Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1943, the future world-famous "Funky Drummer" got started by hitting everything in sight with whatever was at hand. "I used to take spoons or whatever and be hitting pots and pans all day long. The washing machine used to make this rhythm too. And there was a railroad near the house. The sound of the trains, it was all a groove to me." Chattanooga was a railroad town, and Clyde spent hours walking the tracks as a boy.
By age 15, Clyde was participating in the professional music scene. His first band was called Emmett Bonds and the Flaming Rockets (check out"The Walking Band" on Clyde's CD The Original for a brief history of Emmett Bonds and The Flaming Rockets). They played mostly private parties in "splo houses," whisky joints on the edge of town. Next came Hirshel Hawkins and the Cascades, a step up, a "hot, smokin' band," according to Stubblefield. The Cascades took Clyde out of moonshine houses to the big show - the Veterans' Hall stage before a dance floor packed with couples that flocked the joint for their one-of-a-kind soul music. Then things started happening fast. One night the Cascades played behind a traveling soul singer out of Macon. His name was Otis Redding. "We cooked," says Clyde. "And he loved us." When Redding returned to Macon, Stubblefield followed him. Once in Georgia, Clyde played a few more times with Redding, but never missed the Sunday night jams at a club owned by Clint Bradley. That's where James Brown walked in and first heard Stubblefield drumming.
At 17, Clyde found himself at the heart of the most important groove machine on planet earth: The James Brown Review. He was 22 when he joined the James Brown Orchestra in 1965, a six-year engagement that would produce such JB classics as "Cold Sweat," "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud," "I Got the Feeling," "Sex Machine" and, of course, "Funky Drummer." Actually, Clyde and fellow drummer John 'Jabbo' Starks were partly responsible for the James Brown "Review" concept.
Because Clyde was the drummer featured on James Brown "Funky Drummer" - and his drums were recorded in the clear - those drummers did more than envy him. They sampled him. Hundreds of times. Clyde Stubblefield is known as "the most sampled drummer in the world," because, as Rolling Stone Magazine wrote of a recent James Brown collection, "When he (Brown) finally lets Clyde Stubblefield take the drum break, it's as pure a moment of release as you'll find in recorded music." Artists as diverse as Sinead O'Connor, Public Enemy and Fine Young Cannibals electronically "borrowed" Stubblefield's rolls and flams.
Although he was named Rolling Stone's "Drummer of the Year" in 1990 and, in 1995, a pair of his drum sticks were enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Clyde remains a modest, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. A citizen of Madison, Wisconsin, where he has lived for over three decades, he continues to play his regular blue Monday gig - when he's not on the road with leading jazz/funk groups like The Masters of Groove or John Scofield - and he seems unaffected by the fact that virtually every famous drummer who comes through town wants to meet him. "Every drummer has an idol who's the reason they got into drumming," Phil Lavinger, the man who organized the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's collection, says. "And a good number of the drummers I've met [doing this project] have asked me about Clyde, asked if I have his sticks. He's been just an incredible influence on a whole generation of drummers, on the whole world of drumming."
The Original captures drummer Clyde Stubblefield in a whole new way.
Not only does the CD showcase Clyde's ground-breaking musical style, it also captures his joyful personality. Songs like "The Walking Band," in which he tells the story of his first band, Emmett Bonds and the Flaming Rockets, or "Learn to Cook," in which he describes how preparing food and playing drums are similar (both need the same ingredient, soul) are unique in modern recording: you hear Clyde talk as he plays, naturally, with humor and force. And his infectious laughter on "You Said" is classic Clyde Stubblefield. In fact, the entire album is interwoven with interviews and stories, conversations, raps and songs so that the collection becomes a kind of audio biography of the man himself.
At the same time, producer Leo Sidran made the album in a completely new way. First, he took Clyde into Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin (owned by producer Butch Vig, the place is famous as the home of the modern rock group Garbage) and spent a lazy Sunday afternoon with the drummer laying down various of his patented grooves: the Popcorn, the Shuffle, the Stroll, the Hippest March, and some personal favorites that were beyond category. Clyde played each groove as if he was hearing a whole orchestration in his mind. All by itself, his playing is so naturally structured and dynamic that each groove seemed to roll out like he was laying tracks for a futuristic train to roll down.
