Stubblefield became a celebrated member of Madison’s music scene, though only after creating the rhythms that elevated him to funk pioneer and hip-hop legend.
Stubblefield, “the funky drummer,” was native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Stubblefield settled in Madison in 1971 and became a regular at its downtown clubs. His “Funky Monday” gigs were a weekly fixture for decades.
Stubblefield, a self-taught session drummer, began to play professionally as a teenager and toured with Otis Redding in the early 1960s. He joined James Brown’s band in 1965, and for the next five years, laid funk’s rhythmic foundations in tandem with fellow drummer John “Jabo” Starks.
In 1969, he recorded just 20 seconds that would change music.
Stubblefield’s breakbeat in Brown’s “Funky Drummer” was sampled in nearly 1,400 songs and became a signature sound during the golden era of hip hop. It’s heard in tracks by artists including Public Enemy, NWA, Run-DMC and Beastie Boys.
“Funky Drummer” made Stubblefield most sampled musician in history, and though the recording brought fame, it didn’t bring fortune.
Stubblefield wasn’t credited and the royalties never came.
He shared his experiences as part of the PBS documentary, “Copyright Criminals,” which examined sampling and raised debate on copyrights and compensation.
Stubblefield earned high accolades. In 2016, the Stubblefield/Starks tandem earned the number six slot in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.”