TIR 86: Headhunters Drummer Mike Clark Still Searching for the Perfect Beat


Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 86 (2 Parts): A living legend of jazz and jazz-funk drumming — Mr. Mike Clark. As a child prodigy growing up in California’s Bay Area, Clark gained worldwide notoriety and acclaim as a member of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band. Perhaps the most accomplished and successful funk-jazz groups of all time, the Headhunters also included Bennie Maupin, Paul Jackson, Bill Summers, who has also appeared on TRUTH IN RHYTHM, and later on Blackbyrd McKnight. Together during the 1970s they lit up recording studios and stages with Herbie Hancock’s Thrust, Manchild and Flood albums as well as their own albums Survival of the Fittest and Straight From the Gate.

They included classic tracks like “Palm Grease,” “Actual Proof,” “Hang Up Your Hangups,” “Steppin’ in It,” “God Made Me Funky” and “Straight From the Gate.” Although Clark did not originally record it, he also carried the torch in concert for Hancock’s magnificent hit “Chameleon.”

Among the many others Clark recorded with were Betty Davis, Buddy Miles, Alphonso Johnson, Eddie Henderson, Brian Auger, Patrice Rushen, Christian McBride, John Scofield, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw, Albert King, Larry Coryell, Lonnie Smith, Jerry Reed and Lenny White. He left the Headhunters in the late 1970s in pursuit of his true passion for more traditional jazz. To that end, Clark has released dozens of jazz albums under his own name and that of his various collaborators. One highlight was 1992’s The Funk Stops Here with his longtime buddy and fellow former Headhunter Paul Jackson on bass.

Despite some misgivings with the funkier and more accessible side of jazz, Clark along with Bill Summers spearheaded the revival of the Headhunters in the late 1990s with the Return of the Headhunters album. Since then, Evolution Revolution followed in 2003, with the live On Top: Live in Europe in 2008 and Platinum in 2011. The release of a new Headhunters project, called Speakers in the House, is imminent.

TRUTH IN RHYTHM caught up with the ever-busy Clark from his Manhattan base during a recording break and just prior to a West Coast trip. He proved to be a somewhat reluctant funker, as although that music is what has brought him the most fame and money it has also served as his ticket to be able to perform the straight-ahead jazz he loves most. Any way you slice it, Clark always has and continues to move to the beat of his own drum.