Drummer Clyde Stubblefield passed away this weekend in Madison, Wisc., but his indelible mark on music lives on in one of the most sampled drum breaks ever. As a member of the Godfather of Soul James Brown’s band, Stubblefield’s performance on the “Funky Drummer” track has been used as a backdrop for hip-hop and dance classics alike.
Stubblefield was born April 18, 1943 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The self-taught drummer worked alongside the likes of Eddie Kirkland and Otis Redding before landing a spot in Brown’s band in 1965. Fellow self-taught drummer John “Jabo” Starks and Stubblefield provided a lot of the funk and soul groove for some of Brown’s famous tracks, like “Cold Sweat,” “Ain’t It Funky Now,” and “I Got The Feelin,’” among other classics.
However, “Funky Drummer” stands as Stubblefield’s most notable musical contribution. In a studio session led by Brown’s chants and grunts, Stubblefield’s open 20-second drum solo has been sampled by the likes of Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, Prince, George Michael and even jazz man Kenny G.
The groove’s signature roll and bounce has been sampled thousands of times since the song’s original inception in Cincinnati’s King Studios in 1969.
In a 2014 interview, Stubblefield said that the track wasn’t even one of his favorite creations, although he used the recognition to launch a variety of projects such as 1997’s Revenge Of The Funky Drummer album and several tutorial videos. As a session player, Stubblefield wasn’t credited as an official songwriter for “Funky Drummer” and thus lost out on an immesurable amount of royalties.
In his later years, Stubblefield became a fixture on Madison’s music scene with a weekly show revue and appearances on public radio. His health began to fail him in 2000. His New York Times obituary revealed that Prince, who said Stubblefied was his favorite drummer, quietly took care of $90,000 of Stubblefield’s outstanding medical bills. A pair of Stubblefield’s drumsticks are displayed at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
Stubblefield, who suffered with kidney issues, passed Saturday, February 18 at the age of 73.