Musicians to Celebrate Life of Drummer Ricky Lawson
He was the globe-hopping drummer who played with everyone from Michael Jackson to Paul McCartney. Now Ricky Lawson’s hometown will get a chance to pay its respects.
Lawson, who died in Los Angeles just before Christmas, was one of Detroit’s most renowned and respected session musicians. The 59-year-old drummer and Cooley High grad had a sprawling, glowing résumé that included his early-’80s stint with the Yellowjackets, a pair of world tours with Jackson, and an eclectic array of studio work with artists such as Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and, more recently, Béyoncé and Mariah Carey.
That’s Lawson you hear on hits such as Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling,” Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” — where his single tom-tom hit dramatically sets up Houston’s soaring finale.
The late drummer’s life and career will be celebrated by friends, family members and musicians during a Saturday afternoon memorial program at Music Hall, followed by a jam session at Centre Park Grille (formerly the Rhino). Both events are free and open to the public.
“We want to send him off in the best fashion possible in his hometown,” says cousin Paul Riser Jr.
The memorial celebration will feature a drum line performance including members of the Cass Tech band, video tributes from Lawson’s artist colleagues, and proclamations from state and city officials. Several Lawson family members will participate in musical performances and poetry readings.
Emcees will be jazz disc jockey Maxine Michaels and WDIV-TV newsman Chauncy Glover.
The evening jam session will be led by Detroit jazzer David Myles.
“We may get some surprise musicians coming up onstage,” says Riser. “That’s the spirit we want to create — dynamic and fun.”
The music industry’s hired guns often operate in relative obscurity, their work heard by millions but their names known by few. Lawson was an exception: His long, eclectic tenure made him a much-loved figure, particularly in the smooth-jazz world where he’d spent his recent years, and his death prompted an outpouring of remembrances from fans and musicians such as Questlove.
Lawson died Dec. 23 in a Los Angeles-area hospital after 10 days on life support. He had suffered a brain aneurysm while performing in a holiday-themed concert at a popular local jazz club. A private funeral was held in L.A. in late December.
Saturday’s Detroit event follows a January tribute concert in L.A. with musical guests such as saxophonist Dave Koz, trumpeter Rick Braun, percussionists Sheila E and Pete Escovedo, and others.
Riser says musical tributes to Lawson have also been staged in Japan and Europe.