As part of the storied Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section of Alabama, Roger Hawkins drummed on dozens of hits, including Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” and Eric Clapton’s “I’ve Got A Rock N’ Roll Heart.” Loose and funky, syncopated and behind the beat, Hawkins’ iconic groove sounds like the Old South. He’s never in a hurry, and his time feel is similarly relaxed, as are his clanging bell-centric ride patterns and slipping sliding bass-and-snare-drum communiqués. Hawkins can also impersonate other drummers with flair. Are those Pretty Purdie’s shuffling rim-clicks on The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There?” Hawkins on the case. Hal Blaine tub thumping on Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1,000 Dances?” Hawkins again. A foursquare drummer who covers all the bases, Hawkins just feels good.
Effortless groove. Enormous feel. Solid chops. Risk-taking skills. Gerald Heyward has it all, as he’s shown on stage with Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, and Chris Brown. His snare slap is truly inspirational — no wonder, as he grew up playing drums in the church. Heyward can also give his hi-hat a workout, dropping serious Stewart Copeland–styled wizardry while steamrolling through full-set bombs as needed to raise the roof and uplift the spirit. Unfortunately for Heyward, and for us, his best work is unrecorded, as the top-selling R&B artists he works with prefer Pro Tools rhythms to the real thing.
Like Hal Blaine and Roger Hawkins, Al Jackson Jr. was part of a regional powerhouse recording scene — Stax Records in Memphis. Often called the “human timekeeper,” Jackson had a very measured, powerful backbeat that produced an extraordinary amount of rhythmic energy. Jackson’s drumming found perfect expression in the tight R&B of his main gig, Booker T. & The MGs on hits like “Green Onions.” With MGs’ Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper, Jackson recorded super soul Stax tracks for Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, and many more. But Jackson’s greatest recordings are the Willie Mitchell–produced hits of soul vocalist Al Green. On “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired Of Being Alone,” and “I’m Still in Love With You” Jackson’s drumming is simply transcendent: rich, round, energetic, kinetic, grooving beyond belief. Almost anyone can play the notes of these historic singles, but only Jackson could fill them with such life and power.