Vol. 12   No. 4
FEBRUARY 16, 2017
UNIQUE HITS
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                              The Silence of the Beats
..
189,125

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Before I get on to today’s column, I must thank Michael Johnson — using sources like The Capital Times —
for putting together the timeline on Black History that we published earlier this month And of course
something like this draws the attention of our readership. And I got calls and emails from some of our readers
about the timeline and received suggestions on people to include.

Joseph Thompson was the second African American elected to the Madison city council in 1970 and was a
leader of the local postal workers union. In 1974, he was the first African American appointed to be a
postmaster in the history of Wisconsin.

Mary Wilburn also impacted Madison as the second African American to serve on the Madison school board.
She was also the first African American to head the Wisconsin Parole Board. She was appointed by Tony
Earle.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Barbara Nichols who was the first African American to be president
of the Wisconsin Nurses Association in 1970 and of the American Nurses Association in 1979.

We have had some outstanding people living among us.

***
And speaking of outstanding people living among us, it was shocking news when I got a call from Hanah Jon
Taylor on Saturday to inform me that his dear friend, Clyde Stubblefield had died of kidney disease. I couldn’t
believe it.

Stubblefield, in case there is someone who doesn’t know it yet, was, in essence, the Father of the Hip Hop
Beats. Clyde was a drummer for James Brown during the height of James Brown’s career. One of the pieces
that Clyde performed was a 20-second drum solo on the song Funky Drummer.

Well, that solo was so outstanding that Clyde’s beats from that were used in over 1,000 songs by hip hop and
other artists including Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. And they were Clyde’s beats. No one
ever told Clyde what to play. They just asked him to play. And play he did. And he never received any
compensation for his beats. It all went to James Brown.

I was privileged to interview Clyde for a Capital City Hues cover story. Clyde was a very nice and humble
person who had a passion for playing the drums and coming up with complex rhythms, but never paid
attention to the business side. He needed the kindness of strangers and fellow musicians including Prince to
pay his medical bills. At the end of our interview, Clyde gave me a couple of his drumsticks. He was quite
generous.

During our interview, Clyde told me how the beats started coming. He started playing for a group called The
Cascades and he kept playing the same beat over and over again. He was still pretty young.

“One day, we were playing a gig and a sax player and the singer said, ‘Can’t you play something else?’ And it
was at a show. And all of these people out there in the audience and they go, ‘Can’t you play something else?’
I was scared. I went, ‘Yeah!’ And I did. And they loved it. They said, ‘Hey, that’s cool.’ I went, ‘Oh wow, okay.’
I was trying to fit in and then I just went off and did my own thing. I guess I was playing the same thing over
and over on every song. And they said, ‘Can’t you do anything else?’ I didn’t think that I could, but I did. They
didn’t say, ‘Play this here or play like this or put this beat in. Do this.’ They never told me that. They just said,
‘Can’t you play something else?’ And I started playing something else.”

How big was Clyde’s impact? This past Christmas, my niece and her family came to visit relatives in
Milwaukee. Her husband is a DJ in northern Florida. And while we were talking, he began to rave about
something that he had just found out, that Clyde Stubblefield lived in Madison and he made a pilgrimage to
Madison while he was here. Clyde was a god of hip hop music to him. With that kind of reaction, I can just
imagine how everyone else feels about Clyde.

I did an interview with Madison’s own DJ Pain 1 a while back and he praised Clyde’s contributions to the
music he produced.  Whether we know it or not, the beats in Clyde’s soul impacted all of us.

And yet, he was humble, not full of himself, just full of the beats going on within him. He was the real deal, a
musician’s musician. We will miss him even though his beats will go on forever
.