Funky Drummer: How a James Brown jam session gave us the ‘greatest drum break of them all

Trommeslager

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An interesting read that introduces what's a new idea to me: Drummers making money by making recordings of famous drum beats for rap/dance producers.

Also, I'm interested in the author's book, "Kick It: The Social History of the Drum Set." It's pricey as an actual book, but the Kindle version seems within my budget.

Here's the story from theconversation.com:

James Brown released a seven-inch single called Funky Drummer in March, 1970 – a loosely arranged jam session showcasing the talent for improvisation of drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who was employed in Brown’s band at the time.
Although it failed to crack the top 50 pop charts on release, Funky Drummer was rediscovered in the 1980s by a generation of pioneering hip-hop artists. These have included Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Flash, Eric B. & Rakim, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys – who all sampled Stubblefield’s infectious drum break. The Funky Drummer breakbeat soon spread far beyond hip-hop, appearing on well over 1,000 recordings by pop artists ranging from George Michael and Sinead O’Connor in the 1990s right up to Emeli Sandé and Ed Sheeran in the past decade.
Funky Drummer is one of the most sampled drum breaks of all time – and also one of the most discussed (including in my new book,
Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit
. It’s also a prime example of how copyright law has historically failed to compensate drummers. Stubblefield
famously never received any royalties
from all the hits his drum break was used on.
James Brown typically paid his musicians on a “work-for-hire” basis for recording sessions, and generally credited himself as the sole author of the resulting songs. This was the case even if the music was largely improvised, as in the case of Funky Drummer. It was also in keeping with copyright law conventions at the time, which usually recognised the legal author of a musical composition as the person who wrote the topline melody and lyrics.
Anchor for a new sound


Funky Drummer has various musical elements: simple repeating horn and guitar riffs, a syncopated wandering bass line, occasional instrumental solos on organ and saxophone, as well as vocal improvisations by Brown. We also hear Stubblefield’s performance underpinning the jam session, including the glorious moment when Brown orders the band to drop out while Stubblefield keeps drumming his highly inventive groove unaccompanied – the isolated drum “break” that hip-hop artists love to sample.
But Brown would have deemed all the above musical elements as insignificant compared to his own role as the artistic leader and frontman – this wasn’t necessarily fair, but neither was it uncommon. Ringo Starr did not receive co-writing credits for his drumming contributions on Beatles songs, for example, even though his drum parts have often been retrospectively deemed by musical peers to constitute a distinct compositional element of the band’s work.

Five decades on, in a pop soundscape utterly transformed by hip-hop culture, we now tend to recognise just how important a compelling drum beat is in making a chart hit. Most commercially successful music in the 21st century is anchored by the sounds of the kick drum, snare and cymbals (or electronic percussion serving similar functions). You can now point to plenty of contemporary chart hits that don’t feature an electric guitar, but there are almost none that don’t prominently feature a beat between kick and snare – whether acoustic, sampled or synthesised.
In the hit factories of the present day, the most successful pop artists often bring in producers who have gained reputations by creating alluring beats. They often receive a formal share in songwriting credits as “co-writers” and “producers”.
We also live in an era when it is increasingly expensive to gain legal permission to sample drum breaks from rights holders (usually songwriters and/or record companies, as opposed to drummers). This has led to a relatively hidden ancillary industry of “sample replay” companies that are hired to painstakingly rerecord well-known drum breaks (and other parts from guitar riffs to vocal samples). These are designed to resemble the original recordings as much as possible.
The rights to these copycat recordings are then bought wholesale and sampled instead of the originals (at least by the handful of pop stars with deep enough pockets to afford such tactics).
Musical value
One drummer making a living from sample replay is Dylan Wissing, an American session musician who has re-recorded impeccable covers of famous drum breaks for the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, Eminem, Rick Ross, John Legend and Alicia Keys. Wissing also runs a website, Getting The Sound, which offers tutorials on how to “digitally recreate famous breakbeats” resulting in “a new recording of an existing audio recording that is sonically indistinguishable from the original”.
There's more: https://theconversation.com/funky-drummer-how-a-james-brown-jam-session-gave-us-the-greatest-drum-break-of-them-all-134493
 

REF

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I know we all copy and borrow and 'steal' licks as we develop our skills. We emulate our favorite players in our early years and all but, something about this article is rather depressing. Perhaps I misunderstood. It just seems like this is an entrapment in what has already been done, not exploration into what can yet be done.

