Bo Diddley beat

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Bo Diddley beat takes its name from Bo Diddley and his eponymous song

The Bo Diddley beat is a syncopated musical rhythm that is widely used in rock and roll and pop music.[1][2][3] The beat is named after rhythm and blues musician Bo Diddley, who introduced and popularized the beat with his self-titled debut single, "Bo Diddley", in 1955. Music educator and author Michael Campbell describes the Bo Diddley beat as:

a slightly altered version of the clave rhythm ... [The "Bo Diddley"] song shows the relationship between Afro-Cuban music, Americanized Latin rhythms, and rock rhythm ... [The beats] are more active and complicated than a simple rock rhythm, but less complex than a real Afro-Cuban rhythm.[4]

History and composition[edit]

"Bo Diddley beat"[5]/Son clave About this soundPlay .

The Bo Diddley beat is a variation of the 3-2 clave rhythm, one of the most common bell patterns found in Afro-Cuban music that has been traced to sub-Saharan African music traditions.[6] It is also akin to the rhythmic pattern known as "shave and a haircut, two bits", that has been linked to Yoruba drumming from West Africa.[7] A folk tradition called "hambone", a style used by street performers who play out the beat by slapping and patting their arms, legs, chest, and cheeks while chanting rhymes has also been suggested.[8]

According to musician and author Ned Sublette, "In the context of the time, and especially those maracas [heard on the record], 'Bo Diddley' has to be understood as a Latin-tinged record. A rejected cut recorded at the same session was titled only 'Rhumba' on the track sheets."[9] Bo Diddley employed maracas, a percussion instrument used in Caribbean and Latin music, as a basic component of the sound.[7] When asked how he began to use this rhythm, Bo Diddley gave many different accounts. In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he said that he came up with the beat after listening to gospel music in church when he was twelve years old.[10]

In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as either a one-bar or a two-bar phrase. The following consists of the count in a one-bar phrase: One e and ah, two e and ah, three e and ah, four e and ah. The bolded counts are the clave rhythm. The two-bar phrase is as follows: One and two and three and four and One and two and three and four and.

Songs using the Bo Diddley Beat[edit]

The rhythm occurs in 13 rhythm and blues songs recorded between 1944 and 1955, including two by Johnny Otis from 1948.[11] In 1952, a song with similar syncopation, "Hambone" was recorded by Red Saunders' Orchestra with the Hambone Kids. In 1944, "Rum and Coca Cola", containing the beat, was recorded by the Andrews Sisters.[5]

Later songs employing the Bo Diddley beat include:


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  2. ^ "Bo Diddley". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved October 27, 2008.
  3. ^ "Bo Diddley". Rolling Stone. 2001. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  4. ^ Campbell, Michael (2009). Popular Music in America: And the Beat Goes On (3rd ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-495-50530-3.
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  9. ^ Sublette, Ned (2007). The Kingsmen and the Cha-Cha-Chá. Duke University Press. p. 83. ISBN 0822340410.
  10. ^ Strauss, Neil (August 25, 2005). "The Indestructible Beat of Bo Diddley". Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  11. ^ Tamlyn, Garry Neville (March 1998). The Big Beat: Origins and Development of Snare Backbeat and other Accompanimental Rhythms in Rock'n'Roll (PDF) (Thesis). University of Liverpool. p. 284. Retrieved August 4, 2014 – via Philip Tagg.
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