The story of the funky drummer: the most exploited man in modern music
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“Give the drummer some”, said the voice of funk soul pioneer James Brown as it rang out above his band on the 1967 recording of Cold Sweat. The drummer in question was Clyde Stubblefield who was said to be one of the most sampled and exploited musicians of all time. His playing on Cold Sweat established the rhythmic template for funk and is rightly regarded as being pivotal in the history of popular music. But it was his work on Brown’s Funky Drummer that would echo through the ages. A 20-second drum loop that would go on to be sampled on over 1,300 songs, from Public Enemy and Beastie Boys to George Michael, Britney Spears and Ed Sheeran.
critical contribution to the record, he would not have retained any of the rights to his performance or his compositional contribution. Stubblefield spoke about Brown in the PBS documentary Copyright Criminals (2009), saying: “He didn’t tell me what to play … I played what I felt but he owned it.” His story may have gone unnoticed by the wider world were it not for the recording of Funky Drummer on November 20, 1969. It was a minor hit for for The Godfather of Soul. But five minutes and 34 seconds into the song, Stubblefield embarks upon a solo drum feature that launches both him and his drumming into the future, becoming a primary source in hip-hop’s development. This 20 seconds of music is propelled by a very straight and repetitive semiquaver/16th note hi-hat pattern with the bass drum emphasising the first two quavers/eighth notes of the bar. However, it is in the snare drum part where Stubblefield makes the magic happen. Its roots come from the New Orleans marching band tradition and it blends syncopations, ghost notes and rimshots into a compulsive rhythmic mix. The snare bounces off and against the straighter parts creating an addictively danceable beat that would prove irresistible to legions of hip-hop producers, DJs, rappers and pop artists.
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Unsung heroesAdrian York, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Music Performance, University of Westminster This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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