Not to say there is room for many more new things to be played. There are only so many combinations of strokes four limbs can perform. Does this mean we have reached that place and now all that is left is to copy what others have done and make a career out of that?
 

moodman

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When I joined the AFofM in the early 60's, it was against union rules to play along with recorded music, don't know when that changed but it sure did. I agree with REF to the extent that copying another drummer's playing is a good learning method but, it is not making music and using decades old tracks, instead of letting drummers play their way, stifles creativity. So, the question I have is, WHY. I'd say it is more about fitting a commercially safe formula that a record company might require than artistic creativity.
 

Johnny K

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There is a documentary about that somewhere. Might have been part of the James Brown doc on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Cannot remember where I saw it recently.
 

On the one

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Good read....This is a interesting subject because if you believe the record companies you cannot copyright/trademark a beat. I get it to an extent because 4/4 is 4/4 common time. Clyde was very vocal about not getting residuals on one of the most sampled beat of all time. In the beginning he kind of joked around about it but before he died he was getting more serious about it. Guitar riffs are starting to sound the same these days and unfortunately some artists have been sued over this
 

gmiller598

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Good read....This is a interesting subject because if you believe the record companies you cannot copyright/trademark a beat. I get it to an extent because 4/4 is 4/4 common time. Clyde was very vocal about not getting residuals on one of the most sampled beat of all time. In the beginning he kind of joked around about it but before he died he was getting more serious about it. Guitar riffs are starting to sound the same these days and unfortunately some artists have been sued over this
I think straight out sampling is one thing because the original artist isn't getting credit for their actual playing being used. I get the copyright claims for guitar players. You can't copyright a chord progression but you can copyright a melody. When it comes to drum parts, it would be hard to copyright a drum beat because it technically isn't a pitched instrument. Everything in drumming shares roots of something that came before it. If you go through Stanton Moore's Groove Essentials book and video, you see the progression of all the the James Brown Drummers and how they expended on those before them in that context. There would be no Rosanna without Fool in the Rain. There would be no Fool in the Rain without Bernard Purdie.
 

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A lot of the old "understandings" about what is or isn't copywriteable is being challenged in the courts, and the challengers are winning. It is going to be interesting to see what the fallout of what I think are horrible judgements will be.
 

gmiller598

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A lot of the old "understandings" about what is or isn't copywriteable is being challenged in the courts, and the challengers are winning. It is going to be interesting to see what the fallout of what I think are horrible judgements will be.
Except Led Zeppelin won their case over Stairway. I think the Robin Thicke case was a terrible decision however
 

Tornado

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Except Led Zeppelin won their case over Stairway. I think the Robin Thicke case was a terrible decision however
Katy Perry lost a bad one too. There have been others as well. To my understanding, most of what we think we know about the "rules" aren't actually codified, they are case law.
 

snappy

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Except Led Zeppelin won their case over Stairway. I think the Robin Thicke case was a terrible decision however
This song was the highlight of set 3 in a funky band I was in.
Everybody get up...
Rip off?
Gmiller says bum rap
I can see the similarities but also disagree with the court.

You decide...
 
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gmiller598

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This song was the highlight of set 3 in a funky band I was in.
Everybody get up...
Rip off?
Gmiller says bum rap
I can see the similarities but also disagree with the court.

You decide...
I think where Robin Thicke got in trouble was saying and admitting there was the influence of the song but I think it ends there. Being inspired by something doesn't mean you ripped it off and we can all site a million sources of things that has inspired us. It is very common in the marching arts community that if you can't or don't want to get the rights to a specific piece of music, you can write an original piece that has a similar style/feel and it is 100% fine. I don't believe a cowbell, a bass guitar and a falsetto voice constitutes a rip off in this situation.
 

On the one

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I think where Robin Thicke got in trouble was saying and admitting there was the influence of the song but I think it ends there. Being inspired by something doesn't mean you ripped it off and we can all site a million sources of things that has inspired us. It is very common in the marching arts community that if you can't or don't want to get the rights to a specific piece of music, you can write an original piece that has a similar style/feel and it is 100% fine. I don't believe a cowbell, a bass guitar and a falsetto voice constitutes a rip off in this situation.
This was a very tough one for me because when I first heard this song I thought it was a Marvin Gaye sample and then finding out it was not. I believe how they shot themselves in the foot was going on TV saying they wanted a Marvin Gaye "feel " to this song when the controversy broke out. Word around the campfire is that Robin wrote the song within a hour. To me this could have went either way even though the Gaye estate won I'm glad they weren't awarded the 15 million they were asking. I believe they still walked away with 4 million. I don't think Pharrell and Robin were blatantly trying to rip off Marvin Gaye compared to Vanilla Ice ripping off Queen (Ice Ice Baby) and Tone Loc ripping off Van Halen ( Wild Thing)
 

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