Mike Clark is a drummer that almost every modern drummer has been influenced by, even if they don’t know it. He was a pioneer of the instrument back in the 70s jazz and funk scene, and he’s continued to rip it up on the kit in his old age.
If you really want to get into the roots of funk music and drumming, Mike Clark is someone that you need to learn about. We’re going to see what made him so well-known around the world, and we’ll take a brief dive into his iconic drumming style.
- One of the first drummers to heavily utilize linear concepts in funk drumming
- Drumming with Herbie Hancock in the 1970s
- Big inspiration for funk and jazz drummers
- Led several of his own bands throughout his drumming career
- Excellent clinician
Mike Clark was born in Sacramento, California. His dad was a drummer and his earliest influence, but he traveled around the country a lot as a child and got exposed to all kinds of music.
He started playing drums at an incredibly young age, and he became a child drumming prodigy very quickly. He was so proficient behind the kit that he was playing with bands by the age of four.
While he frequently gigged in his early twenties, it was his drumming for Herbie Hancock that skyrocketed his fame around the world.
Herbie Hancock was one of the pioneers of jazz fusion and funk music, and Mike Clark’s drumming on his Thrust album is what made him so well-known. In particular, it was his complicated drum parts in Actual Proof that impressed millions of people.
Since then, Mike Clark has gigged all over the world. He’s played with the biggest names in jazz as a supporting band member and band leader. He’s also a great teacher that regularly puts on drum clinics.
Notable Artists That Mike Clark Has Played With
Herbie Hancock is the biggest artist that Mike Clark has played drums with. He’s one of the most famous jazz musicians in the world, and Mike Clark was one of the first drummers to track drums for his albums that got so popular in the 70s.
When Herbie released albums under his own name, the ones that Mike Clark played drums for were Thrust, Death Wish, Man-Child, and Flood.
Herbie Hancock formed The Headhunters in 1973, and the band played a lot more funk-style tunes than Herbie did under his own name. While Mike Clark was never the main drummer, he did record a few albums with the group.
These include Survival of the Fittest, Evolution Revolution, Platinum, and Speakers in the House.
We’ve mentioned Mike Clark’s own name here as he became a huge name in the jazz and funk world himself. It was aspiring jazz musicians that wanted to play with him, and he ended up being a bandleader that played with some huge artists in his quartets, quintets, and larger groups.
Here’s a list of big names that Mike Clark played with over the years in his own bands:
- Christian McBride
- Chet Baker
- John Scofield
- Chris Potter
- Michael Wolff
- Billy Childs
- Albert King
- Tony Bennett
- Randy Brecker
Mike Clark started out primarily as a jazz drummer. He plays jazz in a very traditional way, which is similar to all the players that were drumming in the 50s and 60s. However, Mike Clark is often seen more as a funk drummer than as a jazz drummer, largely due to his role with Herbie Hancock.
The most interesting thing about his playing style is that he’s commonly seen as one of the founders of linear drumming. This is when you play grooves and fills without hitting two drums or cymbals at the same time.
Linear drumming is massive in the modern drumming space, but it was a relatively unknown concept when Mike Clark played with Herbie in the 70s. He stated that Herbie wanted him to play something different, and that’s how his linear grooves were born.
His grooves are always very relaxed, but he somehow manages to fit in very quick notes in succession between the snare drum and hi-hats.
Mike Clark plays DW drums, Istanbul Agop cymbals, Innovative Percussion drumsticks, and Evans drumheads.
His Istanbul Agop cymbals are highly appropriate for the jazz and funk music that he plays, while his DW drums are always tuned quite high and resonating.
Paul Jackson and Mike Clark
Paul Jackson and Mike Clark were one of the tightest drum and bass duos in the 70s era of funk music. Both of them played with Herbie Hancock, but they grew up playing music together.
In this clip, you can see how tight their rhythmic bond is. It’s a masterclass in a jazz and funk rhythm section knowing exactly what to play together.
Mike Clark at Pasic 2016
Even in his old age, Mike Clark is still highly proficient on the drum kit, and he regularly does clinics and masterclasses. This was his performance at the 2016 Pasic convention, where he mostly played jazz tunes.
Spank-A-Lee by The Headhunters in 1974
Here’s a vintage live video of The Headhunters performing with Mike Clark on the drums. While his most famous drumming work was with Herbie Hancock as a solo artist, his drumming with The Headhunters was also next level.
It’s incredibly interesting to watch these guys play at the height of their fame.
Final Thoughts on Mike Clark
Mike Clark’s pioneering of linear drumming is the reason for him being a big influence on modern drummers without them even knowing it. He has such a distinct drumming style, and everyone should listen to his drumming in Actual Proof to hear him going for it at full speed.
He’s a living legend of drumming history who is still regularly performing live gigs with a band that he leads.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Mike Clark, you should also watch a few interviews where he talks about the jazz music scene in the 70s and 80s. They’re incredibly interesting.