When you and your baby are tight
And everything you say or do is mellow
She keeps everything all right
And you know that you’re the only fellow
Ain’t that a groove, ain’t that a groove
Ain’t that groove, ain’t that a groove
- James Brown, Ain’t That A Groove
When I began my return to music and drumming I wanted to incorporate more funk into my playing.
When I was a kid James Brown was not a direct influence on my musical upbringing or playing. I was about rock, Zepplin, Jethro Tull, Yes, Aerosmith, etc.
I never really listened to or studied James Brown. I heard the perennial hits I Got You (I Feel Good) and Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. But I never delved into the lesser know songs.
So now, as I understand the importance of James Brown and his contributions to not only funk and soul but all modern music I started looking deeper into his music. I found a best of James Brown album on Amazon for five dollars and bought it. For five bucks I figured I couldn’t go wrong. It had 20 songs on it and most of them I had never heard before.
I listened and listened again. I downloaded drum charts when available to help me understand the syncopated rhythms and learn them. I played along with the songs.
I spent some time researching Clyde Stubblefield and John “Jabo” Starks. I watched videos of them playing and listened to interviews of them describing the writing and recording process with James Brown.
They talked about how they and the bass player would be just fooling around with different grooves. James Brown would walk in, hear it, like it and say lets write with that groove.
It solidified and ingrained deeper in my mind what I already knew. It’s all about the groove.
You’re in it from start to finish.
No fills, nothing clever or special, just lay the foundation for the groove so everyone can build on it and fall into it. Feel it. Be it. That’s it.
Sometimes I would imagine myself rehearsing with James Brown. I imagined trying to put in a fill and James would stop everyone and let me know in no uncertain terms to never do that again. He’d let me know my job would be to give him the groove, nothing more, nothing less. (So I daydream about getting yelled at by James Brown. What’s behind that?)
Something I didn’t expect to come from this process was an appreciation of rap music. I was listening to these James Brown songs that were just a deep groove that never changed from start to end and suddenly the light bulb came on. That’s rap. James Brown is the birthplace of rap. The fact they Clyde Stubblefield is the most sampled drummer solidifies that statement in my mind.
Most all of the grooves on James Brown songs are four four time with sixteenth notes and rests split between snare and kick. Sometimes they would move the back beat snare hits from two and four to the “N” of one or three to syncopate the rhythm.
A few months later I was working with a quasi heavy metal band and learning some quasi heavy metal/hard rock songs.
Guess what I discovered? They are using a lot of the same rhythms that Clyde Stubblefield was laying down with James Brown. Then I realized these are the some of the same rhythms I learned from listening to John Bonham when I was a kid. I learned them from drummers who copped them from Clyde Stubblefield and others like him.
I wonder where Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks learned there licks. Sounds like some future research.
The fact that music evolves and every artist is influenced by his predecessors and contemporaries isn’t a new concept to me. What I find fascinating is how clear it can become when you take the time to really study what’s going on.
Hopefully I’m a bit funkier.
See kids you never stop learning.
© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.