If the name Clyde Stubblefield doesn’t sound familiar to you, his music certainly will. From 1965-1970, Stubblefield served as drummer for James Brown, lending his talents to a plethora of seminal recordings like “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose,” “Cold Sweat,” and “Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud.” In that five-year period, Stubblefield’s deceptively intricate drumming helped lay the foundation for funk, giving Brown’s music a bombastic rhythmic backbone. With the advent of the sampler in the late 1980s, Stubblefield’s drum breaks played a key role in the development of hip-hop, most notably his performance on “Funky Drummer,” which found its way into classic tracks like Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without A Pause,” NWA’s “Fuck The Police,” Ice T’s “O.G. Original Gangsta,” and countless others.
Even outside of the realm of hip-hop, Stubblefield’s “Funky Drummer” break can be heard on everything from Sinead O Connor’s “I Am Stretched To Your Grave,” all the way to the theme from The Powerpuff Girls. To call his drumming influential would be an understatement, and with more than 1,300 samples of “Funky Drummer” alone, Stubblefield’s presence has become omnipresent in modern popular music over the last three decades.
One would assume that Stubblefield was paid handsomely for the thousands of times he’d been sampled. Sadly, this was not the case. Because Brown himself was credited as songwriter for the compositions, any royalties earned went to Brown and not Stubblefield, even though the segments being sampled consisted largely of Stubblefield’s distinctive playing.
After leaving Brown’s band in 1970, Stubblefield settled in Madison with his wife, Jody Hannon. He performed regularly with The Clyde Stubblefield band, collaborated with a wide variety of musicians, and lead drum clinics across the country. Stubblefield’s health began to decline in the early 2000s and he struggled with kidney disease for the past 15 years. On February 18, Clyde Stubblefield died from kidney failure. He was 73. He was uninsured.
Stubblefield’s wife has set up a GoFundMe page to offset his funeral-related expenses. Stubblefield’s contributions to popular music are innumerable, and his playing will continue to keep his legacy alive for years to come. Although he was never properly compensated for this, now is just as good a time as ever to give back to the legendary musician who gave us so much. We’ll miss you, Clyde. Thank you for always keeping it funky.