you've heard him a million times, but he ain't no millionaire
March 29, 2011 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Give the drummer some? Nuh-uh. PAY the drummer some! Living Legend Tries to Make a Living. I'm talking about the man who gave us the drum solo (at 5:35) that launched a thousand hip hop ships, James Brown's funky heartbeat, Clyde Stubblefield. [previously].
posted by flapjax at midnite (36 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
> " But for the last 40 years he has happily remained in Madison, Wis., playing gigs there with his own group and, since the early 1990s, playing on the public radio show “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know?”"


posted by ardgedee at 6:00 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

So, is there an easy way we can, give him $50 or something? I feel like I owe him at least one drumming's lesson's worth of dought...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:09 PM on March 29, 2011

dough. Grrr.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:10 PM on March 29, 2011

posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:13 PM on March 29, 2011

Seriously, the show I always turn off before I gnaw my own leg off features the sound of the funky drummer? HOW
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:39 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I pitched in on his medical bills a few years back. There was some kind of public gateway that a local kid put up for him.
posted by damehex at 6:47 PM on March 29, 2011

ain ei funkeh aHEEYYa.
posted by clavdivs at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2011

There is a web fundraising thing for him here (based on searching around it seems legit).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:51 PM on March 29, 2011

It has been debated in record shop yore that James Brown is indeed the man with the fastest voice in musical history. I have a Yardbirds LP wagered on this one.
posted by clavdivs at 6:53 PM on March 29, 2011

The “Funky Drummer” is a five-second excerpt from a James Brown song that has been used as the foundation of hundreds of other musical compositions and is one of popular music’s most famous samples. This experimental documentary by Joshua Pablo Rosenstock portrays the performance and subsequent sampling of the Funky Drummer as an archetypal cultural moment and a lens through which to examine a multifaceted story of creative appropriation. Rosenstock collected and created artifacts, “holy relics,” and ritual performances that explore the early history of Hip Hop, the fetishistic culture of record-digging, and the creative acts of sampling and remixing.
posted by ioesf at 6:58 PM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

"Mr. Stubblefield recorded a set of ready-to-sample beats. By filling out a basic licensing form, anyone willing to pay royalties of 15 percent on any commercial sales — and give credit — can borrow the sound of one of the architects of modern percussion."

15% of commercial sale price, or 15% of the artist's take? Either way that seems ludicrously high! Does anybody know if this a standard rate?
posted by cyphill at 7:06 PM on March 29, 2011

Flapjax, you know you can append &t=335s to the URL to have youtube go right to 5:35? I do appreciate the respect you gotta have for the whole song though.

I chipped in a paltry amount which is probably 50 times less that his net contribution to music is worth to me, but I'm feeling stingy today.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:08 PM on March 29, 2011

Yup, BrotherCaine, I do indeed know about that go-direct-to trick with YT times, but, you guessed correctly, the whole song, as set up for the drum break, should indeed be savored, slowly and luxuriantly, like a fine single malt.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:10 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a good friend in North Carolina who just cut an album last week with the trombone player from James Brown's band, Fred Wesley (2:20).
posted by puny human at 7:28 PM on March 29, 2011

Years back, I read about forgotten jazz players living out their last days in pain and misery, unable to pay their (medical) bills. It was an ad in CMJ, and that foundation may have folded by now, but ...

A quick bit of googling turned up The Dizzy Gillespie Memorial Fund at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey, which in turn refers to Jazz Foundation of America. That may be the foundation in the old ad, or maybe not, but I'm sure (or I hope) there are others. (NOTE: I don't verify or validate these foundations, I just found 'em.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:52 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

At the radio station I used to have a show at one of the PSAs was for the Jazz Foundation of America.
posted by kenko at 7:53 PM on March 29, 2011


That rate is lower than I've heard some sampled artists charging. I've heard 40-50% of the gross frequently. There is no compulsory licensing for sampling, if Sting (assuming he's the sole songwriter, just an example) wants 80% of the gross profit from Sean Combs, that's his right. It's a little more complicated than that as there are separate fees for publishing and master rights. Essentially, anyone can license a song to cover, that's why low budget tribute CDs exist, getting a license to sample a soundalike cover (there are companies that record these) is easier and cheaper.

I didn't read TFA. But strictly percussive material seems difficult to sue over- I'm not aware of an instance of anything other than melodic material being part of a sampling suit.
posted by tremspeed at 7:55 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, that's fascinating, tremspeed, from a lay musicologist's perspective. In the West, melody is king in plagiarism lawsuits, closely followed by harmonic convergence (heh). These are Eurocentric markers for identifying musical authorship, as much as pop music's theorists peg its essential success as much on rhythmic tropes as anything else. So Clyde should be rolling in money, as far as I can see it. Human absurdity, as pegged by Kafka and Ionesco, can be funny and tragic, but, shit! You gotta pay the guy! I don't work for free; do you?
posted by kozad at 8:35 PM on March 29, 2011

That rate is lower than I've heard some sampled artists charging. I've heard 40-50% of the gross frequently.

for sampled artists, yes - for many commercial sample collections where studio musicians and producers create loops and oneshots, you buy the collection up front and have a license to use as you wish, without any further royalty charge

but it's pretty much a situation where one can charge what one thinks he can get
posted by pyramid termite at 8:38 PM on March 29, 2011

Ship hop: the rightful successor to yacht rock. Instant profit, Mr. Stubblefield!
posted by mykescipark at 9:02 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

It would be nice if there were a standard licencing rate for the use of samples. I've pondered a system where you calculate the percentage of the new song that features the old song.

