Beyone "Funky Drummer" 1Great Drum Breaks of the ’60s and Early ’70s

Much has been written about Clyde Stubblefield’s legendary drum break on James Brown’s 1969 song “Funky Drummer.” Those few bars laid the groundwork for dozens of hip-hop tracks, and Stubblefield’s playing is still being analyzed, sampled, copied, and mulled over by drummers everywhere.

During the era when “Funky Drummer” was recorded, it was common practice to include a drum break within a song, especially in soul, R&B, and funk. These were not necessarily solos but rather short fragments of grooves that allowed the drummer to stretch out a little bit and add color to what was being played earlier in the track. Presented here are five of these incredibly funky breaks.

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, “Express Yourself,” from Express Yourself (1970)
Drummer: James Gadson
The great James Gadson lays down a relentless syncopated groove during this drum/horn break. Check out the superfunky offbeat 16th notes in the fourth and fifth bars and the fantastic bass drum/snare interplay that occurs throughout.

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Marlena Shaw, “California Soul,” from Spice of Life (1969)
Drummer: Morris Jennings
Although Marlena Shaw is more often recognized for her vocal jazz repertoire, she released a couple of superb soul funk records in the late ’60s that feature Chess Records drummer Morris Jennings playing some deep grooves. Check out this tasty two-bar break that occurs just a few seconds into the track.

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Archie Bell and the Drells, “Tighten Up,” from Tighten Up (1968)
Drummer: Dwight Burns
This huge 1968 dance hit features Dwight Burns of the funk outfit the T.S.U. Tornadoes “tightenin’ it up” with some slick snare/tom patterns before playing a nicely executed fill to return to the original feel.

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Cliff Nobles, “The Horse,” originally released as a single in 1968 and rereleased on Rhino’s 1994 compilation Rock Instrumental Classics, Vol. 4: Soul
Drummer: Tommy Soul
On this instrumental hit, Tommy Soul plows ahead like a locomotive, laying down an unapologetically aggressive groove. Check out his monstrous left-hand chops, particularly in the sixth bar of the break.

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James Brown, “Cold Sweat,” from Cold Sweat (1967)
Drummer: Clyde Stubblefield
Stubblefield’s legendary break near the end of this funk milestone allows him to add a bit of color to the original groove. He throws in tasty tom hits and does some nice snare/bass drum work, particularly in the last bar.

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