Clifton James: I Wanted My Own Style of Playing

Scott K Fish

Silver Member
Clifton James: I Wanted My Own Style of Playing

SKF NOTE: If you have read any of my Modern Drummer History of Rock Drumming backgrounder interviews on this blog, you need only know that this interview with drummer Clifton James is another backgrounder interview. It, as with all the others, is published here for the first time.

If you have not read any other of these background interviews, the back story is here.

In the early 1980's I was having a very tough time identifying the drummer on Bo Diddley's rock classics. I found out doing another background interview with Blues giant Willie Dixon.

Somehow I was able to get Clifton James on the phone from his workplace in Chicago, the Ace Hose & Rubber Company. I always hoped, while conducting them, these background interviews would yield new information about the History of Rock Drumming. Like mining for gold or buried treasure. Mr. James mentions two blues musicians I have not heard to this day: L.C. McKinley and McKinley Mitchell.

Clifton James was not very talkative. His answers were polite and direct, but giving minimum information. He had been off of the music scene for awhile, with little -- almost no -- interest in playing again.*

But, thank you, Clifton James filling in several historic blanks for me. You will always*remain in the top tier of my favorite rock and blues drummers.


Clifton James: I did a lot of things with all of them: [Howlin'] Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Jr.... Well, you name them.

Scott K Fish: You were the drummer on the Bo Diddley stuff, right?

CJ: Yeah, I'm his original drummer. We started out together. I'm the one that gave him that beat.

Scott K Fish Blog: Life Beyond the Cymbals Click Here to Read Full Clifton James Interview
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Senior Member
I am new after a long pause and learning so much from this forum.

I have discovered so many incredible drummers in just the last year.

Having a feel for the rhythms as a drummer allows one to be so appreciative of what is heard in another.

Jazz is going to be my thing.

Midnite Zephyr

Platinum Member
I think the Wiki article on the Bo Diddley beat needs some revising done to it. It doesn't even mention Clifton James. It says that in a Rolling Stone magazine interview, Bo Diddley said he came up with the beat at 12 years old while listening to Gospel music at church. Then it goes on to say that Diddley came up with it while trying to play Gene Autry's version of "Jingle, Jangle , Jingle". Yet, in this article, Clifton says he came up with it.

Midnite Zephyr

Platinum Member
Another case of Rolling Stone not fact checking? Well, I'd consider Willie Dixon's word over some Rolling Stone interview being referred to in a Wiki article.

Also, thanks for the link. I loved that Willie Dixon interview that you did.