Hall of Fame
He wasn’t simply a funky drummer, he was the Funky Drummer. And all you have to do to understand how he earned that famous nickname is to listen to the music he recorded with the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Stubblefield appeared on stage and on record with JB—often alongside his rhythm brother, drummer John “Jabo” Starks—during the singer’s late-’60s heyday, and the uniquely syncopated, ridiculously grooving rhythms he played on tracks like “Cold Sweat,” “Mother Popcorn,” and, of course, “Funky Drummer” not only provided the hook to thousands of future hip-hop tracks, they taught generations of drummers what it means to groove, and they set a bar for creativity and execution that few, if any, have ever crossed. Stubblefield passed away last February, at the age of seventy-three, leaving a legacy that’s sure to last far, far into the future.
Past Hall of Fame Winners
2016: Vic Firth
2015: Ian Paice
2014: Carmine Appice
2013: Bernard Purdie
2012: Phil Collins
2011: Jim Chapin
2010: Hal Blaine
2009: Mitch Mitchell
2008: Ginger Baker
2007: Jack DeJohnette
2006: Charlie Watts
2005: Stewart Copeland
2004: Mike Portnoy
2003: Simon Phillips
2002: Steve Smith
2001: Dennis Chambers
2000: Dave Weckl
1999: Roy Haynes
1998: Ringo Starr
1996: Vinnie Colaiuta
1995: Elvin Jones
1994: Larrie Londin
1993: Jeff Porcaro
1992: Max Roach
1991: Art Blakey
1990: Bill Bruford
1989: Carl Palmer
1988: Joe Morello
1987: Billy Cobham
1986: Tony Williams
1985: Louie Bellson
1984: Steve Gadd
1983: Neil Peart
1982: Keith Moon
1981: John Bonham
1980: Buddy Rich
1979: Gene Krupa
Chick Corea and Steve Gadd Band
Q: Describe a day in your life in 1970s New York.
A:You might do a jingle from ten to eleven. It could be a record date from ten to one and another one from two to five. And one from seven to ten. Often, after that we would go to Mikell’s uptown to play with Richard Tee and Cornell Dupree and Gordon Edwards. Mikell’s was the place to go, and we played some great music. The audience seemed to feel as good as we did playing. That’s when it becomes spiritual and it feels magic. And you didn’t want to say no to anything, because it was all so much fun. And it provided the opportunity to meet other people who were good musicians and who wanted to do the same things you were doing. The guys I met in those years are still my friends.
From the May 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Todd Sucherman
3. Kenny Aronoff
4. Josh Freese
5. Peter Erskine
Robert Cray, John Mayer
Q: You don’t play many drum fills anymore. Has that been conscious?
A: Absolutely. That approach stems from Al Jackson, but now it just comes naturally. I don’t mark sections like, “Here we go—we’re going to the chorus.” Or, “Here we go—we’re going to the bridge.” That is just so boring to me. It’s natural for producers or writers to ask, “Can you hit me a crash there?” If it needs something, I’ll do it. But when I’m playing now, I hear how the finished song is going to sound on the record. So if by the time we put everything on it I feel like it needs a crash, then I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, then I won’t, because it’ll be even more effective if I don’t play that crash.
From the October 2010 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Matt Chamberlain
3. Miles McPherson
4. Jay Bellerose
5. Blair Sinta
Q: You really applied yourself [to relearning classic Journey music after thirty-two years].
A: The process of memorizing all that music did take a while. It was like starting over. Then I had to condition myself to play that big rock sound for a ninety-minute show. To get ready I did a lot of yoga, a lot of practicing and blowing through the songs and improvising, just to get my chops up and have some fun. When I’m on the gig, though, I’m real disciplined and I play very clearly for the music. There’s a feeling now that’s different from when I did Journey in the ’70s and ’80s, when I felt like I was trying to prove myself, and maybe filling this up and that up a little too much. Now I don’t need to do that at all.
From the September 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Ian Paice
3. Charlie Watts
4. Don Brewer
5. Simon Kirke
Q: What advice do you give to younger drummers?
