Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown Drummer, Dies at 73

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Clyde Stubblefield in 2005 (Photo from his Wikipedia page)

Clyde Stubblefield, who played drums for James Brown during the fertile period of 1965-71, died February 18, 2017, of kidney failure. He was 73. The place of death was not disclosed but Stubblefield had lived in Madison, Wisc., since the early 1970s.

Stubblefield, nicknamed “The Funky Drummer,” played on such landmark funk hits as “Cold Sweat,” “Sex Machine,” “Mother Popcorn,” “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Ain’t it Funky Now” and many others. He also appears on Brown albums such as Sex Machine.

A brief section of his drum break in the song “Funky Drummer” is among the most sampled pieces of music ever recorded—it’s been used on rap recordings by Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., N.W.A, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys plus recordings by Prince, Ed Sheeran and George Michael, among many others—reportedly more than 1,000 songs in all.

Listen to the original James brown recording of “Funky Drummer”

Stubblefield was often uncredited for the sample and did not receive all due royalties as his name was not listed as a composer on the original track. According to Wikipedia, he was featured in the PBS documentary, Copyright Criminals, which addressed the creative and legal aspects of sampling in the music industry.

Related: Funk musician Junie Morrison dies

In 2014 Stubblefield was named the second best drummer of all time by L.A. Weekly. Two years later Rolling Stone ranked him #6.

The original King Records single of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” featuring Clyde Stubblefield

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 18, 1943, Stubblefield said that his drumming was inspired by the industrial noises and trains he heard while growing up. He toured with Otis Redding and others before being hired by Brown in 1965. He drummed in the band along with a second drummer, John “Jabo” Starks. Stubblefield left James Brown’s band in 1971 and later recorded a few albums as leader: The Revenge of the Funky Drummer (1997), The Original Funky Drummer Breakbeat Album (2002) and The Original (2003).

Tributes poured in upon the news of Stubblefield’s death. Questlove, drummer for the Roots, posted on Instagram: “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.”

Funk bassist Bootsy Collins posted on his Facebook page today: “We lost another Pillar Stone that held up the Foundation of Funk. 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. We all loved U so much. (SENDOUT YR LOVE TO HIS FAMILY & FRIENDS)! Then share yr stories about this Fire breathin’ Drummer, (THE FUNKY DRUMMER)! R.I.P. From all yr Funkateers.”

After moving to Madison, Stubblefield played Monday nights for more than 20 years with own Stubblefield Band, in downtown Madison.

Related: Three years before Stubblefield joined the band, James brown recorded one of the greatest live albums of all time

Late in his life, Stubblefield suffered from renal disease and underwent dialysis three. He lost his right thumb and the tip of a finger in a kitchen accident, and had to learn how to play the drums minus those fingers. He was also treated for bladder cancer in 2000, incurring over $90,000 in medical bills. Local musicians contributed $10,000 to his bills and Prince picked up the remaining $80,000.

Watch Clyde Stubblefield play a drum solo with James Brown in 1968

Watch Stubblefield in 1999

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