Jim Packard actually knew Clyde Stubblefield before I did, from back in the Radio Free Madison days when, as “Jim St. John,” he welcomed Clyde, fleeing James Brown, upon his arrival in the sanctuary city of Madison. So, when we started Whad’ya Know in June of 1985, Jim was my Clyde connection for only our second live guest on the show (after Ben Sidran, another Packard connection), the Funky Drummer, Clyde Stubblefield.
On that first show Clyde showed us his patented licks, including the Popcorn from Lickin’ Stick, and submitted one of several versions of how he came up with it I’ve heard since: the chugga-chugga of the train on the trestle over their Chattanooga valley home, answered by the kurchunk-kurchunk of his mother’s ringer washer in the yard–why she did her laundry in the yard I’ll never know.
Clyde was great on all the shows he was on, primarily road shows after I jumped out of my seat too many times on our small stage with his kick right behind me. Clyde played on maybe 150 road shows altogether. He was fun on the run, but I can’t tell you why in print. My only regret in all that time was paying his way into a former plantation in North Carolina, especially when the restored southern belle of the manor was showing off the huge mahogany table the slaves had rescued from the Great Fire. Clyde turned to me and said, “it’s me, the damn table burns.”
Clyde may have liked me because, unlike his last boss, James Brown, I always paid him, and I never fined him (5 dollars!) for missing a beat. Plus he got his choice of gifts or offerings from audience or guests, and any props he could smuggle back on the plane, which included a huge dummy wine bottle which Clyde somehow got on the plane, took home, and saved nickels in. Last time I saw the bottle it was 2/3 filled. With nickels. Had Clyde saved quarters he would’ve been well-heeled.
Clyde called me Brother Michael. Even my brothers don’t do that. I suspect he called everybody Brother or Sister something, but I think he meant it towards me, because sometimes he added–“from different mothers.” I reciprocated by going to nearly every Funky Drummer Funky Monday in every funky bar in Madison in which he held forth, for years. I went more of Clyde’s gigs than Clyde, who sometimes had something better to do. Early on during this fan love Clyde told me to be ready to get up and sing something one of these Mondays, and I probably spent a decade trying to work something up–Town Without Pity, World Without Love–(I was big on withouts in those days)–and yet, while he always acknowledged me from the stage, he never, ever, called me up to it. Too bad, because, (hit it!) “Please lock me away, and don’t allow the day, here inside, where I hide, with my loneliness . . .”
Which is how I feel today, in a world without Clyde.