Ricky Lawson was a session drummer whose roster of collaborators was impressive – it included Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston. He played on the latter’s hit version of the Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You” and has a one-note “solo” in the song, where he kicks the bass drum before Whitney’s dramatic finale. He said that this was his favourite solo of his career.
The Detroit native learned to play drums when he was 16 and had an early start in the music business, playing with The Sons of Soul, who performed at the 1969 Michigan State Fair, opening for The Jackson Five. His swimming prowess – he was also a fine water polo player – won him a scholarship to college, but he left after a year when he was invited to play for Stevie Wonder, and he went on to develop into one of the US’s leading studio musicians in the 1980s. He also performed with Al Jarreau, George Benson, Bette Midler, Quincy Jones and many others.
In 1977 he was a founding member of the Yellowjackets, an outfit of top Los Angeles session players, and he won a Grammy Award with them in 1986 for R&B Instrumental Performance for the jazz-fusion group’s hit “And You Know That”, taken from the album Shades. He then left to tour with Lionel Ritchie. Among his other credits was co-writing the Pointer Sisters’ hit “Uh-Uh”.
Lawson became disoriented during a performance at the Spaghettini jazz club on 13 December in Seal Beach, California, and was diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm. He was taken to hospital and put on life support, but died 10 days later.
Richard David Lawson, drummer and songwriter: born Detroit 1954; died Long Beach, California 23 December 2013.
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