December 23, 2013 – Ricky Lawson was born on November 8, 1954. The Detroit native learned to play drums as a young teenager in Cooley High School. He would borrow his uncle’s drum set and carry it to his house across town via the Detroit bus system. He then played in the high school jazz band, which consisted of only five members, including the band director. Outside of the school jazz band he also played for The Sons of Soul, who performed at the 1969 Michigan State Fair, opening for The Jackson Five along with The Blazer, a band from Cooley High School in Detroit that included La Palabra.
While in high school, he had a talent for such sports as water polo and swimming. His swimming talent eventually earned him a scholarship to college. He only spent one year at college though, being invited to play drums for Stevie Wonder and from there developing into one of the nation’s top studio musicians in the 1980s.
Early on, Ricky developed expertise in jazz, country and western, pop, R&B, funk and Latin rhythms – a versatility that allows him to play with anyone he wants to. He has earned his jobs and professional reputation by always being well prepared for his gigs. Some of the biggest Number 1 and multi-platinum singles and albums have featured Ricky’s impressive talents, including Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love”, James Ingrams’ “I Don’t Have The Heart” and Lionel Richie’s “Dancing On The Ceiling”.
A co-founder of the group The Yellowjackets in 1977. Known originally as the Robben Ford Group, the Yellowjackets consisted of Robben Ford, Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip and Ricky Lawson, all top-notch L.A. session musicians. Ricky received a Grammy in 1986 for co-writing the hit song “And You Know That” on the album Shades, which he co-produced. He also co-authored the Pointer Sisters’ hit “Uh-Uh” and co-produced the album Seriously Slammin and the Fattburger hit “Good News”.
In the ’80s and ’90s, he played drums for Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. He played on Whitney’s famous hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Lawson has a one note “solo” in the song, where he hits the snare drum before Whitney’s dramatic vocal finale. He says that this is his favorite solo of his career.
Throughout his career he worked extensively as a session musician, collaborating with the likes of Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Phil Collins, Babyface, Toto, Al Jarreau, Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Bette Middler, Russell Ferrante, George Benson, Lionel Richie, Toto and George Duke, among others.
He was the musical director of Michael Jackson’s Bad Tour in 1988.
Ricky was the featured drummer on Steely Dan’s Grammy winning Best Album “Two Against Nature”, Lionel Richie’s release “Renaissance”, the soundtrack to the blockbuster film “Brothers” and the score for the epic “Anna and The King” starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.
He also appeared on Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature tour DVD, Two Against Nature: Steely Dan’s Plush TV Jazz-Rock Party and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds “MTV Unplugged DVD 1997”.
In 2001, Lawson released the solo album Ricky Lawson and Friends, on which he performed, arranged, produced, and wrote all of the songs in collaboration with leading artists Gerald Albright, Phil Collins, George Duke, Sheila E., Nathan East, Donald Fagen, Jon Herington, Robben Ford, James Ingram, Boney James, Al Jarreau, Kirk Whalum, Vesta Williams, and others. The album is a blend of R&B, pop, and jazz.
In 2008, Lawson put together a classic Christmas CD, Christmas with Friends, with special guests Ron Reinhardt and Philppe Saisse on acoustic piano, Rick Braun on trumpet, Richard Elliot, Michael Paulo, and Steve Alaniz on sax, Paul Brown, Adam Hawley and Ian Keene on guitar, Lenny Castro on percussion, Roberto Vally and Sekou Bunch on bass.
In one of his final studio recordings, Lawson appears on 8 of 13 tracks of well-known bassist and Fourplay founding member Nathan East’s March 2014-released album, Nathan East. The album dedication In memory of Ricky Lawson appears as the final statement in the liner notes.
Sadly Lawson became disoriented while performing at the Spaghettini jazz club on December 13, 2013 in Seal Beach, California. It was diagnosed that a brain aneurysm had been the cause. He died on December 23, 2013, aged 59, when he was removed from life support after ten days.