I was in a waiting room at the hospital yesterday when I discovered this terrible news. At first, I couldn't believe what I was reading. So I did what most of us did. Immediately after learning of Clyde Stubblefield's death I composed a tribute post on Instagram and Facebook to commemorate his passing. As time passed and I have thought more about this event I felt that a post is not enough. It is my duty to write and talk about the icons in our drumming community and this man should be shown the upmost respect and he deserves something more from me. He has been a major influence on my playing for years and I owe him something for how he has shaped my experience behind the drums.
Clyde Stubblefield was born on April 18, 1943, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His sense of rhythm was largely influenced by the industrial sounds and local trains that were in his neighborhood growing up. He would eventually fall in love with the instrument when he saw some drummers in a parade and after that, the rest is history they say. Stubblefield was a self-taught drummer that played what was in his heart and what he felt was musically appropriate for every situation. Between himself and John "Jabo" Starks, funk drumming was clearly defined.
Something that I feel is important to discuss is Clyde's legacy and the tremendous value he contributed to our drumming community. He himself was not a rich man and did not ever receive any gratuities for his creation of the "Funky Drummer" groove. I find this to be bitter sweet. It is an amazing pattern that has been sampled more than any other drum groove in the history of music and yet poor Clyde never saw a dime. For music, however, if it wasn't for Clyde and his incredible playing, we wouldn't have this gem. So thank you, Mr. Stubblefield, for your contribution to music.
Much later in his career, he started to become recognized with accolades for his contributions to music. It took nearly a half century, but eventually, he started to receive what he long deserved. He was ranked as the second best drummer by L.A. Weekly in 2014 and in 2013 both he and Starks were awarded the Yamaha Legacy Award. In 2004 he received the lifetime achievement award at the Madison Area Music Awards and his signed drumsticks can be found at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Since 2002, Clyde had suffered from kidney disease. He did eventually receive a kidney operation but not without the kind and generous help from his friend Prince, who put forward $80,000 to assist with his healthcare costs. It was disclosed officially in 2016 that Stubblefield had no health insurance, so thank you, Prince, for likely being the reason that Mr. Stubblefield had been with us as long as he had been. But he is gone now. Gone but not forgotten. I would like each of us to remember him for what he represented in our lives as drummers and give Funky Drummer a spin today.
RIP Clyde Stubblefield April 18, 1943 - February 18, 2017
RIP Prince Rogers Nelson June 7, 1958 - April 21, 2016