by Mary Bentley
April 2008

“I’ve been really blessed.  Some of my great buddies…they’ve just been so instrumental to my connections and my success.  They were in, and they were able to pull me in, which was really a treat.  When you’re blessed, you try to be a blessing.”  

You may recognize drummer Ricky Lawson when you see him.  He’s been a part of the smooth and contemporary scene for quite some time.  Chances are you’ve seen him sitting behind his drums as you take in one of the Guitars & Saxes shows, or with Gerald Albright, or Patti Austin, or one of the many other talented musicians he’s played with.  You may know all of this, but did you know that this gifted drummer is a Grammy award winner and a founding member of the Yellow Jackets? 

For Ricky Lawson, it all began in Detroit, where he grew up listening to the Motown sound.  That music was a part of his life.  Ricky taught himself to play when he was a teenager, and even though he’s been a professional musician for years, he still considers himself a student, “learning everyday.”  Ricky’s uncle, Paul Riser, was one of the top arrangers in Motown, who arranged such hits as; “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”  He was a huge influence and a big inspiration to him.  He was further influenced by talented drummers like Bernard Perdie, Harvey Mason, Indugu Chancellor, Billy Cobham, and Tony Williams, just to name a few.   

Ricky’s resume is long and impressive.  It is a who’s who of contemporary music and covers many genres. In addition to the musicians named in the opening paragraph, Ricky’s talent has backed the likes of Yolanda Adams, Chet Atkins, Roy Ayers, Babyface, Anita Baker, Chris Botti & Andrea Boccelli, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Boney James, Quincy Jones, Michael McDonald, Bette Midler, Lionel Richie, Steeley Dan, The Winans, and too many more to list.  Many of the artist’s projects he’s worked on have gone on to be nominated, or win Grammy awards themselves.  Is this a coincidence or does Ricky have the Midas touch?  Who knows!

Though always in demand and busy, Ricky always finds the time to give back.  Along the way, people have helped him get to where he is today; therefore, he feels strongly that he should pay it forward.  One way he does that is by talking to kids and getting them involved.  Ricky is working with Apple Computers on a few projects.  “I do a career day with those guys.  I try to get involved.  That’s one way to do it.  If you’re blessed, you try to be a blessing.  At least that’s what I do.  Teaching and helping kids, that’s a lot of fun.  And, they love it.”  He is also working with the people from Pearl Drums on some educational material. 

Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Robben Ford, and Ricky Lawson were the founding members of the Yellow Jackets.  Ricky was with the band for seven years.  “It was a wonderful experience.  They are a great bunch of guys, still today.  It was one of my great musical experiences.  I hear about it all the time.”  It was during that time Ricky wrote the song, “And You Know That,” from their Shades album, which won the band their first Grammy in 1986.  The category was: Best R&B Instrumental Performance (Orchestra, Group, or Soloist) He has since been nominated several more times over the course of his multi-faceted career.

As a producer, Ricky produced his own project, as well as projects for the Yellow Jackets, and other artists.   He co-produced Bebe Winans, Live and Up Close, as well as an overseas project called TKLA.  He has also done his share of arranging.  Ricky arranged “Imagine” for Randi Crawford on her Casino Lights CD.  He loves doing the back of the house side of the music “like producing, arranging, and just putting bands together, putting musicians together, being able to do that kind of stuff, and sharing the knowledge.”  He would like to do more of that given the opportunity. 

When one is this in demand and this busy, you wonder when they have time for themselves.  You wonder what they do in their downtime when they’re in between gigs, when they’re not playing, producing or composing.  Ricky Lawson is an active, hands on kind of guy.  He likes to work on cars, play basketball, swim, ride motorcycles, and go camping.  He also has a studio where he spends a lot of time.  Always learning and looking to improve, Ricky tries to stay on top of all the latest technology.  Even as we interview, he mentions how he has to go to the Apple Store to look at some new music software.   

He has played with so many artists that he has to think about who he’d like to play with that he hasn’t yet.  Ricky would love to play with the Rolling Stones.  Given his extensive resume and connections, this may not be out of reach for him.  But, until the day the Stones come a-calling Ricky will be hard at it, working on his upcoming music projects, sharing his musical knowledge with the young people,  composing,  producing a project for another artist, exploring the latest technology, and playing around the country and the globe at various venues as the concert and festival season picks up.  So, no matter which headliner artist you’ve come to see, the odds are good that at some point you’ll see Ricky sitting behind his drums, giving it his all.