John "Jabo" Starks, James Brown's Drummer, Dead at 79

John "Jabo" Starks, who drummed on some of James Brown's biggest hits, died Tuesday at his home in Mobile, Alabama. His manager, Kathie Williams, confirmed the 79-year-old's death, stating that he had been in hospice care for a week battling leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes.

Starks first became entranced by the drums as a kid in Alabama while watching a marching band at a Mardi Gras parade. He soon taught himself how to play and began working with blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Mama Thornton.

John "Jabo" Starks: Sex Machine - Super Bad (James Brown)

In the '60s and '70s, Starks became one-half of James Brown's drumming duo alongside Clyde Stubblefield (who passed away last year). They both played on major James Brown albums like Say It Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud, Sex Machine, I Got the Feelin', and Cold Sweat, with Starks also playing on singles like "The Payback" and "Super Bad."

Starks' drumming was a solid foundational compliment to Stubblefield's funky flourishes, always staying steady and consistent, and the drummers both thought of each other as brothers rather than competitors. In a tribute Questlove posted to his Instagram, he wrote, "In the folklore of breakbeat 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 of 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 of 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


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