Drummer Don Heffington, known for his work with the ’80s country-rock band Lone Justice and his session work with artists like Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne and others, has died at the age of 70. He reportedly had been hospitalized with leukemia recently.
Heffington, who was born into a musical family in Los Angeles, played in a jazz band in his early years before joining the original lineup of Lone Justice, which included singer Maria McKee, bassist Marvin Etzioni and Ryan Hedgecock on guitar.
“I was talking to Marvin this morning, and we were reminiscing about when Don joined LJ in ’83,” Hedgecock said in response to the news of Heffington’s death. “I remember the feeling that the drummers I had played with before had been, at times, like flimsy wooden houses. When Don sat down behind the drums, there was now a brick wall there that I could lean against.”
“Like Ringo [Starr], he didn’t play drums, he played songs,” added Etzioni. “Any songwriter who played with Don knows that.”
Heffington’s tenure stretched far and wide. He played drums on albums by dozens of other artists, including Dylan (Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded), Harris (White Shoes), Browne (Standing in the Breach), the Wallflowers (Bringing Down the Horse) and Chris Stills (100 Year Thing).
“He listened to everything: the lyrics, the singer, the other instruments and played more like a painter, adding his colors to the music where needed,” Hedgecock said. “And always like a swinging human metronome. Back then, we called him the King of Swing. He became one of my guiding lights of solid musicianship and stellar musical tastes.”
“He was always pushing ahead artistically/philosophically, whether it was producing albums or searching for the right rhythms and always reaching for something that no one had played before,” wrote frequent collaborator Blasters frontman Dave Alvin on Facebook. “Playing with Don was always exciting, educational and a flat-out gas. With his all-knowing hipster smile, he gently pushed you into performances that you didn’t know you had in you.”