At press time, I had just gotten the news about Jab’o Starks’ passing. Mr. Starks was the drummer with The Red Bar Jazz Band for as long as I can remember, and I interviewed him for Beachcomber in 2006.
Prior to making countless memories for music fans in Grayton Beach, Mr. Starks played with James Brown’s band, along with Clyde Stubblefield (who died last February). Rolling Stone named Jab’o and Mr. Stubblefield the sixth best drummers of the Rock ‘n Roll era.
The uncredited Rolling Stone writer referred to Mr. Starks as “woefully underrated.” Questlove remarked that “Starks was the Beatles to Clyde’s Stones. A clean shuffle drummer to Clyde’s free-jazz left hand.” Together, these two greats left their mark on some of the Godfather of Soul’s most enduring music (“Cold Sweat,” “Superbad,” “Funky Drummer,” etc. etc.), as well as a ton of hip-hop artists.
When I first met Mr. Starks, I was under the impression he didn’t want to talk about his time with James Brown. So I swore I wouldn’t ask.
The first question out of my mouth was, “Do you and James Brown still keep in touch?” I half expected to be impaled on a drumstick after that, but he merely answered “No.”
He played with other legends, too, notably Bobby “Blue” Bland and B.B. King. Jab’o and Mr. Stubblefield continued to get on well, bringing their percussive double whammy to overseas audiences as “The Funk Masters.”
“I’ve played with some of the greats,” he told me at the time. “I don’t care if you know my name. I just want to play good music.”
One thing that stood out during our conversation was Mr. Starks’ disregard for labels. “If it has a groove and a good rhythm, I like to hear it,” he said. “I listen to everybody. You learn something from everybody. I love to play country, I love to play all of it.”
The last time I saw Jab’o Starks was at The Red Bar (naturally) right after the beachside service for Kenny Oliverio. That seems like forever ago. I spotted Jab’o at his car and said hello.
I’m not ready to say goodbye.
Editor Manson (right, though sometimes he’s wrong) with mandolin builder and musician Jason Sloan at the April Arts and Design Society luncheon in Fort Walton Beach. Mr. Sloan also plays in the band Copper Line Bluegrass, so we may have to bring back that category for the 2019 Beachcomber Music Awards.
Photo by Hanna Joensuu.