Drummer Clyde Stubblefield Dies
Clyde Stubblefield, the longtime bedrock of the Madison music scene perhaps best known as James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” has died at the age of 73. Stubblefield was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and began playing drums professionally as a teenager, touring with Eddie Kirkland and Otis Redding in the early 1960s. He joined the James Brown Band in 1965 and in 1971 the band released “The Funky Drummer,” on which Stubblefield played the beat that would become one of the most widely-sampled cuts in history for which Stubblefield was never properly compensated. It was in 1971 that he settled in Madison and became a staple of the local music scene, building a large and devoted following and befriending nearly every musician in town.
Stubblefield had battled kidney disease and other health issues since 2009, with many musicians and supporters rallying to his aid through numerous benefit concerts. In April 2016, Stubblefield was named the sixth-greatest drummer of all time, which “seems low,” said longtime friend and collaborator Joey Banks at the time.
“Clyde brought funk to the mainstream and to the forefront of American music. So, if Clyde Stubblefield didn’t exist, that might have never happened and even James Brown as we know him today wouldn’t be the same,” Banks said in April. “We also have to talk about the hip-hop influence he had and the sampling of his work by hundreds of artists. How many of those artist might not have had those number one hits? The whole history of hip-hop would have been altered dramatically without the presence of Clyde.”
In 2014, Stubblefield was named the second best drummer of all time by LA Weekly who wrote: “Stubblefield is one of the most sampled drummers in history, the man whose uncanny ability to deconstruct pop music’s simple 4/4 rhythms into a thousand different sly syncopations laid the foundation not only for funk, but for most of hip-hop, as well.” Stubblefield’s drumsticks are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Across social media musicians and friends expressed their sorrow.
“We lost another Pillar Stone that held up the Foundation of Funk,” funk bassist William “Bootsy Collins” wrote on Facebook. “Mr.Clyde Stubblefield has left our frequency. I am lost for words & Rythme right now. Dang Clyde! U taught me so much as I stood their watchin’ over u & Jabo while keepin’ one eye on the Godfather,” he wrote, referring to drummer James “Jabo” Sparks and James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.”