Roger Hawkins, a drummer who shaped American pop music as part of Alabama’s famous Muscle Shoals music scene, has died. The Muscle Shoals Music Foundation announced the news on Thursday afternoon (May 20th). According to AL.com, Hawkins died after a prolonged illness and several years of health problems. He was 75 years old.

As a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – a group better known as the Swampers – Hawkins brought a groovy country funk sensibility to numerous pop, soul, R&B, and rock hits. A 2013 documentary, Muscle Shoals, documented the international influence of Hawkins and his colleagues. Hawkins has mostly worked with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett and has appeared on massive hits such as “Respect”, “Think”, “Chain of Fools”, “Mustang Sally” and “Land of 1000 Dances”. He also played drums on the Staple Singers’ icon “I’ll Bring You There”, drawing on reggae influences for the song’s signature rhythm.

Hawkins was born in Indiana and from childhood developed an interest in drums that was encouraged by family members. He came to Alabama as a teenager after years of traveling as a touring musician. In 1965 Hawkins played drums based on a song by a local singer: Percy Sledge. The single was “When a man loves a woman”, which quickly led to massive success. At Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios, he joined Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett and David Hood in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The group worked frequently with Aretha Franklin and acted as their band on Aretha Arrives. I have never loved a man the way I love you, Lady Soul and others. They joined Solomon Burke at King Solomon before supporting Etta James in Tell Mama from 1968, which also includes her classic “I’d Rather Be Blind”.

Hawkins left FAME in 1969 with fellow Swampers and co-founded the new Muscle Shoals Sound with financial support from super producer Jerry Wexler in nearby Sheffield, Alabama. Cher’s 3614 Jackson Highway was the first album to be recorded there. The singer borrowed the studio address for his title. After Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun became aware of the studio later in 1969, the group continued to be in high demand through the 1970s.

Hawkins’ credits during this period include Mavis Staples’ Only for the Lonely, Linda Ronstadt’s self-titled record, Ry Cooders Boomer’s Story, and Paul Simons There Goes Rhymin ‘Simon. In 1973 Steve Winwood recruited Hawkins and his colleagues Swampers as his backing band for Traffic’s Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory and the live album On the Road. Later in the decade, Hawkins appeared on other records from Art Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Bobby Womack, Millie Jackson, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, among others.

Hawkins continued his active music career well into the 1990s, slowing down when he first began experiencing tinnitus, but stayed close with his fellow Muscle Shoals. “We loved what we did. And when we were in this studio, nothing else mattered, ”he told AL.com in 2019.