Clyde Stubblefield: Hardest Working Drummer In Show Biz Dead At 73

The world of hip-hop, funk, and R&B is a whole lot quieter today. Clyde Stubblefield, who served the syncopation behind Otis Redding, Eddie Kirkland, and James Brown, is dead at age 73. Stubblefield’s widow, Jody Hannon, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the legendary drummer had been dealing with health issues for more than 15 years and eventually succumbed to kidney failure in a Wisconsin hospital on Saturday.

Born April 18, 1943 and raised in Chattanooga, Clyde Stubblefield packed up his drum kit and moved to Madison, Wisconsin in 1971. Hannon explained that Clyde fell in love with her hometown while touring with the James Brown Band. Although Stubblefield continued to perform and record with the likes of Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, “Jabo” Starks, and other name acts, the drummer was equally delighted to be part of the local Madison music scene where he provided the groove for keyboardist Steve Skaggs, guitarist Cris Plata, jazz violinist Randy Sabien, and other local musicians. From the 1990s until 2015, Stubblefield contributed musical commentary to a nationally syndicated radio show called Whad’ Ya Know?

Prince to the rescue, but nobody knew

Prior to his death from kidney failure, Stubblefield had been hit hard by a number of medical problems, including bladder cancer. Although he insisted that the press not be notified, fellow musician Prince came to Clyde’s rescue more than a decade ago, when he privately paid off more then $80,000 in hospital bills. As Jody Hannon revealed to the Wisconsin State Journal shortly after the Paisley Park musician’s death last year, local Madison players raised some $10,000 to help pay for the drummer’s doctor and hospital bills, but the couple was still worried about how they’d pay the balance. She received a message at work that simply said, “call us back.”

“It was Prince’s people and they said, ‘Prince wants to take care of the complete balance of your medical bills. Clyde is one of his drumming idols. Just name the number, and we will send it to the hospital.’ I was going to say $20,000, which already seemed like a lot to me, but I just finally said the bills are 70, 80 thousand. They immediately transferred that and had the bill taken care of.”

Stubblefield paid it forward, too, establishing an eponymous scholarship program for young Madison musicians in 2015. Funded by all-star concerts that are expected to carry on in the wake of Stubblefield’s death, the Clyde Stubblefield Scholarship Fund helps high school kids continue their musical education in college.

The man with the most-sampled chops

When James Brown called out, “Give the drummer some!” he was referring, of course, to Clyde Stubblefield.

In a 2011 article in the New York Times, writer Ben Sisario noted that while James Brown’s powerhouse rhythm section made millions for rappers, hip-hoppers, and other musical acts, the legendary drummer was never fairly compensated for his work. Best credited as a dynamic drummer in the James Brown Band, Stubblefield’s super funky chops have been sampled on more than 1,000 hip-hop, rap, and R&B songs. Despite his remarkable contribution to music, especially as a member of the James Brown Band, Stubblefield received precious little financial compensation.

Very few of the hip-hop artists who sampled Stubblefield’s “Funky Drummer” solo paid to use the samples. Those who did pay fees directly to James Brown, not the drummer who created the singular 20-second sound. According to sources at Crossroads Today, Stubblefield’s most famous drum solo provides rhythm on notable singles such as Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” “Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre, NWA’s “F*ck da Police,” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

In remembrance

During Stubblefield’s lifetime, Ahmir Khalib Thompson, better known in rap circles as DJ Questlove, lauded Stubblefield as the drummer with “marksman’s left hand” who defined funk music as we know it today. Upon learning of the legendary drummer’s demise, Questlove published a post on Instagram with a caption that read:

“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.”

P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins remembered Clyde Stubblefield on his Facebook page yesterday.

From longtime collaborator and personal friend, Joey B. Banks:

“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. 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.”


Stubblefield sampled

Samples of Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break on “Funky Drummer” feature on more than 1,300 songs, including the Powerpuff Girls theme. Here are just a few of the recordings that rely on the ubiquitous funk riff, according to WhoSampled:

  • “Fight The Power,” “Bring the Noise” and “Rebel Without a Pause” –Public Enemy
  • “The Originators” –Jay Z
  • “Mathematics” –Mos Def
  • “Save Me” –Nicki Minaj
  • “The Cool” –Lupe Fiasco
  • “Shadrack” –Beastie Boys
  • “Where I’m From” –Digable Planets
  • “I am Stretched on Your Grave” –Sinead O’Connor
  • “Fastest Man Alive” –Grandmaster Flash
  • “Scarlet Begonias” –Sublime

[Feature Image by gornostay/Shutterstock]