time. Everything.

God bless Roger Hawkins. And who says white boys can’t be funky and greasy too? Amen…

Some of the other classic tracks that Roger Hawkins played on:

  • “Respect” Aretha Franklin
  • “I Never Loved a Man The Way That I Loved You” Aretha Franklin
  • “Land of 1,000 Dances” Wilson Pickett
  • “I’ll Take You There” The Staple Singers
  • “Kodachrome” Paul Simon
  • “Sitting In Limbo” Jimmy Cliff
  • …and too many others to count. If it got recorded in Muscle Shoals in the 60’s and 70’s, it’s a good bet that Roger drummed on it.


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