A: Kids always ask me, “How can I become a rock star?” I tell them to write their own material, but also do as many cover songs as they can. When you learn the inner workings of a song like [the Knack’s] “My Sharona” or the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” or AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” or Queen’s “Under Pressure,” you’re learning how to arrange songs. And you learn how drums make a song work. I also always tell kids, “You need as much time on stage as you can get.” If you really want to get great, play all the songs your audience wants to hear. That’s what Van Halen did. They started out as a cover band.
From the January 2018 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Ray Luzier
3. Tré Cool
4. Jon Theodore
5. Michael Miley
Q: Do you feel that there’s a specific set of skills that all drummers today should keep up?
A: I think it depends on the job description of whatever project you’re doing. More and more I find myself in situations where someone gets me into a studio and says, “I’ll play you the track, and you play over it. Do what you feel.” And I like that just as much as I enjoy hearing, “I programed a beat on a 606; make it sound the same, but play it live.” All the skills I’ve learned since I started playing professionally have been very much influenced by the work I’ve been asked to do. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about it. It’s not like I even know if I’m getting “better” as a drummer; I just know I’m having wider, richer experiences playing music.
From the February 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Dale Crover
3. Phil Selway
4. John Clardy
5. Greg Saunier
Q: You’ve said that Tommy Aldridge and Terry Bozzio were big influences on your double bass style.
A: Yes, I watched Tommy’s Hot Licks video a thousand times when I was in the fifth grade. I was blown away by his precision and execution. Another guy who has taken double bass to completely absurd levels is Tomas Haake of Meshuggah. He blows my mind. I always practice and try to figure out his patterns. For Bozzio, it’s Zappa’s video Baby Snakes, which shows Terry doing a lot of intricate and musical double bass playing. Even some Missing Persons—[my brother] Chad would take me to their concerts. Bozzio would solo, and his approach to double bass always blew me away.
From the August 2011 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Gene Hoglan
3. Ben Koller
4. Brann Dailor
5. Martin Axenrot
Q: Let’s talk about progressive rock in 2017 and how your new music relates to the music you grew up with.
A: I let the music inform me of what needs to be there, what works, what feels right. In the context of this new Styx record, it definitely has roots in the band’s past, specifically The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight and that era. But it’s also the human beings that make up this band now and where we came from. That’s what makes this stew so unique, where you can taste hints of this or that. With drums, there might be a moment where there’s a little splash of Vinnie, a little splash of Steve Smith, or a little of Queen’s Roger Taylor, or …And Then There Were Three–era Phil Collins. Because that’s the stuff that informs me as a musician and what I can bring to the table when I’m free to do what I want to do.
From the August 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Gavin Harrison
3. Matt Garstka
4. Chris Turner
5. Joseph Arrington
John Legend, Jill Scott
Q: What was the audition process for John Legend?
A: I’d just come off the road with N.E.R.D. John called and set up an audition for a week later at SIR in New York. He sent me five songs. In the audition it was John playing piano, his MD on keys, and his bass player. I walked in; John called out “Show Me.” Then he asked to play through a couple more songs. Then he said, “I want to hear you solo over ‘Green Light.’ Show me what you can do.” We finished and he said, “I’ll be in touch.” The “Green Light” solo became the way we ended the show on my first tour. I added some stuff during the audition—I’m big on setting up changes. I wanted to make sure John knew that I knew every change in his music. I still keep the foundational patterns, but I always add a little bit. Two days after the audition John called and said I had the gig.
From the March 2016 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Chris Dave
3. Adam Deitch
4. James Gadson
5. John Roberts
Hudson, with John Medeski, John Scofield, and Larry Grenadier
Q: As musicians age they tend to break the rules less. Yet you continue to push boundaries.
A: I’m playing more relaxed, and I pace myself now—I’m older. But my enthusiasm to play is just as strong as it was when I was twenty. I haven’t lost that excitement to get on the bandstand and hit.
From the October 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Jimmy Cobb
3. Jeff “Tain” Watts
4. Al Foster
5. Louis Hayes
Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
Q: How do you, as you say, “earn the right to be expressive”?
