Recruited away from Bobby Bland, whose orchestra, under the direction of trumpeter Joe Scott, he still insists was "musically, the best band I ever played with," Jabo (pronounced Jabbo) Starks added his experience, jazz sensibility and deep-groove playing to the James Brown sound. With Bland since 1959, he had already recorded some of the great blues singer's biggest hits--"I Pity the Fool," "Turn On Your Lovelight," "Stormy Monday Blues" and "That's The Way Love Is."
"James had heard me play after Bobby's band had gotten popular," Jabo told Modern Drummer magazine. "He would send different people from his organization to wherever we were working. Every time we would play the East Coast, there would be someone there saying, `Mr. Brown wants you to join the group.' `Well, I'm happy where I am,' I'd say.'" Finally, James made him a financial offer he couldn't refuse.
Jabo had the longest continuous reign as JB's first drummer, 1970-1975, and recorded more charting singles than any other drummer in the singer's long career. His hard-grooving, but relaxed and dependable recording style was coupled with an ability to crank up the energy at a live performance to a fever pitch. He teamed up with Clyde Stubblefield on "Live At The Apollo-Vol. 2," almost out-doing Clayton Fillyau's ground-breaking efforts on the original "Live At The Apollo" album.
Another one of Jabo and Clyde's original and innovative nightly double-drumming performances is recorded on "Sex Machine." The live portion of this album, from Augusta, Georgia, also features Melvin Parker, the only recorded glimpse of these three great drummers working together. The energy and power they created, reinforcing and complimenting each other with accents and cymbal crashes, is truly incredible.
Jabo had a sophisticated, jazz touch and a unique feel. He could put the groove somewhere between 16th notes and 16th note triplets and turn funk into an infectious, swinging, half-time shuffle. His drum tracks have been sampled over and over by hip-hoppers and hit makers, confirming the strength of his talents.
In the middle of one of his live recordings, James makes a request of the audience: "Put your hands together for the band." As the people eagerly respond, he says, "Jab, y'all play so much!" The Godfather didn't credit his musicians in album liner notes, but he never forgot to acknowledge their efforts on the bandstand.
Jabo finally left James in 1975 to go with B.B. King. He now lives in his home town, Mobile, Alabama, and plays occasionally on weekends.