Arts and Culture

The tension over Clyde Stubblefield's name

Sides differ over how to honor the late drummer

A woman flanked by two Madison police officers approached Joey B. Banks, drummer and organizer of the Clyde Stubblefield All-Star Band, as he was setting up the stage at the east-side Harmony Bar for a show later that night on Saturday, Jan. 20.

The woman was Jody Hannon, fiancé of the late Stubblefield — whose drum break on the James Brown song “Funky Drummer” is among the most sampled in popular music. A long-time resident of Madison, Stubblefield died Feb. 18, 2017, at the age of 73.

On that night in late January, Hannon brought the officers to Harmony Bar to make sure Banks received her written demand — that he comply with her assertion of control over Stubblefield’s name and likeness; a musical legacy he didn’t control while he was alive.  

It was widely known Stubblefield didn’t receive royalties for the more than 1,000 songs that include the “Funky Drummer” beat. That fact was about him not getting named credit for his work. Now, after his death, the issue is all about the use of his name.

Banks was handed a "cease and desist” letter instructing him to “stop using the name and image of Clyde Stubblefield,” including “but not limited to” its inclusion in the Clyde Stubblefield All-Star Band name, on merchandise sold at the band’s shows and in promotion of the scholarship named after Stubblefield.

Hannon, who says she wrote the letter with the assistance of an attorney, claims it was Stubblefield’s “dying wish” that his name not continue to be used by Banks. “He mentioned this to Joey but didn’t push it before he died,” Hannon says.

Banks denies Stubblefield made that request of him and refuses to believe Hannon has the authority to force his hand. “She has no right to tell us we can’t use his name,” he says, “and I’m not going to stop using the band name.”

As of this writing, the Hannon-Banks dispute hasn’t become a full-blown legal fight. And observers hope it doesn’t come to that.

The Madison Area Music Association has suspended raising money for the MAMA/Clyde Stubblefield Scholarship Fund through the sale of Stubblefield CDs, DVDs and T-shirts. The organization also took down the website for the scholarship fund, through which donations could be made.

“It would be a real shame if we had to drop the name” of the scholarship fund, MAMA Treasurer Rick Tvedt says. Until the dispute is resolved, however, all scholarship fund-related activity is suspended.

“What’s going on between Jody and Joey isn’t our business. It’s theirs. But we hope it gets resolved quickly,” Tvedt says.

Since delivering her letter to Banks, Hannon said she is satisfied with MAMA’s oversight of the scholarship fund.

Elizabeth Russell, a Madison attorney specializing in copyright, trademark and entertainment law, said there are several areas of law that may favor one side or the other.

“When parties find themselves at odds, especially when emotions are running strong, they tend to see the situation through lenses colored by what they perceive to be ‘the law,’” she says. “One side or the other might run with a single legal concept that is correct and maybe even applicable. That’s not terribly helpful, though, if nobody’s examining all of the other concepts that also play a role in the dispute.”

Banks, a friend and protégé of Stubblefield, assembled the Clyde Stubblefield All-Star Band in 2015. Its namesake joined them onstage once a month at various clubs in town — when he was feeling well enough; he was diagnosed with stage four kidney disease in 2011. For more than 20 years, he had been playing monthly with his own group, the Clyde Stubblefield Band.

Banks says he and Stubblefield played alongside one another many times over the last 16 years of his life. “There’s a lot of history of us playing together and it’s documented. There’s no disputing we had a positive, truthful and respectful relationship,” Banks says.

In death as in life

During his lifetime there was a question of who had a right to Stubblefield’s musical legacy.

“Clyde was possibly the most sampled drummer in history and he didn’t make a penny,” says Roy Elkins, founder of Broadjam Inc. and chairman of the MAMA board of directors. “He certainly never got his financial due for what he did.”

Banks says he made sure Stubblefield always got paid for the gigs he played with the All-Stars. That’s another reason he says he feels it’s a mistake for Hannon to target him.

“She should go after those who made millions off of Clyde, legally and illegally,” Banks says.

Hannon said she is working to get Stubblefield the recognition he’s due. She says representatives of the GRAMMY Museum, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Smithsonian Institution and National Museum of African American History and Culture are “negotiating with me” to house the drummer’s memorabilia.

