Musical Space: The Bo Diddley Beat

Oct 15, 2013

Credit Aconcagua / Wikimedia Commons

Bo Diddley left a huge legacy for American pop music. He was one of the main links in the evolution from the blues to rock and roll. There is even a beat named after him, the one that goes chank-a-chank, a-chank, a-chank-chank. It comes from the caribean music that had an influence on the American south where he grew up, and it became a souvenir he took with him in his family’s move to the south side of Chicago, where he fused it with the blues.

We all know his tune “Who Do You Love” because George Thorogood’s cover of it is being used to sell beer on TV. Let’s listen to the same rhythm used by Johnnie Otis with his “Willie and the Hand Jive” from 1958.


Buddy Holly wrote “Not Fade Away” around the same time, altering the rhythm slightly for his own purposes.


By now the Bo Diddley beat had become a part of rock and roll. Pete Townsend used it in 1965 when he wrote “Magic Bus” for The Who.


The Bo Diddley beat was even revered by punks like Iggy and the Stooges (“1969”) and The Clash (“Hateful”, 1979),

You can even find it deeply buried among Johnny Marr’s layered guitars in his work for The Smiths on “How Soon is Now?” from 1985.