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Write A Song Around A Bass Riff

6:00 am Songwriting

The day Bo Diddley died, I suddenly realized that of all of the hundreds of songs I have written over the years, there was not a single one that used the so-called “Bo Diddley beat,” you know, that bum-pa-dum-pa-dum, BUM BUM beat that you hear in songs like Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones. I thought I had tried everything, but I had never used that beat! This had to change.

When I finally sat down to write my “Bo Diddley beat song,” I made the fateful decision to write it on the bass guitar, which I don’t usually do, to avoid if possible having it come out as just my version of Not Fade Away or some other song I had heard a million times.

As Mr. Monk would say, here’s what happened. I came up with a bass riff in A that definitely had the Bo Diddley beat and I used that for the verses of the new song. For variety, I threw in a 4-bar link that was only half Bo Diddley to serve as a refrain and then added an 8-bar bridge with no Bo Diddley and a different overall feel. Finally, I wrote a set of lyrics, based on two lines that I already had in mind to start the song. I called it “Just Like A Man.” Ta da!

Well, when I wrote the song, it seemed to indeed be a “Bo Diddley beat song.” But when I went to record it, things went in a different direction.

More Bo, Less Diddley

After laying down a click track and recording the bass part that I had developed during the songwriting process, I decided to record the drums next to establish a “rhythm section” for the song. At first, I practiced drumming along using the Bo Diddley beat whenever the bass did. Occasionally, I would make a mistake after the bridge and continue playing a straight-time 4-beat drum part behind the bass riff. The trouble was, it sounded better that way!

Somehow, a straight-ahead Zeppelin-style backbeat worked much better backing up my Bo Diddley bass riff than having everybody going bom-pa-dum-pa-dum, BOM BOM together like they do in the Stones song. So that’s how I played it for the recording! I ended up not with a “Bo Diddley beat song” as I had intended, but with a song based on a “Bo Diddley beat riff” on the bass. Oh, well, close enough.

I went on to record four vocal tracks to go with the bass and drums before taking “Just Like A Man” over to my virtuoso music buddy’s studio so that he could lay down a lead guitar track on it. Something made me suggest dragging out his old wah-wah pedal, which adds an extra level of weirdness to the final version.

Just Like A Man (Bendig) (mp3, chords, lyrics)
Jack Burgess: lead guitar
Mark Bendig: all other parts

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One Response
  1. Carl F. Parker :

    Date: September 25, 2008 @ 11:40 am

    Not my style, but still very cool. I’ve done the same thing many times. Trying to write say a Eddie Cochren style song, and have it turn out like AC/DC. It is always amazing where the sound in your head takes you.

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