John “Jab’o” Starks, 79, the influential drummer on several of James Brown’s biggest hits, died in hospice care in his native Alabama May 1, according to longtime manager Kathie Williams.
Starks entered hospice care for a bone marrow disorder and cancer, Williams said. The drummer played for many years with Bobby “Blue” Bland and also played with BB King, but came to prominence in the late 60s and early 70s as the drummer, alongside Clyde Stubblefield, for James Brown. His percussion skills can be heard on songs like “Sex Machine” and “Super Bad.”
Starks and Stubblefield were ranked, in combo, as among the greatest drummers of all time by Rolling Stone. The two toured for yhears as the “FunkMasters.”
“You have to understand this: We’re two different drummers,” Starks once told NPR. “Clyde plays the way that Clyde plays, which, nobody’s gonna play like Clyde. I play like I play. We can play the same tune, but different ways. You never played together on James’ shows, but when he wanted to hear something different from Clyde, he’d point to me.”