All right, children, time to go to school. Old school, that is, which is what you have to call Clyde Stubblefield, the subject of Susan Kepecs' interview/listening session-cum-biographical interlude, our arts feature for this week.
Stubblefield - known to some as "The Funky Drummer," based on his long-documented work with the late R&B legend James Brown, and to others as "Sugar Foot," for his metronomic ability on the bass drum to plow a groove that never quits - is among those musical maestros that have blessed this city by making it their home base after forging fame elsewhere. (Among them, Richard Davis and Roscoe Mitchell come to mind as the most prominent, but they're not the only ones.)
Kepecs does a good job of limning the arc of Stubblefield's career. What the reader might not discern is the fact that he had to essentially rebuild his musical enterprise, having come to town as a relatively young man who had severed his bond with the big time in the form of Brown's band. He didn't seek to catch on with another national act, instead paying dues to the Madison music scene by playing with a varied assortment of local musicians, and establishing a teaching practice. (He's the guy who taught Leo Sidran how to play the drums.)
He also bestowed upon me one of the highlights of my interactions with the music industry, albeit unwittingly. Back in the day, when I had just embarked on a fledgling bar-tending career, I was broken in to the trade by some more experienced hands, including Roger Parks, later of Mr. P's fame and father of Gene Parks, and Frank Stubblefield. One Saturday evening, when I was working the front end of the bar, where the phone resided, I answered a call asking for Frank Stubblefield. "He's not working tonight," I told the caller. "This is his brother Clyde," said the voice on the other end. "I just got into town and need to find Frank." "Come on down to the Dangle," I said, "I'm sure he'll be in before the night's over."
That, of course, was the night Clyde Stubblefield came to town, and he's been here ever since, pretty much just another Madison musician of the most extraordinary sort. And in his later years his past has come back to exalt him. He's reestablished ties with his old J.B. partner John "Jab'o" Starks, and the two have reaped the rewards of being icons of funky soul music.
In the unlikely case that you have never heard Stubblefield, you can catch his act on Monday nights at the King Club. Or you can hear him as part of the house band on Michael Feldman's "Whad'ya Know?" show on public radio. Or you can buy one of his records and, as they say, give the drummer some.