Garry Tamlyn
The Big Beat — Origins and Development of Snare Backbeat
and other Accompanimental Rhythms in Rock’n’Roll

PhD Thesis, 2 volumes, University of Liverpool, 1998

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Volume 1 — Chapters
(text, bibliography, discography: pp. i-xv, 1-380; PDF 7330 KB)

Volume 2 — Appendices
(supplementary music examples, tables, extensive drumkit transcriptions, >1,000 mini-analyses, etc.
pp. 382-601; PDF 1084 KB)

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Garry Tamlyn
Contents 1
Contents 2


Top of page Abstract

This thesis focusses on the origins and development of snare backbeat in rock’n’roll. Some other accompanimental rhythms, such as cymbal rhythms, piano and double bass
accompaniments, are investigated in order, firstly, to place snare backbeat within an accompanimental context and secondly, to elucidate some stylistic influences informing
the development of snare backbeat.

The thesis is divided into six chapters. Chapter One investigates references to rock rhythm in musicological, socio-cultural and journalistic accounts. Clarification of terminology and methodology used in the thesis is located at the beginning of Chapter Two. The latter half of Chapter Two details the frequency of occurrence of snare backbeat and other accompanimental rhythms in the recorded output of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, the Platters, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard. Subsequent chapters focus on the origins of snare backbeat: Chapter Three investigates the occurrence of snare backbeat in jazz styles in conjunction with the development of the drum kit; Chapter Four details the influence of rhythm and blues on rock’n’roll rhythm; and Chapter Five explores the rhythmic roots of the rock’n’roll backbeat in gospel and country and western musical styles. Conclusions are presented in Chapter Six.

The thesis also contains four appendices. A sample of rock drumming notations are included in Appendix One allowing the reader to observe snare backbeats in their complete context. Appendices Two and Three contain mini-analyses of around 2 500 rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues recordings. Appendix Four focusses on 1940s rhythm and blues produced in Chicago with Judge Riley drumming. The empirical information presented in the latter three appendices informs discussions and conclusions presented in the main body of the thesis.

Top of page Preface

It is evident from the material covered in the first few pages of Chapter One that published references to rock’n’roll accompanimental rhythm and its stylistic roots are not informed by any extensive empirical evidence. Rather, our received knowledge about such highly common musical structures as snare backbeat is largely based upon commonly held perceptions concerning rock’n’roll’s origins and stylistic development. It is quite clear from material presented throughout this thesis that the old canons concerning the roots of rock’n’roll rhythm have been repeated in published accounts without being subject to further analytic inquiry. Although published opinions regarding the origins and development of rock’s accompanimental rhythms afford some insight about the ideologies of their authors, it seemed to me that no sensible theoretical constructions could be made without a firm musical-structural basis and empirical evidence. Consequently, the work presented here is mostly of an empirical nature relating to terminology and the identification of musical structures.

In order to determine the extent to which snare backbeat and other accompanimental rhythms occurred in rock’n’roll and its precursory musical styles it was necessary to investigate a vast selection of recorded material. Having decided that basing this study on a small representative selection of recorded material would not entirely solve the problem, I have therefore attempted to cover all of the recorded material by musicians mentioned in this thesis. This has involved repeated listening to literally thousands of recorded works. Considering the size of the material I have been obliged to concentrate on the analytic descriptive level in order to trace the origins and development of snare backbeat and other accompanimental rhythms of rock’n’roll. For this reason, I have chosen to omit from the text large parts of the philosophical/ideological discussion. The latter will be the subject of a future project.

Top of page Contents (basic listing for online search purposes)

Chapter One
1.1 The Problem 1
1.2 Musicological Studies of Rhythmic Organization in Rock and Roll. 2
1.3 Sociological Accounts Concerning Rhythmic Organization in Rock and Roll. 19
1.4 Rock and Roll Journalism and Criticism Concerning Rhythmic Organization in Rock and Roll28
1.5 Conclusions 31
1.6 Consequences of a Lack of Formal Methodology Concerning Rock and Roll Rhythmic Structures. 31
1.7 Genre or Style? 39
1.8 Why a Musicology of Rock and Roll Rhythms? 44

Chapter Two 49
2.1 Rock Rhythmics and Analytic Terminology49
2.2 Snare Backbeat54
2.3 Cymbal Rhythms. 60
2.4 Other Drum Beats. 62
2.5 Demarcating the Analytic Sample. 64
2.6 Rock’n’Roll Recordings Analytic Sample. 69
2.7 Snare Backbeat in Rock’n’Roll74
2.7.1 Chuck Berry. 74
2.7.2 Antoine ‘Fats’ Domino80
2.7.3 Bill Haley. 91
2.7.4 Buddy Holly. 99
2.7.5 Jerry Lee Lewis. 104
2.7.6 Carl Perkins. 112
2.7.7 The Platters117
2.7.8 Elvis Presley. 121
2.7.9 Little Richard. 127
2.8 Conclusions132
2.8.1 Snare Backbeat in Rock’n’Roll. 132
2.8.2 Other Drum Beats in Rock’n’Roll. 144
2.8.3 Cymbal Rhythms in Rock’n’Roll. 145

