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Clyde Stubblefield: The Funky Drummer, RIP
John Doran , February 18th, 2017 23:20

The name of this tune is... The Funky Drummer!

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Clyde Stubblefield, one of the most celebrated drummers in popular music, has died aged 73.

The musician, has become best known, perhaps, for his improvised break during the 1970 James Brown track 'Funky Drummer' - one of the most instantly recognisable and most sampled drum breaks ever.

The track is a relatively long and loose jam, which didn't rank as one of Brown's most popular tunes until it the advent of hip hop, which then saw it sampled by the likes of NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys.

Such was the ubiquity of this section of recording that it now ranks alongside the other two most sampled drum patterns ever, The Honeydrippers' 'Impeach The President' and The Winstons' 'Amen, Brother'.

The idea the track was improvised is supported by James Brown's lyrics which are essentially instructions to the musicians in his band - Stubblefield prime among them - and then praise for him, in the shape of the song being spontaneously named in his honour: "You don’t have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got … Don’t turn it loose, ’cause it’s a mother... The name of this tune is the Funky Drummer!”

Indeed the Funky Drummer became Stubblefield's nickname but his work on another track a few years previously had already assured his place in history.

When the accolade for creating a genre of music is awarded to one musician, there is usually critical dissent. The boundaries between musical styles of are often poorly defined and open to interpretation. But if there is one person from the canon of late 20th-century music who can be awarded this prestigious honour, it is James Brown... with Clyde Stubblefield on drums.

You only have to listen to Cold Sweat once and compare it to contemporaneous Motown and Stax soul fare from 1967 to see what a huge leap forward Brown had taken in hammering soul into the new genre: funk. Some unsuspecting music listeners must have been left perspiring in fear initially when they first heard this monstrous groove with its sickly, elastic, one-chord bass line, demented screaming and utterly essential thunderous Stubblefield breakbeat – but none of its harsh militancy stopped it from getting to number one on the Billboard R&B chart, where it stayed for three weeks.

(It was Brian Eno in 2001 who said: "There were three great beats in the 70s: Fela Kuti's Afrobeat; James Brown's funk; and Klaus Dinger's Neu!-beat." While the spirit if this is no doubt correct, it would have been perhaps more correct to list Tony Allen, Clyde Stubblefield and Klaus Dinger.)

In fact Stubblefield was in the driving seat on many of Brown's peerless singles delivered during his unbeatable '64 - '74 decade of power and included 'Say It Loud - I'm Black And Proud', 'Ain't It Funky Now' and 'Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved'.

Stubblefield was born in April 1943 and played for Otis Redding before joining James Brown's band in 1965 and leaving in 1971. He went on to collaborate with The J.B.s, Bootsy Collins, Chuck D, The Roots and fellow James Brown drumming alumni, Jabo Starks.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

Stephen Bull
Feb 19, 2017 1:38pm

Thanks for this piece. Sorry to hear of the passing of Clyde Stubblefield. His funky drumbeats have been part of my life for many decades now - and I'm sure they will be with us for a very, very long time. As James Brown (under)states, 'It's still good!'

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alex
Feb 20, 2017 8:44am

there was a really nice interview I'd heard with him recently on "the trap set" podcast...
rip, man...

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