|Vol. 12 No. 4
February 16, 2017
The Silence of the Beats
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
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
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
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.