Say It Loud Transcription: Clyde Stubblefield’s Drum Beat
While employed at the Verve Music Group, one of the people I had the pleasure of working with was Harry Weinger. He is a catalog A&R guy, a reissue producer, and he knows his records. This was exciting for me because he has been involved in countless James Brown reissues, and I love some JB. One day Harry asked me to come listen to "Say It Loud--I'm Black and I'm Proud" to see if I noticed anything unusual. He was putting together some liner notes and had recalled a lunch with Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, a Brown bandleader and co-writer of this song, where Ellis talked about how the drum part was written in such a way to keep the song moving forward. Harry couldn't recall exactly what Ellis had said, and I couldn't catch it sitting in his office, so I made it a small transcription project.
I should preface the discussion of the transcription by saying that I'm not a drummer and haven't talked about this beat with any drummers. I also used three different recordings to figure out what was going on:
- The original 1968 studio recording.
- Live in Dallas, Texas 8/26/68
- Live in Augusta, Georgia 10/1/69
The drums are slightly different in each version, but the main hi-hat, snare, and bass pattern is fairly consistent. Listen for yourself to pick up on the nuances.
The key to the tune and the forward motion is the 5 bar phrase in the repeats, and the fact James Brown is singing in 4 bar phrases over the top. Below is the explanation I emailed Harry:
I transcribed this earlier today, and as soon as I wrote down the drum part and followed along with JB singing, I figured it out. The band is playing a 5 bar phrase. This starts on the 7th bar of the tune, which is the bar where the snare first hits on beat 3 instead of beat 4. They play it seven times, but the last time they go to the bridge 1 bar early. So you get 34 bars total before the bridge. That's odd.
But what makes it work is that JB is singing 4 bar phrases, except for the 4th time where he makes it a 6 bar phrase. This makes that odd bar with the hits land in a different spot on each 4 phrase, and it only lands at the beginning of the phrase the first and last time. See:
Bar with hits / Phrase 1 / 1 2 / 2 3 / 3 4 / 4 (six bar phrase) 3 / 5 4 / 6 - / 7 (no hits in this phrase) 1 / 8 (band plays 4 bar phrase)
Anyway, that definitely makes for some forward motion in the tune, and also some confusion on the band stand--they're not all in the same place all the time, and JB takes it to the bridge whenever he feels like it on the live versions.
Even if you're not a drummer, you can take something away from this. Odd numbered phrases are a great way to emphasize parts of a form, or in this case, forward motion.