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On February 18th, 2017, we lost a seminal musician in former James Brown drummer, and the man that’s been sampled by ever so many-Clyde (Austin) Stubblefield. If you aren’t familiar with the name, he’s the man that laid the drum break on James Brown’s sample thick track-The Funky Drummer. Funky Drummer has been sampled by thousands of known producers from hip hop, rock, EDM, and pop. The Chattanooga, TN, native was inspired to play drums as child when he witnessed some drummers in a marching band. He was completely self-taught, and started playing professionally in his teens. By the 1960s, he was touring with Otis Redding and Eddie Kirkland.
In 1965, he joined James Brown’s band. James had two drummers, with varying styles. Jabo Starks had a blues, gospel, and soul style, while Stubblefield had more of a jazz shuffle style. They both innovated funk drumming for years to come. Stubblefiled stayed with James from 1965 until 1971. Situations came to head in 1971, right before a show. Stubblefield, along with other band members like Maceo & Melvin Parker, attempted to get James to pay them more money by refusing to play. James had Boosty’s band, The House Guests, flown in to replace them. Stubblefield moved to Madison, WI, and started his own self-titled band. They played live for years. He also did session work with Ben Sidran and others. He was 73 years old when he passed away.
On February 18th, 1965, rapper, DJ, producer, university lecturer, record label owner, audio engineer, gangsta rap pioneer, former World Class Wreckin Crew member, and co-founder of N.W.A.-Dr. Dre was born in Compton, CA. Dre started off DJing with his cousin Sir Jinx in high school. In 1984, he joined The World Class Wreckin Crew with DJ Yella. They were among the first to record the electro-rap style of music. Dre also had an afternoon radio show, called The Traffic Jam, on the legendary Los Angeles hip hop radio station KDAY. Dre had been a long-time friend of Eric (Eazy-E) Wright, and met Ice Cube in 1986. Dre & Cube worked on songs together, with Cube acting as the writer and Dre as the producer-and taught Eazy-E to recite the lyrics Cube had written for their breakout single Boyz-N-The Hood.
In 1988, they released Straight Outta Compton on Eazy’s Ruthless Records imprint. Cube left the group in 1989, and Dre stayed for two more years before going solo and starting Death Row Records with Suge Knight in 1991. In 1992 he hooked up with Snoop Dogg for the single Deep Cover-which was the title track for the film of the same name. This led to The Chronic being released later that year, featuring Snoop Dogg, Daz, Kurupt, The Lady Of Rage, Nate Dogg, Jewell, & RBX. In 1995 Dre produced Tupac’s hit-California Love-featuring Roger Troutman. Following the death of Pac, Dre left Death Row and launched Aftermath Records. Eminem would be the first artist to make it big on his label. He also signed 50 Cent, and in 1999, he released Chronic 2001, which was well received by fans. Dr. Dre is 54 today.
On February 18th, 1941, singer, songwriter, and the vocalist dubbed 'The Soul Queen Of New Orleans'-Irma Thomas (Irma Lee) was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. Irma Thomas sang in the church choir as a child, got into secular music in her early teens, and auditioned for labels like Specialty Records. During her mid to late teens, she put her aspirations of becoming a professional singer on the shelf for a while-becoming a wife (twice) and a mother of four. She kept her second husband’s last name after their divorce, and began singing again with Tommy Ridgley’s band. He secured a record deal for her with Ron Records in the late 1950s. and released her debut single Don’t Mess With My Man in 1959. The single became a top 40 R&B hit, peaking at #22.
Her vocals caught the attention of songwriter, producer, and composer-Allen Toussaint. His studio backing band was an early version of The Meters, led by Art Neville. Toussaint had her signed to Minit Records, and she began releasing charting singles like-Ruler Of My Heart and It’s Raining. After Imperial Records bought out Minit in 1963, Thomas now would be exposed to a larger audience. She released her biggest hit-Breakaway, which was the B-side for her single Wish Someone Would Care. Her sales decreased in the mid 1960s, and by the latter part of the decade, she had moved to Chess Records. Irma never earned ‘crossover’ success; but her songs are widely considered as an authentic representation of New Orleans Soul and has been covered by The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, and Tracy Ullman. She’s 78 today.
On February 18th, 1933, singer, songwriter, graphic artist, activist, former wife of John Lennon, and co-founder of The Plastic Ono Band-Yoko Ono (Ono Yoko) was born in Tokyo, Japan. Her father was a classical pianist, and descendant of The Yasuda Clan (a clan of samurai, during the Sengoku & Edo periods). Yoko started taking piano when she was four years old; and following the destruction of Japan after WWII, Ono’s family was left homeless and impoverished. She began to understand what it meant to be an outsider, as people with more wealth looked down on the family. In 1946 the family got back on their feet, and Yoko re-enrolled in school. She was classmates with Japan’s future emperor Prince Akihito.
In the early 1950s, Yoko moved to suburban Manhattan and started taking in the art and music scene. She was intrigued by the avant-garde style, and began painting. In 1956 she married progressive Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi. They split in 1963-and Ono married jazz musician, art promoter, and film producer Anthony Cox. The couple divorced in 1969-the same year she married John Lennon. Yoko Ono stayed with John until his death in 1980. During their near 11 years together, they released a lot of music. Yoko released her solo debut, Plastic Ono Band, in 1970-which featured Ornette Coleman and Ringo Starr as session musicians on the LP. The album was very eclectic-with elements of free jazz, raw vocals, and weird noises. She’s 85 today.
HONORABLE MENTION: On February 18th, 1977, singer, songwriter, producer, political activist, composer, organist, arranger, saxophonist, Afrobeat Legend, drummer, Nigerian musician, trumpeter, founder of The Kalakuta Republic, guitarist, and collaborator with Roy Ayers & Ginger Baker-Fela Kuti had his home ransacked by Nigerian Military officers. He was becoming too popular, and too revolutionary for the state to contain. Therefore, they raided his domicile. As a result, Fela went into the studio and recorded a song about the incident called Zombie. The did did very well, and further upset the government. Fela was viewed as a revolutionary capable of mobilizing the people to overthrow the government.
On February 18th, 1964, two legends-Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) and The Beatles-met for the first time. Both were in Miami, albeit for different reasons. Ali was training with Angelo Dundee at the famous 5th Street Gym, owned by Dundee’s brother Chris. He would fight Sonny Liston for The World Heavyweight Title a week later on February 25th, 1964; and The Beatles were in Miami for a scheduled performance. At the time, both Ali and the Beatles were some of the most recognizable figures in popular culture. Their meeting was not only legendary, but also inevitable.
On February 18th, 1959, singer, pianist, composer, arranger, producer, songwriter, Grammy Award winner, saxophonist and infamous former Atlantic Records artist Ray Charles recorded one of his biggest hits-What’d I Say. Originally the song came about as a live show only call-and-response track to hype the crowd. Ray would sing back and forth with his back up singers-The Raelettes. At the suggestion of the label and band members, Ray decided to put the track on wax. The song went to #1 on The R&B Chart, and it made The Top 10 on The Pop Chart (#6).
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