“Black Dog” is a blues riff in the key of A. The riff follows the A minor pentatonic in 5th position, followed by a similar 5th position pattern over E7. There are tabs all over the Internet, but you will learn it more thoroughly if you watch the video below and try to work it out for yourself.
About the writing and performance
John Paul Jones, who is credited with writing the main riff,wanted to write a song with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes that people could not “groove” or dance to.
In an interview, he explained the difficulties experienced by the band in writing the song:
I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.
The riff does feel like it turns around on itself – the Mobius Strip of Rock. (Possible band name? Just credit me if you use it.)
John Paul Jones plays this on his 1962 Fender Jazz Bass with Rotosound Swing 66 roundwound strings. Solo the neck pickup, use a pick, and play hard.
There will be a Know Your Player on JPJ, but because he is one of the Titans of bass, it is taking me a while to get all the relevant information into one concise post. Look for it in the future.
Below are videos of the original track, the bass cover with TABS, and a guitar/bass cover.
(While researching for this post I found some early rehearsals of this song from 1971. It’s very interesting to hear the band putting it together. The video is at the bottom of this post. JPJ and Bonham – what can you say? Sick.)
Cover with Tabs by RexRatio
Cover by Osaka Zeppelin