The backbeat is the life of a song smacking down on beats 2 and 4. It has incredible power and influence over a groove. But over the years there have been a few “milestone” performances by drummers who decided to redirect the power of the backbeat. These recordings are perfect examples of thinking outside the box resulting in timeless grooves that are integral to the songs they are connected with. For the month of March, we will take a look at songs without a 2 and 4 backbeat, and analyze impact on the song.


Howlin’ Wolf version, Earl Phillips on drums

With lyrics that invoke images of murder and prison, “Forty-Four” is driven by the force that is a hard pounding shuffle with a very strong accent on beat 1 of every measure. That accent on beat 1 feels like a door slamming, an omen. This is yet another example of a tune that, were it to be called on a gig, you would be a champion if you understand the quirky-ness of its groove.

To create the appropriate chunky hi-hat sound, the hi-hit pedal must have minimal pressure. It should sound as if the hi-hat clutch is broken. This requires a level of consistency from the drummer. The snare and bass drum should collapse on beat 1 without much variation from the hi-hat, pressure-wise (Ex. 1).

Ex. 1

The form of the tune has a few extra bars at the ends of phrases to accommodate a new verse or an instrumental section. The only real fill that is played is an open hi-hat on the & of beat 4 every now and then. When playing this tune I try to replicate the open hi-hat to use as a form marker. While the form fluctuates on the Howling Wolf recording the following chart matches what is happening during the vocal sections. Basically the tune is IV-I-IV-I-V-IV-I with the I chord sections being five-bar phrases (Ex. 2).

Howlin’ Wolf recording (Earl Phillips, drums):


Eric Clapton Version (Andy Newmark, drums):


Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.