January 18, 2008

It’s the Melody

Filed under: Music — Bob Gifford @ 4:02 pm

At Heracletus‘s suggestion, I’ve been listening to some Walter Trout lately, and have been enjoying his cover of Not Fade Away (click here and click the “preview all” button for a quick listen). I found the guitar tablature online, and started playing along with Walter.

I knew I’d heard the song before, so I listened to the original Buddy Holly version which is clearly the same song, but very different. Even the Rolling Stones version didn’t ring true — the drum beat in both versions, and the Grateful Dead version as well, are different, and the chord change from E to A and back again is a beat shorter in Trout’s version than the others. Trout adds this little E-D-E chord change that sounded really familiar, but wasn’t in any past version of Not Fade Away.

It was driving me crazy. As I played it on the guitar, I kept wanting to play a driving beat on the low E string as I slid down from the 12th fret, a frill not even present in the Walter Trout version.

It finally hit me — the song I was trying to play was actually on my iPod — George Thorogood’s Who Do You Love. So Thorogood took Not Fade Away, made a few changes to the chord progressions, added a cool jungle beat, and came out with Who Do You Love. Then Walter Trout went back to Not Fade Away, but played it with Thorogood’s jungle beat, fast E-A-E chord change and E-D-E chord riff added in. It sounds far more like Who Do You Love than Not Fade Away.

So why would Trout cover Not Fade Away instead of Who Do You Love? Is it the lyrics? Was it that he’d rather the copyright royalties go to Buddy Holly’s trust than to George Thorogood?

I listened to all four songs again, and it hit me — the melody. Buddy Holly wrote melodies. George Thorogood, not so much. As a guitar player, I was just listening to the drum beat, the bass and the guitar. But what makes Not Fade Away so cover-able is the melody. Anyone, even me, can mimic Thorogood’s guitar style, but it’s the melody that makes it a song.

Update: Thanks to Larry for the tip off regarding Bo Diddley and Who Do You Love. It turns out I erroneously attributed the song to George Thorogood – it was originally a Bo Diddley tune and has been covered by many, including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, the Yardbirds, and my favorite, Carlos Santana with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. But George Thorogood definitely made it his own.


  1. I’m not in a position to listen to the various cuts, being at work an all, so I’m hearing what I think those tunes are in my memory. I believe the basic rhythm all comes from Bo Diddley. Or perhaps Bo stole it from someone else. Whatever, Bo was long before Thorogood, but somewhat of a contemporary of Buddy Holly.

    Any chance you could allow more space in the center and less on the sides? On my set up, which is needed to accommodate “mature” eyesight, the center pane looks to be suffering from anorexia.

    Comment by larry p — January 21, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  2. Thanks, Larry, I think you’re right.

    As for the lay-out, it looks good on the various computers we have here in the house, but now that I look at it, the side columns seem to steal all the real estate as I increase the font size. This is a template I borrowed from somewhere, so I’m not sure how to reverse that, but I’ll take a look.

    Comment by Bob Gifford — January 22, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

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