This article is dedicated to Jacksonville’s late musical artist - Paten Locke, aka Dj Therapy, who inspired me how to listen to music, to breakdown every rhythm, and to dig deeper into Hip Hop’s Funk and Jazz traditions - that “3 Feet High and Rising” talk changed my life!
1962 single, features Jaxon musician Alfred Corley
In James Brown’s 1962 single, “Mashed Potatoes USA,” the Godfather of Soul shouts out a national tour list for the new dance craze record. He name-checks only two places in Florida: “I’m going to Miami and Jacksonville, too.” In the late 1950s and early 60s, Jacksonville was a frequent touring stop for the hardest working man in show business. The Northwest neighborhood of Moncrief featured premiere entertainment venues - from the magnificent Two Spot (later renamed the Palms Ballroom), to juke joints such as the Silver Star Lounge and the Havana Club. Blues, Soul, and R&B musicians such as B.B. King, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, and Dinah Washington performed in the area amidst Black-owned businesses and neighborhoods that flourished in a segregated city. In nearby downtown, young people challenged the status quo of Jim Crow as the violence of the infamous Ax Handle Saturday raged on at Hemming Park.
At the same time that James Brown’s childhood group, the Famous Flames, left him, he had a comeback hit “Try Me.” He was on the cusp of mastering rhythm and blues with the command of a Sunday pastor and a military general, enlisting his own musicians for a new sound.
Little is known that the roots of James Brown’s iconic funk rhythm are also found in the First Coast. Much like the legacies of LaVilla’s original Ritz Theater and the Colored Airdome Theater, Jacksonville in the 1940s through the 1960s continued to be an epicenter of Black musicianship. The city connected the Jazz and R&B capitals of New Orleans and the Deep South. Jaxons Alfred Corley on saxophone and Teddy Washington on trumpet were jazz masters as part of the early James Brown Band, and soon, another bandmember would introduce a different type of groove.
The man who put the Funk in the funk
Enter Clayton Fillyau (pronounced Filly-aw). Born in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1934, Clayton Fillyau was one of James Brown’s earliest drummers. Before meeting Brown, he was an aspiring drummer who visited Jacksonville after touring with Silas Green from New Orleans - a longtime African American tent show. According to an interview with drumming historian, Jim Payne, Mr. Fillyau witnessed the iconic New Orleans R&B group Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns play in Jacksonville. Fillyau woodshedded with this band shortly after and the drummer of the group shared the syncopated secrets of New Orleans’ Second line grooves. He asked Fillyau to play “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and Fillyau recalls, “he showed me how to double the bass drum, it goes “um, -ba,bum, um, -ba,bum.“
Ad placed in Miami Times, February 22nd, 1958 for Huey Smith and The Clowns Courtesy of the Florida Digital Newspaper Library
Accounts of who this mysterious drummer was points to legendary New Orleans drummer, Charles “Hungry” Williams, who preferred stewing a gumbo of rhythms together: Second Line, church, Latin, and country sounds with doubling the bass drum and spicing up his snare with 32nd notes. He was a contemporary to legendary New Orleans drummers, Earl Palmer and Smokey Johnson.
He shared with Fillyau, “Now use your imagination, where is ‘one’? I don’t care where you put it on those drums, remember where ‘one’ is, and you’ll never lose time.”
Fillyau took these lessons to heart and started experimenting by combining the New Orleans street beat, Second Line lessons, and practicing Florida A&M drum cadences, and incorporating social dances like the Twist. Like the traditions of polyrhythmic Afro-Caribbean drumming, African American rhythms of the Second Line were synthesized by New Orleans drummers and, along with FAMU drum cadences, share the qualities of not only keeping time, but keeping people moving. Their rhythms aim to keep people dancing collectively as an expression and ceremony within sacred and secular traditions of the Black diaspora. These traditions survived amidst the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and can be traced from New Orleans’ Congo Square to the drums of the Stono Rebellion, the Gullah Geechee community’s ring shouts, and to congregations of the Black church.
Congo Square Sculpture by Adewale S. Adenle in Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans, LA. Under the French Black Codes, enslaved Africans had permission to gather every Sunday and shared various West African traditions in Congo Square and became foundations for New Orleans street beat, Second Line, and jazz. Photo by Kent Kanouse
“Everything back then was shuffles, I didn’t like those shuffles, I liked syncopation. I liked to play rhythm against rhythms,” Fillyau declared. “When I started nobody liked the way I played, it wasn’t definite, it wasn’t straight.” It was the beginnings of the “James Brown Beat,” where the rhythm’s pocket would be stretched and different accents on a 4-bar would be stressed, especially on the first note, aka “the one.” It would become a key ingredient of the Godfather’s “brand new bag” of rhythms.
Ad for James Brown headlines for 5 nights placed in The Florida Star, April 17, 1960 Courtesy of the Florida Digital Newspaper Library