Clyde Stubblefield documentary film is seeking funding –

After drummer Clyde Stubblefield created the “Funky Drummer” break for James Brown in the 1960s, that beat became “the Bible” for so many musicians, says the famed music producer Hank Shocklee.

Stubblefield’s sound would become one of the most sampled beats in history, laying the foundation for hip-hop, funk and pop hits and earning him the nickname “The Funky Drummer.” After a pivotal career with James Brown’s band in the mid-1960s, setting the groove on such hits as “Ain’t It Funky Now” and “Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved,” Stubblefield eventually settled in Madison, where he became a local celebrity and beloved performer. One of the many who held him in awe was Trevor Banks, who went on to become a video director and producer in New York.

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Banks will return to Madison next week in hopes of reviving interest and funding for a feature-length documentary about Stubblefield titled “Give the Drummer Some,” and already containing that quote from Shocklee in an early cut. An all-ages show and fundraiser at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Majestic, 115 King St., will include a preview screening of clips from the documentary, along with a Q&A moderated by Bianca Martin of the City Cast Madison podcast, a set by the band Funkee Jbeez, and an opening and closing DJ set by Nick Nice. Tickets are $20 at and $25 at the door.

“Clyde Stubblefield, both the person and the musician, is not nearly as well-known as he should be,” Martin said. “And Trevor Banks, the visionary and documentarian behind this film, had a rare proximity to this musical legend for years, and in intimate settings.”

Stubblefield grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in the early 1960s toured with Otis Redding. He moved to Madison in 1970 and became a huge draw in local clubs and a regular on the radio show “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know?” Though Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 6 on its list of the top 100 drummers of all time, Stubblefield was not financially compensated for much of his musical innovation, an issue discussed in the film’s trailer.

A family friend

Banks knew Stubblefield growing up, but mostly as his father’s friend and mentor. Filmmaker Banks is the son of Joey B. Banks, the well-known Madison Grammy-nominated drummer, educator and founder of the youth ensemble Black Star Drum Line. As a boy, the younger Banks many times picked up the phone at home and on the other end of the line was Stubblefield, calling for Banks’ dad.

As an adult and as a filmmaker, Banks, now 36, got to know Stubblefield on many levels. In his first interview for the film, he sat with Stubblefield for two hours.

“After that, he allowed me to just follow him around for extended periods of time between 2015 and 2016,” the filmmaker recalls. “I captured a couple Funky Monday gigs at The High Noon and a Brat Fest performance. I accompanied him to one of his life-preserving dialysis appointments. But mostly we just hung around at his house on the East Side. Those were the moments that I got to know him the best. In total, I probably have around 15 hours of footage with just Clyde.”

“I’m really grateful for the time we spent together, literally just hanging out,” he said. “Me, him and a camera.”

Clyde Stubblefield’s drumsticks were featured as part of the list of 100 objects that define Madison in a 2013 newspaper feature. 

Stubblefield died in February 2017 at 73, after a long battle with kidney failure. His kindness and his musical gifts were celebrated in concerts and remembrances.

“If you put him in a club in Madison, or you put him on the stage at the Apollo with James (Brown), he was the same guy,” recalled Brown’s tour manager Alan Leeds.

In the spotlight

That mix of awe and affection comes through in the teaser for “Give the Drummer Some,” a short but high-energy “sizzle reel” that will be shown at the Majestic event. The documentary-in-progress already contains interviews with some 20 music greats including Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, John Jab’o Starks, Fred Wesley, Fred Thomas, George Clinton, Shocklee of The Bomb Squad and Public Enemy, and Madison natives Ben and Leo Sidran.

The finished work will touch on many different parts of Stubblefield’s life, Banks said.

“The extended title of the film is ‘Give The Drummer Some: The Life and Influence of Clyde Stubblefield.’ So, it will be all-encompassing,” Banks said. “I think in order to fully analyze Clyde’s musical innovations and influence, you have to reference the things that inspired him as an artist — that means we have to talk about his early life. It’s been pretty well documented that Clyde’s days in Chattanooga inspired his style of play in more ways than one.”

Banks started the film in 2015 and says it’s about halfway completed. A crowdfunding campaign in 2021 on the website Seed&Spark yielded $20,885.

Banks declined to say how much funding is needed to wrap up the project but said that a third to half of the film’s budget will go to the licensing of music and archival material. Wisconsin filmmaker and producer Michael Neelsen, along with directors of photography Jeff Springer and Riley Dengler, are also on the production team.

Trevor Banks with Christian McBride

Trevor Banks interviewed the Grammy-winning jazz superstar and educator Christian McBride for his documentary film about “Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield. 

The Majestic is donating the space for the fundraiser that Banks hopes will make the film project “a communitywide event.”

The title “Give the Drummer Some” comes from a line that James Brown would use when it was time to put the spotlight on Stubblefield.

The film has the same goal, Banks said.

“This is the biggest project I’ve undertaken,” he said. “We want to celebrate Clyde in a way that continues his legacy.”

“Clyde Stubblefield, both the person and the musician, is not nearly as well-known as he should be.”

Bianca Martin 

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