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Rocky Dijon: The Spicy Percussion Master

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There are some drum patterns so indelible, a listener can name the tune in three beats or less.  These include:

-Bobby Gregg’s snare shot that kick-starts Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which, as Bruce Springsteen stated, “sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind.”

-An opening bass drum blasting out three beats followed by a singular snare wallop was an accident that landed in the opening of “Be My Baby.” As its drummer, Hal Blaine noted, “I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick.”

Then there’s the mix of Charlie Watts’ drumming, Bill Wyman shaking a shekere, and Rocky Dijon slapping congas that became the legendary lead in to “Sympathy for the Devil.”

The Stones have used other guest percussionists like Ollie Brown and Luis Jardim. But it was Rocky who played with the band on three prime cuts (“Sympathy for the Devil,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”). These appeared on what some fans believe are the group’s three best albums (Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, and Sticky Fingers).

Dijon, who landed on England’s shores as a stowaway from Ghana, fell into the Stones’ orbit thanks to meeting producer/percussionist Jimmy Miller (who drummed on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Shine a Light” and “Happy”).  Dijon’s recording career was soon off and drumming, starting with the Stones’ “Citadel” on 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request and ending on Herbie Hancock’s 1981 album Magic Windows.

Sandwiched in between were guest appearances on albums by Joe Walsh, Ginger Baker, Billy Preston, and Minnie Riperton, and a long recording stint with Taj Majal (who used Rocky on six of his LPs).  He accompanied Jimi Hendrix at his Royal Albert Hall Concert in 1969, Nick Drake (on his debut Five Leaves Left album), and Stevie Wonder (who played all the other instruments) on his “Boogie On Reggae Woman.”

Rocky also had some screen time in the Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus film.  He can be seen with one eye on his instrument and the other on the glassy-eyed Brian Jones; who stands in front of Rocky and looks like he’s about to topple into a set of congas.

Unfortunately, Rocky discovered that being a session drummer meant he was temporarily in a band but not permanently in the money.  One of his six children, Gary (Dzidzornu) Stewart, concurred:

“He only received a session fee for his work.  I go to the cinema and hear him on soundtracks so often.  How come it’s always the part my dad is playing?  Never paid!”

Perhaps tired of being underpaid and underappreciated, Rocky left the music biz in 1981 and kept a low profile in Oakland, CA, where he died in 1993 at the age of 58.

In 2019, Carlos Santana claimed that it was his band that inspired the Stones’ to hire Rocky.  The master guitarist said: “What we brought was basically African rhythms and melody.  After Woodstock, every band all of a sudden started getting congas.  Miles (Davis) had congas.  The Rolling Stones had congas.  Because they saw that mixing congas with guitars is a win-win situation — especially with women!” But Carlos’ timeline is off because Rocky was hitting it for the Stones two years before Carlos played at Woodstock.

Despite his frustrating financial story, Rocky Dijon’s beats live on, thanks to these Stones classics and his exceptional percussion gifts.

-Mark Daponte

 

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

1 comment on “Rocky Dijon: The Spicy Percussion Master

  1. Steven Valvano

    Well done piece, I learned a lot about an important player. I enjoyed your dive into the unknown! Thanks

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