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“The Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield Has Passed Away



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If James Brown is the architect of Hip-Hop, then drummer Clyde Stubblefield may very be his builder. The man Questlove calls “The Funkiest Drummer of All Time” has died today (February 18). He was 73 years old, and passed away from kidney failure. Clyde was an integral part of James Brown’s backing band, creating the sounds in the years (1965-1971) that Hip-Hop’s godfathers such as Grandmaster Flash spun at the seminal parties.

Stubblefield, who was a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, made 1970’s “The Funky Drummer,” one of the most-sampled jams of all time. Songs such as LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police,” and Beastie Boys’ “Shadrach” integrated those drums sounds.

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Clyde also led the rhythms on records like “Sex Machine,” “Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud,” “Cold Sweat” during his tenure with the self-proclaimed “Hardest Working Man In Show Business.”

Before joining Brown, he was a drummer for Otis Redding. Under Brown, Stubblefield did not receive publishing for his contributions to those albums. The pair’s relationship was contentious, per reports. Brown famously fined his musicians for on-stage errors and mishaps, including Clyde. He joined John “Jabo” Starks in Brown’s legendary band. While many Hip-Hop producers and historians mentioned the man’s name, he never received royalties for most of his most sought-out works.

In the early 2000s, Hip-Hop producer/MC/DJ Edan made a mixtape, Sound of the Funky Drummer, that cataloged and blended a history of Rap records integrating the sample.

“All the drum patterns I played with [James] Brown was my own, he never told me how to play or what to play,” Stubblefield told SF Weekly in a 2012 interview, as reported by Rolling Stone. “I just played my own patterns, and the Hip-Hoppers and whatever, the people that used the material probably paid him, maybe. But we got nothing. I got none of it. It was all my drum product.”

One 1968 Boston concert that showcases Clyde’s gifts:

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He released albums well into the 2000s, including The Original. Beyond Brown, Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks formed The Funkmasters band in the 1990s.

For more than 45 years, Clyde Stubblefield called Madison, Wisconsin his home.

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Just this week, keyboardist/producer/vocalist Walter “Junie” Morrison of Parliament-Funkadelic and the Ohio Players died. Last weekend, Jazz veteran Al Jarreau passed away. Two weekends ago, producer/arranger David Axelrod also died. The sonic backbones of Hip-Hop are leaving us at an alarming rate.

Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to the family, friends, and fans of Clyde Stubblefield, “The Funky Drummer.” The beat of Hip-Hop is forever changed because of your rhythms, abilities, and funkiness.

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Author: Jake Paine

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