Say the new song features 10 tracks / instruments. The sample is on one of those tracks, and is heard for 20% of the song. The original musician on the sample therefore gets 0.1 * 0.2 of the revenue from the new song, ie. 2%. Which is extremely low compared to the figures people are quoting above. But it would have made Clyde Stubblefield a rich man.

I can see holes in my plan, of course. What if the recording features 64 tracks, most of them with nothing much of interest on them? It becomes a judgement call again...
posted by Jimbob at 11:24 PM on March 29, 2011

Say the new song features 10 tracks / instruments.

There'd be no real way to verify, accurately and independently, how many tracks are on a song, so this part of the idea almost certainly wouldn't work.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:30 PM on March 29, 2011

GC Coleman missed out by a few years...

Clyde played with Public Enemy on Fallon tonight. They promoted the Copyright Criminals DVD from the article in the FPP.
posted by First Post at 12:07 AM on March 30, 2011

That reminds me of a similar action that was implemented several years ago for Billy Higgins, the jazz drummer. In France, we're very fortunate to have managed to keep an efficient medical insurance system so far.
posted by nicolin at 12:12 AM on March 30, 2011

Forgive my tin ears, but is the Amen break a sped-up reworking of the Funky Drummer break, by any chance?
posted by progosk at 4:03 AM on March 30, 2011

Forgive my tin ears, but is the Amen break a sped-up reworking of the Funky Drummer break, by any chance?

Not in the slightest. They are completely different breaks, although their ubiquity puts them in a certain shared class.
posted by solarion at 4:44 AM on March 30, 2011

Something else which I just thought of after that post - Edan's mixtape Sound of the Funky Drummer is a mix of about 20 songs from the early tip of hip-hop (78-84, I believe) based around the Funky Drummer break. Boomkat says it's out of stock but I am sure there's copies floating around second-hand or interwebbing.
posted by solarion at 4:49 AM on March 30, 2011

progosk, here's the source of the "amen" break. There's even a YouTube text bubble that pops up at the right moment, but if you missed it, jump to the break, or go right to the funkiest bit. Note: the funkiest bit has been sampled by itself, and that stuttered beat pattern is key to many drum'n'bass tracks.

If you want to know more breaks, here is a site dedicated to breaks, specifically in jungle/drum'n'bass music.

To make licensing and whatnot more complex, some producers re-create drum patterns, or splice existing samples up to the point of it being a new composition. Then there are companies who have people re-make famous breaks for decreased licensing costs to producers. But those drummers who can just lay out a funky line whenever they're in front of drums, those guys are golden. It's true, drum machines have no soul.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:57 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to discuss with friends the possibility that America will ever put anyone other than a politician on its coins or bills. There's such a divide over the public's perception of public figures.

MLK? Great American, but no way. Einstein? Not born in America. Actors? Well, we know people are going to clamor for Angelia Jolie, but god knows what she's going to do as she gets older -- maybe JonVoigt's Disease only shows symptoms after age 50.

So I look at Clyde Stubblefield and get tired of worrying about pleasing everybody and say "This man belongs on a bill". Hell, if you follow the claim that his breaks are a vital core of hip-hop, then he's responsible for some billions of dollars of the US economy. C'mon every body, chant with me ....



<funky break>

posted by benito.strauss at 7:51 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does the funky drummer have any rights to "Funky Drummer"? James Brown estate owns the publishing and the original recording was on King then sold to Polydor and now owned by UMG I think. Few of the great musicians on classic tracks like this ever get a cut. If Clyde got paid for the session, that's all he gets.
posted by bonefish at 8:40 AM on March 30, 2011

you buy the collection up front and have a license to use as you wish, without any further royalty charge

It's true, there was a Funk Brothers royalty free loop collection awhile back, and a rather famous George Clinton one that was not royalty free but rather rights-negotiable, (Sample some of Disc, Sample some of DAT- if memory serves). It's worth noting that people still want to sample the original recordings. The familiar and classic = good.

I think compulsory licensing for sampling needs to happen, period. The mechanics of which are beyond me, though. I'd think you wouldn't be able to make your own Beatles Love type thing without discrete permission. But you should be able to make the next Takes a Nation of Millions without risking extensive liability.
posted by tremspeed at 10:11 AM on March 30, 2011

This raises the question of whether Mr. Stubblefield is himself violating any of Brown’s copyrights by recording beats in the style of those original recordings in Brown’s band.

This is why we need less copyright, not more.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2011

Holy crap! I've been listening to Whad'ya Know for twenty-some years, and I never knew that Clyde Stubblefield played with James Brown. Or all the other bands the article mentions.

In 2002 Mr. Stubblefield had a tumor in his kidney removed, and now he suffers from end-stage renal disease. He qualifies for Medicare but has no additional health insurance.

Sad. If I ever hit the software-startup-lottery I'm going to make sure retired jazz musicians are not tossed aside this way.
posted by phliar at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2011

Not sure of the situation in Stubblefield's case, but it's likely, as someone who was 'just' a member of James Brown's band for ~5 years, that he doesn't have a stake in either of the copyrights which would govern samples of his playing with that band. "Funky Drummer" is a motif throughout Copyright Criminals, in which Stubblefield claims to be more interested in receiving credit for his playing than money. As an overview of sampling and copyright it's a superior work to RIP!: A Remix Manifesto, but for the nitty gritty something like Recognizing the Grey should be read, as I don't recall either documentary saying anything about the dual licenses mentioned above
Just wrote a term paper on this..
posted by unmake at 8:00 AM on March 31, 2011

Keeping it real: Chuck D of Public Enemy, ?uestlove and Black Thought of The Roots and Eclectic Method team up with Stubblefield himself as the Copyright Criminals All-Star Band to perform Fight The Power on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
posted by progosk at 1:07 AM on April 2, 2011

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