Clyde Stubblefield Gets His Due.

Posted by: admin on March 30, 2011 @ 8:20 am
Filed under: Culture, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

The original funky drummer featured in the new film, Copyright Criminals.


  1. How is it that the Funky Drummer can claim copyright infringement but almost every BeBop composer wrote some melody over a particular set of existing chord changes and claimed it as his own? Right? I don’t doubt that the Funky Drummer wrote his drum parts and was the “composer” in that way but how is what hip hop artists are doing with his stuff different from what bebop guys did? I don’t know the answer. I’m just curious.

    Comment by Mike Grimaldi — March 30, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  2. It’s a different thing, isn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t you say that Charlie Parker’s Ornithology is a different composition from Morgan Lewis’ How High the Moon? And even more remote, but based on a similar harmonic idea, John Coltrane’s Satellite?

    In the case of Stubblefield, people are using the actual audio of his performance to create their work. It’s literally the same music. That’s what makes the sampling situation different from what happened with bebop.

    Legally, his playing was a work for hire, and not a composition, so there’s no legal standing for him (although that is now being contested by many performers on classic re-used recordings).

    I think the film is highlighting Clyde Stubblefield as someone who really ought to be more known and credited for his music. It’s the performances he recorded that made possible whole subgenres of new music.

    Comment by Dave Douglas — March 31, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  3. I’d like people who use samples to at the very least credit the original in the liner notes. Caribou for example had a tune on Up In Flames called Skunks that was a favorite track of mine for awhile. Then randomly, I was gifted an old psych record by Bubble Puppy with a song called A Gathering Of Promises that was used for a lot of the harmonic content of Skunks. At first, I was kind of angry that it didn’t come from the mind of Caribou, but later, I didn’t really care and was just angry that I didn’t know the original tune. Shouldn’t have to search for that info.

    Be proud of the content you use and how you use it, and make sure people know what you’re doing.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — March 31, 2011 @ 9:37 am

  4. Ah yes! The sampling phenomenon.

    There’s a lot of grey area on this subject. Chord changes can’t be copyrighted, but products like the iReal Book are having to undergo some re-branding to dance around a few accusations:

    Sampling two or three notes isn’t illegal and it hasn’t been successfully tried in court. There are different opinions on this, however. I recommend reading “Kohn on Music Licensing” for further elaboration: Also note legal scholar Lawrence Lessig on the subject:

    Whole phrases of music and melodies are protected by copyright. This also goes for entire breaks, but most get around it by chopping and processing the original so many times that it has no true resemblance to its origin, i.e. they’re not stealing any actual music.

    When there is a dispute regarding sampling, companies hire musicologists to scientifically analyze and compare sonic forensics between the sampled and the sampler’s work. Music production companies also are known to take out insurance if their in-house composers have a song stuck in their head that accidentally comes out in a track!

    Back to the film. Their tagline “Can you own a sound?” is a very interesting question, as it seems that it’s still unknown and largely up for (mis)interpretation and countless opinion. What is sound? Can vibration be patented??

    To further Dave’s point, I agree that Clyde’s sound is an example of a musical voice that has been a catalyst to many generations of music makers after him. In this sense, he is due for more recognition as his legendary sound and feel; sampling only proves this point further.

    Most listeners don’t know what is or isn’t a sample, and this lack of context seems to be a problem gone overlooked. For me, if a track uses a sample, I want to hear where the sample actually came from! These are secrets that ought to be shared more openly I believe.

    Here’s one I found: check out Bjork’s “Hidden Place” off of Vespertine. That huge string cadence is taken directly from Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht, and I have no doubts that this sample was licensed legally.

    Comment by Curtis Macdonald — March 31, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

  5. The Funky Drummer is claiming, rightfully in my mind, that he is the composer of these beats. Unless I’m missing something, that’s his argument. So I don’t think it has much to do with the fact that they used his actual playing. I’m guessing he’d feel just as infringed upon if Public Enemy had taken his beat, expertly programmed it into a drum machine and made millions off of that. Curtis, thanks for the reading material tips. I think it’s pretty fascinating actually.

    Comment by Mike Grimaldi — April 1, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  6. You’re welcome, Mike! Hope it’s helpful… 🙂

    Comment by Curtis Macdonald — April 3, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  7. It’s ridiculous to argue against Stubblefield’s case. He not only composed the Funky Drummer – he played it too – double whammy. Now, personally I think the main culprits in this are not necessarily those hip hop artists who do something genuinely artistic with Clyde’s beats (although they are in line to be punished as much as everyone else). It is the pop tunes, the million sellers who use that beat and even have the front to put a drummer on stage and TV shows pretending to play it. This is more than about money – it’s about principle. It’s about one of the most influential drummers of all time getting his dues and the respect he deserves.

    Comment by John Clark — March 2, 2012 @ 10:41 am

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