Cameron Mizell

New York Guitarist

The website of New York Guitarist Cameron Mizell.

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.

Say It Loud drum beat

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:

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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.

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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.