Artist Profiles: Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley was an artist with legendary stature and a remarkable five-decade career. Called ‘The Originator’ for his role in the birth of rock ‘n roll and his effect on the direction of popular music over the decades. His influence reached musicians from The Beatles and The Who to Bruce Springsteen. His hits include ‘Bo Diddley,‘ ‘I’m a Man,‘ ‘Who Do You Love,‘ and ‘Roadrunner.’

Born in McComb, Mississippi in 1928, the boy known as Ellas Bates McDaniel became Bo Diddley when he took up boxing following his family’s move to Chicago in the mid-1930s.

At first, music was only as a hobby for Diddley, but after playing places like the 78 Club in the early 1950s, Diddley went looking for a recording contract. He used ‘Uncle John,‘ a raunchy song in the ‘Dirty Dozens’ tradition, for his demo, and brothers Leonard and Phil Chess of Chess Records thought it had potential. Diddley revised the lyrics ‘ naming the song after himself ‘ and used maracas to emphasize the beat and the sound he was trying to create. It took 35 takes, but they got the sound they wanted, and ‘Bo Diddley’/’I’m A Man’ became a double-sided hit in 1955. The distinctive syncopated rhythm of his self-titled song captured the primal spirit of restless youth of those times.

Diddley scored another 1955 hit, ‘Diddley Daddy,‘ and went on the road, where the ‘Bo Diddley Beat’ (bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp), which became a cornerstone rhythm of rock and roll, drove audiences wild.

Songs like ‘Mona,‘ ‘Who Do You Love’,” “Road Runner,” and “You Don’t Love Me” were among the earliest examples of rock and roll close to its source material in rhythm and blues. The excitement Diddley generated onstage was noted by a young Elvis Presley, bands like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds covered his songs, and the Animals lionized him in ‘The Story of Bo Diddley.’

The now classic album Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger (digitally remastered and expanded with five bonus tracks, reissued in 2004) came out in 1960. Diddley recorded nine originals: the self-mythologizing ‘Gun Slinger’; ‘Ride On Josephine,‘ a Berry-like slice of auto-erotica; the spelling-bee rocker ‘Cadillac’; the comic narratives ‘Cheyenne’ and ‘Whoa Mule (Shine)’; the doo-wop ballads ‘Somewhere’ and ‘No More Lovin’’; the beat-ific instrumental ‘Diddling,‘ and ‘Doing The Crawdaddy,‘ the incentive for a would-be dance craze. The lone cover was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 hit ‘Sixteen Tons.’

In July 1964, Two Great Guitars, credited to Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, was released. It included two lengthy guitar jams between the two rock and roll legends.

Bo Diddley released The Originator in October 26, 1966. The album’s title reflected his rightful conviction that he was a rock and roll pioneer.

The Super Super Blues Band, a collaboration between Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Little Walter, was released on Checkers Records in 1969.

InJanuary 2,1979, British punk rock band The Clash started their first U.S. tour with Bo Diddley as their handpicked opening act.

Bo Diddley’s career was rewarded in January 21,1987, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the second annual induction dinner. The members of ZZ Top were his presenters.

In 1987, Bo Diddley and Ron Wood (a.k.a. the Gunslingers) finished a North American tour with a show in New York. A recording of that performance was released as Live at the Ritz.

Bo Diddley received the Lifetime Achievement Award in February 29,1996, at the seventh annual Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards in Los Angeles.

A Man Amongst Men, his first major-label album in many years, was released April 1996, on Code Blue/Atlantic. Renowned rockers, including Keith Richard and Ron Wood, contributed to it.

Bo Diddley’s music has appeared on major films and TV shows, including Trading Places (1983), Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987), Blues Brothers 2 (1998) and “The Sopranos.”

In24, Bo Diddley was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame.

The veteran musician suffered a stroke on Sunday, May 13th, 2007 which left him hospitalized. He died on June 2, 2008.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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