Next, Sidran took these extended drum grooves into his private studio and began shaping the songs, constructing the vehicles that would take us all for a ride into the funky future. Literally working off the various drum patterns - focusing on the kick drum for "The Hippest March" or Clyde's natural ability to think in 8, 12 and 16 bar phrases for The Original - Sidran plumbed the depths of the "Funky Drummer" to build original harmonic and melodic engines of soul. When, six weeks later, he finally played the results for Stubblefield, the drummer was ecstatic...and flabbergasted: "That's what I hear in my head when I play!" he shouted. "You're the only one who ever captured me. It's exactly as I'm hearing it. You're the first!" Sidran smiled and said, "Well Clyde, I just built it off the drums. I'm just listening to you."
Because Sidran is, himself, a drummer (in fact, Stubblefield was his first drum teacher) as well as a successful programmer and composer - he plays bass, guitar, keyboards and percussion on the album - the music initially became a kind of musical conversation between the two of them. However, Sidran soon called in some of the members of his extended musical family to take the ride on this soul express. For the title track,"The Original," a rap detailing the historical effect of Stubblefield's work, singer Joy Dragland (of the Nardis recording group Joy and the Boy) was enlisted; for much of the horn work, and especially the ground-breaking "Hippest March Part II," Sidran employed saxophonist Al Falaschi and orchestrator Tim Whalen (of the Nardis recording group Phat Phunktion) to get the classic ensemble sound. Also on board this soul express are Italian bass playing phenomenon Dario Deidda and groove master Gege Telesforo (look for their work on the Nardis Music Presents collections.) And for the classic R&B groove "The Difference," Sidran turned to legendary guitar player Phil Upchurch, and to his father, keyboardist / composer Ben Sidran, to help make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Sidran, in the end, considers this among his finest work. His only regret is that he didn't get to mix the record. It was given, instead, to the legendary Hector Coulon. "I wouldn't say that I could have done it better," said Sidran. "I just wish I had been asked."
The result is a once-in-a-lifetime experience: Clyde Stubblefield unfettered, finally turned loose to be himself, along with good friends and musical family. The Original is just that, and fans the world over will celebrate, along with guitar legend John Scofield, who writes the album's liner notes.
"The groove that made James Brown famous returns on CLYDE STUBBLEFIELD's debut. If ever a groove contained magic, it's Stubblefield's-from the jaunty New Orleans funk of "The Difference" and the shuffle of "The Walking Band" to the popping snare punches of "Hippest March." Stubblefield's tipping pocket and righteous groove remain unchanged by time, each performance here a lesson in rhythmic assurance. He even smokes fusion-funk on "Okay," a tongue-tying groove that nearly suspends time." - Ken Micallef, Modern Drummer
"The Original, a reference to Stubblefield's title as the 'original funky drummer,' is worth the wait. In addition to being a confident combination of jazz, mannered hip-hop and old-school funk, these 10 songs are an auspicious debut for Nardis Music..." - Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinal
"Several cuts are P-Funk powerful, and 'Okay' is more than OK for tearing the roof off this sucka." - Jeff Johnson, Chicago Sun Times
"Clyde Stubblefield, best known as drummer for the James Brown Band, laid down some classic beats and let others write jazzy groove tunes around them. The results on The Original are surprisingly cohesive and compelling." - Jonathan Takiff, Houston Chronicle
"Clyde's drumming on The Original is always a delight, and the disc should win him many more fans." - Tom Laskin, Isthmus Madison
"We are all in debt to Mr. Stubblefield for his massive contributions to modern music. He created the funk beat and raised it as his child, he is the most sampled drummer in the world, and he has his place in the Rock & Roll hall of fame next to James Brown. Produced by Ben Sidran and Leo Sidran, "The Original" is an R&B record you can bump in your car, woo your lover, or cook Cajun to; courtesy of Stubblefield's relentless grooves. The female vocals are smooth as satin, and the horn section skillfully flows between hi-hat and bass drum. Frequent back-and-forth dialogue between the Sidrans and Stubblefield will take you right into the sound booth, looking directly at the man behind the beat. To Mr. Stubblefield, 59 is just a number. "The Original" explores his life from his past days with the "walking band" of Chattanooga Tennessee through the present as a survivor and Madison institution. If you only buy one album this year, this should be it. - Brett Lemke, Maximum Ink
"Like its subject, Stubblefield's latest creation is a true original." - Jim Packard, Madison Magazine