Top of page Chapter Three. 148
3.1 Rhythmic Roots of Rock’n’Roll: Jazz. 148
3.2 Jazz Drumming: Early Jazz. 161
3.2.1 Conclusion: Backbeat in Early Jazz Drumming185
3.2.2 Backbeat in Other Early Jazz Accompaniments185
3.3 Jazz Drumming: The Swing Era. 188
3.3.1 From x to y
3.3.2 Swing Era Snare Roll Rhythms197
3.3.3 Swing Era Ride Cymbal Ostinati200
3.3.4 Conclusion: Backbeat in Swing Era Drumming203
3.4 Jazz Drumming: Bebop. 204
3.4.1 Conclusion: Backbeat in Bebop Drumming. 209

Chapter Four 211
4.1 Rhythmic Roots of Rock’n’Roll: From the mid-1940s to the Rock’n’Roll era 211
4.2 Rock’n’roll’s Musical Precursors 212
4.3 Rhythmic Roots of Rock’n’Roll: Rhythm and Blues. 220
4.3.1 Rhythm and Blues Recordings Sample230
4.3.2 Snare Backbeat in Rhythm and Blues: Overview. 238
4.3.3 Snare Backbeat in Rhythm and Blues. 247
4.3.4 Fats Domino’s Rhythm and Blues Recordings 265
4.3.5 Little Richard’s Rhythm and Blues Recordings 275
4.3.6 Other Drum Beats in Rhythm and Blues 279
4.3.7 Conclusion: Snare Backbeat in Rhythm and Blues 286
4.4 Rhythmic Roots of Rock’n’Roll: Chicago Rhythm and Blues288
4.4.1 Chicago Rhythm and Blues Recordings with Judge Riley Drumming 297
4.4.2 Conclusion: Snare Backbeat in Judge Riley’s Drumming. 301

Top of page Chapter Five 304
5.1 Backbeat in Chicago Gospel306
5.2 Backbeat in Doowop. 311
5.3 Backbeat in Chicago Sanctified Gospel. 316
5.4 Backbeat in Country and Western Music321

Chapter Six. 349
6.1 Snare Backbeat in Rock’n’Roll and Pre-Rock’n’Roll Musics349
6.1.1 Snare Backbeat in Rock’n’Roll. 349
6.1.2 Snare Backbeat in Jazz 352
6.1.3 Snare Backbeat in Rhythm and Blues. 353
6.1.4 Backbeat in Gospel and Doowop. 356
6.1.5 Backbeat in Country and Western. 356
6.2 Methodology and Implications 357
6.3 Further Research. 359
6.4 Final Thoughts. 361

Bibliography 364
Discography 375

Top of page Appendix One. 384
Appendix 1.1 Percentage of Snare Backbeats Located in a Selected
Sample of Rock Drumming Notations389
Appendix 1.2 Drumming Notation Legend. 392
Appendix 1.3 Drumming Notations. 393
The Beatles: Drive My Car 393
The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 401
Jeff Beck: Shapes of Things. 404
Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode. 408
The Clash: Complete Control 413
Cream: Deserted Cities of the Heart. 421
Donovan: Sunshine Superman 430
The Doors: Hyacinth House. 436
Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower 441
Jimi Hendrix Experience: Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland) 446
Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times 451
Mahavishnu Orchestra: Eternity’s Breath, Part 1. 455
Pink Floyd: Us and Them. 460

Top of page Appendix Two. 468
Appendix 2.1 Terms and Recordings Descriptors for Appendices Two and Three. 468
Appendix 2.2 Rock’n’Roll Recordings As Discussed In Chapter Two471
Chuck Berry 473
Antoine “Fats” Domino. 476
Bill Haley 482
Buddy Holly 489
Jerry Lee Lewis 492
Carl Perkins 503
Platters 510
Elvis Presley 514
Little Richard 522

Top of page Appendix Three 529
Appendix 3.1 Rhythm and Blues Recordings As Discussed In Chapter Four 529
Eddie Boyd. 531
Hadda Brooks. 531
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. 531
Roy Brown 532
Ruth Brown 534
Goree Carter 534
Savannah Churchill 535
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. 535
Floyd Dixon539
Antoine “Fats” Domino. 541
Lowell Fulson 544
Paul Gayten. 545
Lloyd Glenn 545
Peppermint Harris 546
Wynonie Harris 546
Chuck Higgins 548
Joe Houston 549
Camille Howard 550
Helen Humes 552
Ivory Joe Hunter 553
Louis Jordon 554
Saunders King 558
Jimmy Liggins 558
Joe Liggins 560
Big Jay McNeely. 562
Jack McVea. 564
Amos Milburn. 565
Roy Milton. 566
Johnny Moore. 570
Johnny Otis. 570
Jesse Price. 571
Lloyd Price. 571
Little Richard573
Arbee Stidham. 575
The Treniers 575
Big Joe Turner. 577
T-Bone Walker 578
Little Walter. 580
Muddy Waters. 580
Paul Williams. 582
Jimmy Witherspoon. 583
Howlin’ Wolf. 584

Top of page Appendix Four 586
Appendix 4.1 Chicago Rhythm and Blues Recordings with Judge Riley
Drumming As Discussed In Chapter Four
Eddie Boyd. 586
Big Bill Broonzy. 587
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. 589
Jazz Gillum. 594
Arbee Stidham. 597
Tampa Red. 598
Washboard Sam 600
Muddy Waters. 601

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