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Obituary: Clyde Stubblefield


BEAT: Clyde Stubblefield

BEAT: Clyde Stubblefield

BEAT: Clyde Stubblefield

Clyde Stubblefield, who has died of kidney failure aged 73, shaped the sound of two eras and two forms of music: first, as the drummer in James Brown's band; and, 20 years later, when his grooves were sampled for many of the formative records of hip-hop.

Aged just 17, he was invited by Brown to join him in 1960 after the singer saw Stubblefield playing in Macon, Georgia, where he had been working with Otis Redding. The youngster soon discovered that Brown had five drummers on his roster but these were whittled down to two - Stubblefield and John Starks.

In a poll for Rolling Stone magazine, Starks and Stubblefield were voted the sixth-best drummers in the history of popular music (John Bonham of Led Zeppelin came top).

The pair complemented each other, with Starks the more powerful and Stubblefield the more innovative. Together, they set the tempo for what became called funk.

Stubblefield played on key tracks such as Cold Sweat and Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud), as well as albums such as Sex Machine. He played in the concert that Brown gave after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and in 1968 went with Brown to Vietnam to perform for the US troops.

In 1971, however, he left the group in the wake of the revolt for better pay by its members that saw Brown replace them with Bootsy Collins and his confreres.

A year earlier, Stubblefield had featured prominently on the instrumental single Funky Drummer. When, in the early 1980s, producers such as Hank Shocklee began to create hip-hop by repeating copied fragments of music from other records, Stubblefield's rolling break beat on the track became widely used.

The beat features notably in Fight the Power by Public Enemy, as well as The Magic Number by De La Soul and Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J. It can also be heard on George Michael's song Freedom! '90 and more recently on Ed Sheeran's Shirtsleeves.

Having appeared on 1,400 different records, the beat is thought to be the most sampled piece of music in pop.

Stubblefield admitted he never liked Funky Drummer, which was just as well since he never received royalties from its use. He had been employed as a session musician and Brown - who was notoriously mean - retained its copyright.

"I never expected all the stuff I've experienced," reflected Stubblefield. "I just play my soul and heart and feelings, and I love it."

Stubblefield was born on April 18, 1943, and grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Although he had no musical training, by his late teens he was already a professional musician, playing with blues guitarist Eddie Kirkland.

His rhythm was influenced by the industrial soundscape of his home city - the clickety-clack of trains and the hoot of a factory whistle reverberating from the hills.

After leaving Brown's band, he settled in Madison, Wisconsin, where his brother was stationed with the air force.

He became a fixture on local radio and played with bands. In 2014, he had to have a thumb amputated but he managed to carry on playing the drums by fitting a handle from a maraca to his drumstick, although in recent years ill health forced him to stop giving concerts.

He earlier survived bladder cancer and when Prince died last year, Stubblefield revealed that the Purple Rain singer had secretly paid his medical bills of $90,000 as a gesture of respect, even though they had never met.

Clyde Stubblefield is survived by his wife Jody.

© Telegraph