“He’s a great jazz drummer - and he hasn’t lost any of the stuff that he brought from Oakland. So now he’s totally free to do both, and he does. The solo he played on the album Thrust, on the song “Actual Proof,” is one of the best drum solos on any of my albums. So many people have remarked about that solo, saying, ‘Incredible.’” - Herbie Hancock
Mike Clark gained worldwide recognition as one of America’s foremost jazz and funk drummers while playing with Herbie Hancock’s group in the early 1970s. Mike became known as a major innovator through his incisive playing on Hancock’s Thrust album, which garnered him an international cult following.
While often referred to as the “Tony Williams of funk”, Mike considers himself a jazz drummer, and in fact, has become one of the most vital to sit behind a set. He’s performed with jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock, Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Tony Bennett, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Eddie Henderson, Rob Dixon, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw, Donald Harrison, Larry Coryell, Jack Wilkins, Mike Wolff, Wallace Roney, Geri Allen, Billy Childs, James Genus, Bob Hurst, Chris Potter, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Dave Liebman, Nat Adderly, Oscar Brown Jr., Bill Doggett, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Mose Allison, Maxine Brown, Gil Evans and his orchestra and many illuminating etceteras, too numerous to list.
Born in Sacramento, California, Mike had the benefit of traveling around the country with his father, a union man for the railroad. He was also a drummer at one time and had a keen ear, a killing record collection, and a great appreciation for music. This allowed the younger Clark to soak up the diverse regional music of the United States, which he credits as providing an invaluable education. Clark was a prodigy as well, picking up his first sticks at the tender age of five and sitting in - and getting “house” - with bands in Texas and New Orleans when he was as young as seven and eight.
He continued to play in a variety of blues, R&B, organ trios, and jazz bands, settling in Oakland, California, until his introduction to Herbie Hancock and his recruitment into the Headhunters in 1973.
At the tail end of the ‘70s and in 1980, shortly before moving to New York City, Mike did a short but remarkable stint with Brand X, the acclaimed British fusion band founded by Phil Collins, doing two tours and recording their seminal Do They Hurt? and Product.
The winter of 2000 saw him diversifying his efforts with a foray into the popular jam band scene. His group Prescription Renewal electrified audiences across the country with an eclectic core of cross- generational multi talents, such as Charlie Hunter, Fred Wesley, Skerik, Robert Walter, and DJ Logic, and featured special guests such as George Porter Jr. of Funky Meters’ fame, Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident, Les Claypool, Will Bernard, Larry Goldings and fellow Headhunters alumni, Bill Summers, and proved a hit on the thriving young jam band scene. He followed that with several successful tours of the Roots Funk All Stars, another hot ad hoc association that married Mike with James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley, former Headhunter cohort and funk bassist legend Paul Jackson, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Robben Ford.
Next to James Brown’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield, Mike’s beats with The Headhunters (most notably on “God Make Me Funky”) are some of the most sampled in hip hop. Featured in Downbeat, Musician, International Musician & Recording World, Modern Drummer, Jazz Times, Guitar Player, Jazz Is and numerous jazz history and method books, Mike is a former faculty member of Drummers Collective, and is a popular and busy clinician around the country. His book Funk Drumming: Innovative Grooves & Advanced Concepts was published last year by Hal Leonard and is a best seller.
His numerous recording credits include albums with Herbie Hancock, the Headhunters, Brand X, Eddie Henderson, Jack Wilkins, Mark Puricelli, Mike Wolff, and Alien Army, a group led by guitar great Jack Wilkins. As a bandleader, his release Give The Drummer Some was very enthusiastically received, earning a rare four and a half stars in Downbeat, as was The Funk Stops Here, a joint effort with Hancock alumni Paul Jackson. In 2001, his solo CD, Actual Proof met with critical acclaim, as did the 2003 acoustic jazz release, Summertime, featuring Chris Potter and Billy Childs, which spent many weeks in the Top Ten charts.
Other efforts included a compilation of his legendary, innovative funk beat samples, Mike Clark - The Headhunter, a re-release of the widely acclaimed Thrust album, and, in 1998, The Return Of The Headhunters, featuring Herbie Hancock. Next came Herbie Hancock’s Box Set, featuring Headhunters’ classics “Actual Proof” and “Butterfly,” from Thrust, a few choice cuts from Manchild, and also some historical tracks from the classic Flood, previously only available in Japan. The Headhunters’ newest effort, Evolution/Revolution, released in 2003, featured the latest Headhunter configuration, with original founding members Mike, Bill Summers and Paul Jackson, joined by Donald Harrison, Victor Atkins (Los Hombres Caliente), and Nicholas Payton. His 2009 release Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. I produced by Talking House Productions, which featured Christian McBride, Donald Harrison, Patrice Rushen, Jed Levy and Christian Scott, was received with critical acclaim and named one of the best recordings of the decade by Downbeat.
His latest effort, Carnival of Soul released June 2010 by Owl Records and climbing the charts, was described by the Indianapolis Star as “a jazz party with a kaleidoscopic array of players.” Those players include guest turns by renowned country blues singer Delbert McClinton, fellow drumming icon Lenny White, tenor player Rob Dixon, and three separate organ-based ensembles offering up some delicious soul-infused jazz.
A true original, Mike’s work continues to delight and astound his fans around the world.