The Bo Diddley beat is easily recognizable because of its unique accent pattern. Bo used this accent pattern to great effect in many of his biggest hit records. And it became one of the identifying trademarks of early rock and roll. Two drummers were actually involved in the creation of the Bo Diddley beat. Well, really it was more like a drummer and percussionist.
First, you had Chicago Blues veteran Clifton James hammering out the famous accent pattern on his toms. And on top of that you can hear maraca man Jerome Green laying down a solid shaker pattern. When combined with Diddley’s reverb-laden guitar riff, the result was a greasy, syncopated, thunderous wall of sound that blew people’s minds and could truly be defined as one of the first authentic rock and roll records.
So why have I posted a picture of Barry Manilow on this fine Monday morning? No, it’s not to dump a spoonful of saccharin in your morning cup.
It’s because if you’re a drummer, you really need to watch the video below and see what happens at 0:54.
What you’ll hear is Manilow’s 1974 hit, “Mandy,” and what happens at 0:54 is that the drummer comes in. And what is the drummer doing, pray tell? Playing quarter notes on the hi hat is what. Why is this a big deal? Because it’s hard … REALLY hard on a song at a fairly moderate tempo such as this one.
Now keep listening, and you’ll notice that every time the drummer starts to play fills, they are comprised of 8th notes …. every time, the whole way through the song. Again, playing fills of this kind is actually really hard to do at tempos like this one.
What’s the upshot of all this? If you want to improve your straight eighth groove – get “deeper into the pocket” as it were – it would behoove you to play along with “Mandy” and other Manilow power pop ballads. They all follow the same drumming formula, and will really test your abilities not only to keep steady time, but to go in and out of fills without losing said time.
I learned this lesson firsthand when I worked with Graham Russell from Air Supply (yes, Air Supply) a few years back. I was tasked to cut a demo of a brand new Russell original for a Broadway project, and realized that my “power ballad” time wasn’t so hot. SO, in preparation for the recording, I spent three days in my practice space working on deathly slow rock grooves playing nothing but quarter notes on the hi hat and eighth note fills. It was a great lesson and those three days made me a much better drummer.
Try it – you’ll find a whole new appreciation of SPACE, something that most drummers are absolutely terrified of and have much trouble negotiating.
Had the opportunity to play “Carouselambra” (one of my all time Zep fantasy tunes) at this year’s East Coast Bonzo Bash. Serious fun … and a serious freakin’ workout. Thanks to Brian Tichy and all the cats for having me on board! Recorded at the Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ – May 31st, 2015.