No, that isn’t the sequel to a popular children’s book — it’s my phonetic rendering of the beat popularized by rock pioneer Bo Diddley. If you ask a rock musician to play a “Bo Diddley beat”, that’s pretty much what you’re going to get. (It’s also pretty close to what you’ll get if you ask someone who does Afro-Latin music to keep clave (pronounced KLAH-vay, or another musician to play a bossa nova or similar style.))
Now as it happens, one can’t copyright a drumbeat or rhythm. Only the lyricist and the composer of the melody get credit in that regard — the rest is considered “arrangement”. This, by the way, is one of the many things that aggravates Ginger Baker; he came up with the signature 5/4 bolero in Cream’s hit “White Room“, but gets no songwriting credit (or cash) for that. And as Gregg Bissonette has noted, if we could copyright drum licks, Ringo would be the richest Beatle. (And Clyde Stubblefield would be in Bill Gates country.)
But as Adam Morrison notes at A Journal of Musical Things, the recent verdict in favor of the Marvin Gaye estate over the recent hit “Blurred Lines” throws a lot of this into question. So many major rock bands have used not just Bo’s songs, but his groove, that one might wonder what’s up for grabs.
Now, I firmly believe an artist should be paid for his work — I’d better, seeing as I do creative stuff myself. But it’s interesting to see where (you should pardon the expression) the blurred lines are.