A: It’s all about being in the moment. Whether I’m playing a part, laying out, improvising, taking the lead, or being supportive, every decision is of equal value. I try not to make any blanket decisions, like “I don’t play on this tune, so I’m just going to lay out.” Actually, you’re deciding to lay out every quarter note that you don’t play. Thinking about these micro-decisions within the big decisions helps me stay in the moment. Because there might be that special night where, even though you’re not supposed to play on a given song, there’s something in the air that inspires you to add something, and it’s like, I can’t believe that’s been missing this whole time! I try to be open to many possibilities at any time.
From the November 2014 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Nate Smith
3. Gregory Hutchinson
4. Eric Harland
5. Justin Brown
Q: When you create music for a living, in the studio particularly, do people’s emotions come into play a lot? Or is it just another day at the office at the top levels of recording?
A: It’s a bit of both. It’s been said that one of the hallmarks of professionalism is being able to put your problems aside and do your job. There’s an element of psychology to this that goes on just like in any other kind of interaction. It’s meritorious to want to get along with people. At the same time, there are political elements, and it really gets involved. Some people get very crafty at selling themselves. Some people are inherently confident and don’t feel the need to take any attitude other than: This is who I am and this is how I play. Others are more timid, and there might be an inferiority complex or something, and somehow that translates. Or they might sabotage themselves in some way, as well as another person. So there is a heavy psychological element to it—you can’t escape it.
From the January 2013 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Anika Nilles
3. Benny Greb
4. Dave Weckl
5. Gerry Gibbs
Ariana Grande, Usher
Q: What should the average drummer practice?
A: Right now we’re in a time when people are too focused on what they’re able to do as far as chops and licks. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be creative and try to play crazy stuff if I can, but that has such a small place when it comes to the music. So I think it’s important for people to focus on playing the music. Work on the feel of what it is you’re playing as opposed to what you can do over the top of the music. And don’t be stuck just playing one style. You really have to get into some different things musically. It will definitely open your mind up.
From the July 2009 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Eric Hernandez
3. Zac Farro
4. Eddie Fisher
5. Brian Dunne
Q: What’s special about your drumming approach?
A: One of my high school band directors told my dad, “Your son will probably be very successful in this business because he knows how to take direction.” I took that to heart; I took that all the way to the bank—because I wanted to be somebody who takes direction, plays well with others, and is open-minded. As drummers we choose our spots, but ultimately my job is to make everyone else sound good. You have to have a musical instinct no matter what style you’re playing and make appropriate choices and play well with others. The guys who really work, the ones who have a thirty- or forty-year career, are the ones who listen and who lift the band up.
From the July 2010 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Billy Thomas
3. Chris Fryar
4. Sean Fuller
5. Seth Rausch
Up & Coming
Jeremy Pelt Quintet, Jonathan Barber Group
Q: What surprised you about the New York music scene once you arrived?
A: That I had to constantly push and play at a high level. In Hartford [Connecticut], some gigs are meaningful, others are not. But in New York you always have to bring your “A” game. You never know who’s going to be there. Even playing Smalls at 1 a.m., I’ve had Kamasi Washington, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Peter Bernstein come by to hang. The intensity you feel in New York City every day grows on you. Moving here made me a better musician.
From the January 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
2. Kristen Gleeson-Prata
3. Gabriela Jimeno
4. Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth
5. Aleks Girshevich
Zac Brown Band
2. Ignacio Berroa
3. Pedrito Martinez
4. Nate Werth
5. Tony Escapa
Thomas Lang’s Drumming Boot Camp and Big Drum Bonanza
2. Peter Erskine
3. Stanton Moore
4. Jim Riley
5. JP Bouvet
Drumeo (online lesson site)
2. Mike Johnston, mikeslessons.com (online lesson site)
3. Stanton Moore, Stanton Moore Drum Academy (online lesson site)
4. Gil Sharone, Wicked Beats (book)
5. Bill Bachman, Rhythm & Chops Builders (book)
Todd Sucherman, The Misson (Styx)
2. Matt Garstka, The Madness of Many (Animals as Leaders)
3. Antonio Sanchez, Bad Hombre (Antonio Sanchez)
4. Nate Wood, Anti-Hero (Kneebody)
5. Matt Wilson, Honey and Salt (Matt Wilson)
Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s Modern Drummer Readers Poll!