Master Time

Part 3: The Stubble-Stroke Roll

by David Stanock

When I was a college student in Madison, Wisconsin, in the ’80s, I encountered the funk drumming legend Clyde Stubblefield. At that time, Stubblefield himself was not as well known as the classic grooves he played with James Brown, and David Garibaldi and Mike Clark were the only voices I heard praising the drummer by name. Fortunately that situation has been corrected, and Stubblefield, Jabo Starks, and many other musicians who helped craft the sound of the Godfather Of Soul have received the credit they so richly deserve.

Stubblefield constantly downplays his talents, even though he possesses some of the most innovative skills in funk music. Perhaps his ability to use his chops inside the groove set him apart from his more flamboyant contemporaries.

This article is based on a musical concept that I often saw Clyde use to great effect in a variety of ways. The foundation is the most fundamental of rudiments—the single-stroke roll, as seen in Example 1.

The Stubble-Stroke Roll 1

Through the interpretation in Example 2, the single-stroke roll transforms into what I call the “Stubble-stroke roll.”

The Stubble-Stroke Roll 2

We’ll use the Stubble stroke as an ostinato to create rhythmic phrases for grooves and improvisations. We can do this by employing “rhythmelodic thinking,” which involves superimposing two-voice melodies between the kick and snare over the 16th-note foundation.

The right hand of the Stubble stroke maintains an 8th-note pulse on the hi-hat, but it can also drop down to the snare.

The Stubble-Stroke Roll 3

The left hand can add accents on upbeat 16th notes.
The Stubble-Stroke Roll 4

Here’s a combination of the two techniques.The Stubble-Stroke Roll 5

You can add the bass drum anywhere in the 16th-note flow to give the pattern some bottom end.

The Stubble-Stroke Roll 6

Example 7 is a transcription that I feverishly jotted down on a napkin after watching Stubblefield play the pattern four times (as an eight-bar breakdown) during a gig at a club in Madison, circa 1983. Note the use of buzz strokes as an embellishment. To create additional colors, you can experiment with adding double strokes, accented hi-hat notes, and open/closed hi-hat “barks” to the single-stroke foundation. And you can move the left hand up to the hi-hat to achieve even funkier patterns. Also, try swinging the 16ths and playing in the cracks between straight and swung subdivisions.

The Stubble-Stroke Roll 7

Here’s a reinterpretation of the famous beat Clyde played on the James Brown track “Cold Sweat.” Have fun!

The Stubble-Stroke Roll 8

David Stanoch is a faculty member of the McNally Smith College Of Music. For more information, visit