Photo Courtesy of Meinl Cymbals
Drum magazine mourns the passing of Clyde Stubblefield, the original Funky Drummer, at age 73 on February 18, 2017. Over the years that he worked for James Brown (onstage, he was often paired with John “Jabo” Starks in a double-drumming configuration), Mr. Stubblefield laid down the grooves for “Cold Sweat” (1967), “I Got the Feelin'” (1968), “Mother Popcorn” (1969), and “Funky Drummer” (1969), helping to define funk music in the process and influencing generations to come. In 2011, Drum named Mr. Stubblefield one of the “50 Most Important Drummers Of All Time.”
Of “Funky Drummer,” the late drum educator Chuck Silverman once wrote, “When you take into consideration the technical demands of the tempo, the ghost notes, and the hi-hat openings and closings, the effortless feel that Clyde is able to throw down is all the more remarkable. It’s one of the reasons his groove has been sampled so many times as opposed to being re-created by other drummers. They can copy Clyde’s notes, but they can’t reproduce the feel and spirit of his performance.” (Excerpted from The Funkmasters — The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections 1960-1973: For Guitar, Bass and Drums, published in 1997 by Manhattan Music Publications.)
On Instagram on February 18, Questlove wrote, “The Funky Funkiest Drummer Of All Time. Clyde Stubblefield thank you for everything you’ve taught me. The spirit of the greatest grace note left hand snare drummer will live on thru all of us.”
David Garibaldi reflected on Stubblefield’s passing and impact on funk drumming in a Facebook post from Tower Of Power’s official page:
“When I woke up this morning and saw the news that Clyde has passed away, my heart sank. He was one of my favorite drummers and a hero. I learned a lot from listening to him and even today I still study his drumming from time to time and always am amazed at how futuristic his drumming with JB was. So creative, and definitely in that category of drummers who were at the vanguard of a rhythmic revolution in the late ’60s.
“His drumming is still sounding as fresh today as it did when I first heard ‘Cold Sweat’ in 1967. I was in the military and that record was in the jukebox at the base cafeteria…it was mind blowing at the time. Then came ‘I Got The Feelin’…to me, that one is still his very best performance and is my all-time favorite JB track…Clyde is blowing his heart out and it’s still something to learn from for anyone who is interested in what creative funk drumming is about…it’s like a great jazz performance. That’s not to say that his other recorded performances weren’t…they all had something great… ‘I Got The Feelin’’ is my personal favorite. I certainly wouldn’t be the drummer that I am today without his influence.
“Tower Of Power recorded a tribute to James Brown called ‘Star Time’ [which appears on the band’s 2009 album, Great American Soulbook]. We perform this live and for me, is one of the most enjoyable parts of a TOP show. I try to channel Clyde every time we play it…my tribute of love and respect for one of the greatest drummers in the modern era. I had the pleasure of meeting him, which is a highlight in my music career. When Emilio asked me to write something about Clyde, even though I hated the thought of having to saying goodbye to a great man, I knew I had to. It’s with much love and respect that I offer TOP’s most sincere condolences to Clyde’s family…and from me, Clyde my brother, RIP and thank you for all you’ve given to those of us who wanted to be like you.”
Check out the complete recorded performance of “Funky Drummer.”