The Beat Changes the Entire Style


SKF: Researching for my History of Rock Drumming series, Robert Palmer’s book, Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta, was quite helpful. This morning, leafing through a few pages from Deep Blues I had photocopied in the 1980s, I was interested to see those parts I had underlined.

This excerpt is interesting because in it, Mr. Palmer quotes Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in describing the evolution of Chicago blues drumming from it’s original, random format, where today’s 12-bar blues was just as likely to be an 11-bar blues or an 11.5 bar blues, to the influence of the 2-and-4 backbeat on blues and rock.

Also, Willie Dixon here echoes a point Max Roach made during one of our interviews. That is, rhythm determines music styles. Max said an A-Major chord is the same whether it’s played in jazz, classical, or any other style of music.

In Robert Palmer’s book Willie Dixon says, “The beat actually changes the whole entire style.”


“Stop-time wasn’t Muddy [Water]’s only rhythmic innovation during the mid-fifties.

“‘I had to find me a drummer that would drive,’ he says. ‘My drummer [Elgin Evans] was straight right down — bop bop bop bop. I had to part from him ’cause he just couldn’t hit the backbeat. The blues do have a backbeat to it, you know, today.’

“Muddy found a solid backbeat drummer in 1954 in Francis Clay, who stayed with him until the early sixties. Again, putting a backbeat (heavy emphasis on the second and fourth of every four beats) behind the blues didn’t originate with Muddy, but once he made the move, other musicians followed, and the sound rapidly filtered into the emerging rock and roll idiom.

“‘You know,’ Willie Dixon reflects, ‘when you go to changin’ the beats in music, you change the whole style. The difference in blues or rock and roll or jazz is the beat. The beat actually changes the whole entire style.'”

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