“I’m working on a much higher level than Joey Banks,” Hannon says.

Banks says he feels honored to play his mentor’s music locally — around Madison and multiple times at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Two All-Stars shows, March 9 and 10, in Chicago will be the band’s first gigs outside Wisconsin, he says.

"We are a band and a scholarship fund sincerely trying to keep Clyde's legacy alive in the hearts and minds of people who come to the shows and for the youth that receive scholarships," Banks wrote in an email. "My hopes are we can resolve whatever issues Jody is having and we can all move forward supporting the memory of the great Clyde Stubblefield with respect and dignity."

Banks says he and Hannon were on friendly terms until recently. He says he personally showed her a display in the lobby of the Barrymore Theatre — a large photo of Stubblefield and framed copies of the posthumous doctorate the University of Wisconsin–Madison bestowed on him and the city declaration of Oct. 8 as “Clyde Stubblefield Day.”

Disharmony on display

Hannon says she brought the police escort to the Harmony because “I just wanted him to accept [the letter], and the officers made him take it.” In the two days before receiving it in person, Banks says Hannon sent him the same letter by Facebook message, email and by regular mail.

Her letter instructed Banks to comply “immediately or face legal sanctions under applicable federal and state law.”

Banks says he has educated himself on federal trademark law but stopped short of saying he intends to trademark the band name, something Hannon says she believes he may try to do.

Hannon’s letter to Banks, a copy of which Hannon shared with Madison Magazine, is signed “The Estate of Clyde Stubblefield.” Hannon says she wrote it but with help from an attorney she didn’t identify.

Banks says it was Hannon’s intention “to publicly humiliate me” by delivering her letter at the crowded bar. In a written response, Banks says he warned her not to interfere with him as a venue-contracted performer.

“She stepped over the line,” Banks says. “My music is my livelihood.”

Hannon’s letter did not halt the Clyde Stubblefield All-Stars from playing at the Harmony that night, nor several shows since.  Still she insists the Clyde Stubblefield All-Stars name “is confusing, wrong and misleading” since it doesn’t include Stubblefield or many of the musicians with whom he played regularly.

Hannon had a suggestion, however: “If it was called the Clyde Stubblefield Tribute Band, not only would I not mind, I couldn’t change it.”

But Banks calls that “laughable.” He says he already promotes the Clyde Stubblefield All-Stars as a tribute band, and that’s the description in the “About” section of the band’s Facebook page.

Banks also plays drums for 18-member Steely Dane Band — “The Ultimate Steely Dan Tribute,” according to “You don’t see Steely Dan coming after us,” he says.

The will and the way

Hannon says Stubblefield’s will gives her legal authority in matters involving the Clyde Stubblefield Estate. “I told him I would protect, covet and preserve his legacy always,” she says. “I’m not going to let Joey sully his reputation.”

The substance of Stubblefield’s will — written August 31, 2010, and filed with Dane County Probate Court on March 1, 2017, a couple weeks after he died — is one paragraph stating, “All intellectual property including royalties on any and all music recordings or otherwise, past, present and future, to Jody Hannon, my fiancé. This includes all formats of recording. All personal property and household goods to Jody Hannon.”

In his will, Stubblefield also appointed Hannon executor, giving her the authority to manage and distribute his estate. 

Hannon also served as special administrator for the dispersal of his cremains, which the court ordered shared by Hannon and Stubblefield’s grandsons, Christian and Christopher Stubblefield, both of Federal Way, Washington.

What is outlined in a will can be superseded by other binding agreements — such as recording contracts Stubblefield may have signed — held by other entities, says Dane County Probate Court Manager Wayne Pfister Jr. To date, the will has not been contested.

Attorney Russell agrees probate isn’t the only applicable area of law.

“In this matter,” she says, “a legal path to resolution is going to be extraordinarily complicated. If they share an objective to honor Mr. Stubblefield’s legacy, I’d hope both sides would consider, instead, the benefits of pursuing a negotiated resolution.”

Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

Find out more about Clyde Stubblefield's life and legacy here.

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