“Sex Machine” Drummer John “Jabo” Starks Passes Away At Age 79
The anchor to some of James Brown’s biggest hits, John “Jabo” Starks, passed away from leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes at age 79.
“Hit ‘em again, Jabo!”
You can smile and hear James Brown saying this to his drummer, John “Jabo” Starks, in the great beyond while playing a mean solo for the Creator and his angelic audience. Jabo, 79, was one of the anchors behind the Godfather of Soul’s biggest hits, and it is with sadness to report that he has passed away Tuesday, May 2, according to The New York Times.
Starks’ manager Kathie Williams confirmed his death, stating that he’d been in hospice for about a week and was battling leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. Jabo played with Brown and his JBs backing band during the ‘60s and ‘70s, most notably as part of a percussion duo with Clyde Stubblefield, who died last year.
Starks and Stubblefield created an infectious dynamic that defined funk, and later hip-hop. As a tandem, they are among the most sampled drummers of all time. They played in Brown’s live band and joined him in the studio, earning quite a few shoutouts on some classic albums and songs. Starks himself drummed on singles such as “Super Bad,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” and “The Payback.” Starks also played with Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, and his efforts on the latter’s 1972 single, “Think (About It)” has been sampled by a host of artists, most notably Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock on their 1988 hit, “It Takes Two.”
Questlove praised Starks’ legacy and skill in an Instagram tribute, saying, “It was Clyde that was James’ prettiest rhythm master. But Starks was his most effective drummer. It was the ‘Think (About It)’ break that birthed New Jack Swing culture, B’more/Jersey house and ‘90s R&B. It was ‘Hot Pants (I’m Comin’)’ and ‘I Know You Got Soul’ that really cultivated the classic East Coast renaissance of 1987 – 1992. His eight on the floor style was so unique in his funk. A serious funk god.”
Starks was born in Jackson, Alabama in 1938, where he taught himself how to drum using a makeshift kit comprising of a bass and a snare drum tied to a chair, while the cymbals sat on a dinner stand. Later on in his adolescence, he played with some of the biggest blues musicians of the era: John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf. He eventually joined Bobby “Blue” Bland’s band in 1959 before joining Brown in 1965.
He never stopped chasing those beats and breaks as he got older in life, continuing to perform life, holding down a regular gig at a bar in Grayton Beach, Florida. According to its owner, Starks last performed there in March. “When I’m playing music, man, let me tell you one thing: There ain’t nobody in the world higher than I am,” Starks said to Mobile Bay Mag in 2015. “I get so high playing music, it scares me.”
Our sincerest condolences goes out to John “Jabo” Starks’ family, friends, fans, and those who are lovers and appreciators of the funk. #RIPJabo.