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Muscle Shoals session drummer Roger Hawkins, one of the legendary “Swampers,” dead at 75

Brian Cooke/Redferns

Roger Hawkins, a drummer who played on many memorable records as part of the soulful Muscle Shoals, Alabama, collective of session musicians known as “The Swampers,” died Thursday, May 20, at the age of 75.

The Muscle Shoals Music Foundation announced Hawkins’ passing on its official Facebook page, noting that he died Thursday afternoon at his home in Sheffield, Alabama.

The message points out that famed Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler once called Roger “the greatest drummer of all time,” and notes that among the many tunes on which he played were Aretha Franklin‘s “Chain of Fools,” Percy Sledge‘s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Wilson Pickett‘s “Mustang Sally,” and The Staple Singers‘ “I’ll Take You There.”

Born in Indiana, Hawkins was hired in 1964 as a session musician at Rick Hall‘s FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals. During the next five years, he played on an impressive list of songs by various soul and R&B artists.  One of the songs was Aretha’s immortal version of Otis Redding‘s “Respect.” In a 2019 interview with, Roger recalled watching Franklin and her sister sing the famous “sock it to me” backing-vocal part.

“At the time I thought, ‘This is really cooking,'” he said. “I never realized what kind of history was being made, but I knew that I liked it a lot.”

In 1969, Johnson and other members of The Swampers” opened their own recording facility, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, in nearby Sheffield, and christened themselves the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker and Boz Scaggs are among the many music standouts Hawkins worked with at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

Hawkins and his fellow Swampers also were briefly members of Traffic during the early 1970s.

Roger was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008.

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