James Brown Drummer John 'Jabo' Starks Dies at 79


The drummer who helped give some James Brown's most indelible hits their signature snap, John “Jabo” Starks, has died at age 79. Starks' manager, Kathie Williams, confirmed that he died at his home in Mobile, Alabama, after battling leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, according to The New York Times.

Working alongside Clyde “Funky Drummer” Stubblefield and on his own, Starks played on some Brown's most beloved hits during his run, including “Super Bad,” “Say It Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud,” “Cold Sweat,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” Talkin' Loud and Saying Nothing” and “The Payback.” His contributions have lived on on countless songs that sample his work by the likes A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Kendrick Lamar and the Roots, among many others. In addition, Starks performed on recordings by a wide variety R&B, soul, blues and funk acts, including Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Bobby Byrd and The JBs.

John Henry Starks was born in Jackson, Alabama, on Oct. 26, 1938, and fell in love with the drums after watching a marching band in a Mardi Gras parade in Alabama as a child. He taught himself to play on an improvised drum kit made up a bass and snare drum tied to a chair and cymbals on a stand, but never took formal drum lessons, according to the Times.

Starks played with blues acts including John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and Big Mama Thornton at the Harlem Duke Social Club in Prichard, Alabama, after graduating from high school in the mid-1950s. Following a stint in Bobby Blue Bland's band starting in 1959 — during which he performed on such hits as “That's the Way Love Is” and “I Pity the Fool” — Starks joined up with Brown in 1965 and anchored the funk icon's band until the mid-1970s, when he departed to play and record with B.B. King.

Years after leaving Brown, he and Stubblefield — who died in 2017 — played together in a duo called The Funkmasters, releasing music and instructional videos and appearing on the 2007 soundtrack to Superbad. One Starks' superfans, Roots drummer Questlove, posted a loving tribute to the drummer on Tuesday. “If the late #ClydeStubblefield was #JamesBrown gourmet dish, then #JohnJaboStarks was his meat & potatoes. The round the way meal. In the folklore breakbreat ology, it was Clyde that was James' prettiest rhythmaster. But Starks was his most effective drummer.”


If the late #ClydeStubblefield was #JamesBrown gourmet dish, then #JohnJaboStarks was his meat & potatoes. The round the way meal. In the folklore breakbeat ology, it was Clyde that was James’ prettiest rhythmaster. But Starks was his most effective drummer. It was the “Think (About It)” break that birthed New Jack Swing Culture, Bmore/Jersey House & 90s rnb. It was “Hot Pants (I’m Comin)” & “I Know You Got Soul” that really cultivated the classic east coast renaissance 87-92. James’ most effective funk: “Soul Power” “Escapism” “Superbad” “The Payback” so many classics. His 8 on the floor style was so unique in his funk. A serious funk god. A unchampioned legend gave us new culture and a gift folks. Give the drummer some. John Jabo Starks R.I.P. #Jabo

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

Former Brown bassist Bootsy Collins also paid tribute.

My brother, My mentor, the other Funky Drummer has changed frequencies. Mr. John “Jabo” Starks (born October 26, 1938) May 1 2018, was an American funk and blues drummer. He is best known for playing with James… https://t.co/oFa16aB9Lj

— Bootsy Collins (@Bootsy_Collins) May 1, 2018

Watch a video Starks demonstrating some his most famous licks in 2014.