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Blues Guitar Lessons: Bo Diddley

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Let's take another little trip down
a pathway,
one of the many pathways that leads
around the blues world,
the blues spectrum.
This one is a style of music, one of the
few styles of music that I can think of,
I don't know if I can think of
another one, named after a person.
And the person is Bo Diddley.
It's not very often you're gonna have
an entire beat with your name on it
but Bo Diddley managed to do that.
Now Bo Diddley was born Elias McDaniel,
I believe that was his proper name.
But he took on the name Bo Diddley whose
sorta this mythological character,
like out right, out shoot,
out love any man alive.
He's a bigger than life kinda guy.
Bo inhabited that character,
sang about that character, and
really was that character.
And Bo Diddley started his professional
career, if you want to call it that,
on the streets of Chicago
singing on street corners.
He's playing guitar and
his cousin's playing washboard and
his buddy is playing harmonica and
they're playing for
people who pass by and throw nickels,
and dimes and quarters in a hat.
That kind of thing.
But he was influenced by the music that
he heard in church and one of the sounds
that you would hear in a black southern
church was what they call the ring shout.
And a ring shout is people
standing in a circle and
they're moving rhythmically
around the circle.
And there's a certain beat which is,
[SOUND] and
this rhythm is kept up for
a long period of time and
people are dancing and moving and
it's sort of hypnotic thing.
Now you might remember that rhythm
from the Tre Sio the New Orleans beat.
And the Tre So was [SOUND].
Which was a sort of a stripped
out down version of the clave.
[SOUND] And what is the Bo Diddley beat?
The class Bo Diddley beat is
So you could say that's
a combination of the clave beat and
just an aggressive attack.
Bo played in open tuning he had
a capo made out of a pencil and
electrical tape, something like that.
This is a real capo, [SOUND] but
performs the same function and
sorta helps get the same sound.
If I played Bo Diddley in the key of G,
rather than using a bar chord
I'm going to use that capo and
it helps me get freed up and sort of
attack the guitar more like Bo did.
Now he had a ferocious attack but
he really wasn't known
as a lead guitar player.
A guy who played on a lot
of his records in Chicago,
a guy named Jody Williams,
was a fantastic guitar player.
Underrated, underappreciated, but
really played some amazing stuff.
Check out Who Do You Love
by Bo Diddley and
listen to the solo on that
thing it's frightening.
But Bo's forte was just getting
that rhythm groove going.
And just creating this wall of sound,
and play one song for 20 minutes.
No problem whatsoever.
So when we think of the Bo Diddley groove,
and people perform the Bo Diddley groove.
It's often done more or
less by the book, and
this was true of the people
who were influenced by him.
When the song Bo Diddly came out,
which was around 1954,
1955, somewhere in that range there,
it was a hit record.
And other musicians picked up on it,
notably Buddy Holly who wrote the song
Not Fade Away based on Bo Diddley.
Buddy actually cut a version
of Bo Diddley himself,
but his better known
record was Not Fade Away.
And it was I'm gonna tell
you how it's gonna be.
And he did it very specifically and
very evenly.
And what he took out of it was all
that extra stuff around the edges.
The Maracas.
The Tom Toms.
The feeling that this thing
is just about to explode.
So when we play the Bo Diddly
feel we wanna have that extra
layer of rhythm kinda lurking
in the background there.
That we can capture on the guitar.
So, plenty of reverb is helpful.
Again, using the, pardon me, Tremolo.
These sort of of dress up
the sound of the guitar.
He also used a tape delay
with a little slap back on it so
the guitar just adds vibration to it.
So when you get into the swing of it you
can vary that rhythm different ways.
I'll show you a couple of
ways that Bo varied it.
By and large it's a one chord thing.
You don't have to make the changes,
you can.
You can play a Bo Diddely
beat over a 12 bar blues, but
we'll look at it as a one chord sound and
see what kind of little attitudes we
can create using our rhythm parts.
All right.
So, listen to the track and
then we'll talk.
Get in the groove, feel it,
once you feel that pulse,
then you start the playing.
I kind of took you through a collection
of Bo Diddley beats there.
We've got the fundamental beat.
That's the clave, or as they often call
it, shave and a haircut, two bits.
Shave and a haircut
Now I get the right hand going [NOISE].
And all of my accents and stuff flow from
that constant up and down kind of feel.
So we got shave and a haircut, two bits.
Now as it develops, you don't hear
Bo stick to that beat religiously.
He moves around and
changes the accents, for example.
It could be any number of variations but
that's the idea of it is that
accents follow on different beats.
It's still that two bar
kind of concept there.
This is a two beat underneath.
So it's all kind of lying on top
of that bed of two beat rhythm.
Taking the G chord
and moving it up and down a whole step
to F against that same rhythm pattern.
This creates a little tension
you know in [SOUND] right?
Those are quarter note triplets
technically that [SOUND].
It feels like,
one two, [SOUND].
One hand is playing triplets, the other
hand is playing the quarter notes.
And so you've got three over two.
It's a weird beat.
But [SOUND] it kind of feels like it's
pushing and pulling a little bit.
It's intuitive, you don't have to
count it out, you can feel it.
Then you get, just because he's
got the capo we can go,
Right just using different
inversions of the G chord.
Now that's,
That's kind of odd.
Almost Spanish sounding in its effect.
Just sliding the chord around,
and he would use one finger and
slide that chord around, cuz it was really
all about the groove and the attitude, so.
That's what we're going for
with Bo Diddley,
now how would you solo over the top?
You just play the blues, ya know.
And you got that two beat going,
We've looked at umpteen different ways to
play that rhythm, or to play that style.
And using techniques and playing more
notes, less notes, that's your call.
But I would say the number one thing to
do is to get that feel of the rhythm and
be comfortable playing over that rhythm.
If you play roots music
at some point somebody says
hey lets do a Bo Diddley feel.
So, you just wanna be aware of
what that Bo Diddley feel is and
how to get that sound going.
and then the rest is up to you,
you can vary it as so
many people have over the years.
Every couple of years
a Bo Diddly song comes out and
it has some variation on that beat.
And it's a lot of fun.
So this is really just a rhythm lesson and
you just play over that
rhythm track there.
Get in the groove and just have fun.
Wailing on those chords and if you
have questions about it, wanna know if
you're getting that feel right or anything
else that you can try, send me a video.
Let me know what you're doing.
I'd love to see it.
All right, have fun with Bo.