Clyde Stubblefield,born in Chattanooga Tennessee in 1943,became interested in music based on his interest in the rhythms of the factories and trains around him. This is a fitting legacy for a man who,in 1967,would be asked along with fellow JB drummer John “Jabo” Starks to “make the entire band sound like a drum”. Everything from the shuffling rhythms of hip-hop and new jack swing,along with the stripped down rhythms of modern electronica,come directly from Mister Stubblefield. Sadly,one of the most sampled drummers in music history passed of kidney failure on February 18th,2017.
I first learned the name of Stubblefield from a wonderful documentary on sampling entitled Copyright Criminals. Stubblefield was a participant-playing and discussing his famous drum break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”. The man said he wasn’t particularly concerned with money in regard to sampling his drum break. But just credit for it. Even Rolling Stone magazine,who often snub the influence of funk/soul musicians,named Stubblefield their drummer of the year in 1990. This began a series of accolades to a musician who I’m about to discuss the reason why he’s so revered.
Stubblefield’s approach to drumming,from “Cold Sweat” through “Funky Drummer” is based on playing a series of unusual syncopation’s with a light touch on his drums. This technique has been referred to as playing “ghost notes”. Its something a lot easier to hear and dance to than it is to explain with the written word. Speaking personally,it was a sound that myself (and I’m sure many others) knew extremely well before we even heard of Clyde Stubblefield. Even though he and James Brown are not with us anymore,their approach to music can never be extinguished from existence.
The saddest thing about Stubblefield is that his latter day health problems had him falling victim to the syndrome of a lot of elder musicians. Without record company residuals or health insurance for support,his medical bills ended up coming from other musical benefactors. Prince (who passed away last year) was a major one. Considering Stubblefield his idol as a drummer,he donated $80,000 to help pay his medical bills. So in terms of both his music and healthcare,Clyde Stubblefield’s legacy seemed to bring out the best in other musicians in terms of preserving his creative legacy.