Fred reunited with JBs bassist Fred Thomas and New JBs saxophonist Phillip Whack for DJ Phantom’s JBs Skate Revolution at Chicago’s Glenwood Roller Rink. It was a funky good time and a chance to pay tribute to JBs drummer John “Jabo” Starks, who passed away last week. Below is a tribute Fred wrote for his homeboy, band mate and friend.
STOP YOUR HEART GROOVE: John “Jabo” Starks, October 27, 1936-May 1, 2018
An essay of remembrance by Fred Wesley
It can be argued that E.B. Coleman is the architect of funk. He taught Jabo and he taught me. Jabo and I had to have caught that groove from somewhere, and Coleman was the obvious carrier. He had the swagger, aggressiveness and that “in your face” attitude about performing that is required to play funk. Coleman was my junior high school teacher and had previously taught Jabo in some “up-the-country” town in Alabama. When I found that out, I couldn’t wait for him to introduce us. You see, I was only 12 or 13 years old, but Jabo was already a big star in the Mobile, Alabama area.
He was playing with the Castanets, the baddest band in the area− in the South, and as I now know, the baddest band in the world. We finally met, at some kind of affair at Booker T. Washington Junior High School, and I was thrilled. Thrilled to meet the man who was able to drive that band – a band ofalready bad individuals, into a frenzy like I have never seen before. I knew right then that I wanted to go on the road andplay exciting music for all kinds of people and have plenty offun doing it. I wanted to be just like Jabo.
I didn’t get to work with Jabo until I joined James Brown in 1968. He continued to thrill me when I heard him play “Going to Kansas City.” That “stop your heart” groove was still there.What he did for the Castanets, he did for Bobby Bland, B.B. King, James Brown and for Oli and the people at the Red Bar in Drayton Beach Florida. From 1971 to 1975 I was lucky enough to have recorded many hits with Jabo on the drums. “The Big Payback“ and “Papa Don’t Take No Mess“ are just two of the hits from our time with James Brown. We recorded “Pass the Peas”, “Gimmie Some More” and many, many others with The JBs.
Jabo and I became good friends as we dealt with the erratic leadership of James Brown. He dealt with it his way and I dealt with it my way and fortunately things turned out well for us both.
We didn’t become really close friends until he invited me to The Red Bar. The Red Bar is a charming little restaurant and bar near Panama City Florida. Jabo had a band there and invited me to sit in with them. It was the sweetest gig I’ve ever played. I use the word sweet because that is the vibe down there. Everybody is sonice, accommodating and so appreciative of the music. I mean,just really sweet. I don’t know how Oli and Jabo got together but they were a perfect match. And they welcomed me to this slice of heaven with open arms.
That “stop your heart” groove continued as we got closer and closer. We talked about our time with James Brown. We talked about his time with Bobby Bland. We talked about our families and really got to know each other. We not only appreciated and respected each others’ musical talents, but we appreciated and respected each other as men.
Jabo loved being on the road. But he loved his family too. Most of his talk was about how much he loved his wife Naomi and children, Sonia and Mark. He often spoke of how proud he was of them. He loved to entertain people. He loved to laugh. He loved to groove. He’d look at you and smile when he knew he had you locked into that “stop your heart” groove. The special bond that we had was undeniable.
Maybe we have Coleman to thank, or maybe it was just meant to be. Without a doubt, he was my favorite drummer. I could lose myself in his “stop your heart” groove and just blow free. We had it like that. You can hear it on “Doing It To Death” aka “Gonna Have A Funky Good Time.” I rode that groove like I was flying through the wind.
As the years passed, our personal relationship grew stronger and our families grew closer. He was and will always be an inspiration to me. He will always be a guide in my life. It was difficult for me to call him John Starks. John Starks was a normal person. I had to call him Jabo. Not a normal person, a genius. An icon of music. A divine entity. He had that “stop your heart” groove in his body, and in his soul. He will always be Jabo − my teacher, my partner, and my friend.###