Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Belated Birthday To Bo Diddley

On Sunday Dec. 30th, rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley turned 79 years old. Although he didn't have many chart hits, he still should be recognized as one of the most innovative and influential rockers from the early days. The rhythm that became known as "The Bo Diddley beat" is arguably the most famous in popular music. While writing this post, I have been listening to the first recording of his to use it... the #1 R&B hit "Bo Diddley". Even though the song is over 50 years old, it still sounds fresh and vibrant. I can only imagine what listeners thought when it came blasting out of radios and jukeboxes for the first time back in 1955.

Along with the "Bo Diddley beat" and his guitar playing skills, Bo was also an accomplished songwriter. In addition to songs that he penned for himself (such as the aforementioned "Bo Diddley", "Who Do You Love", and "Say Man"), Bo also wrote the Mickey and Sylvia hit "Love Is Strange". He was also one of the first musicians to have women in his band (Lady Bo, The Duchess, and Cookie).

My favorite story about Bo Diddley surrounds his appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1955. Bo was scheduled to perform "Bo Diddley". During rehearsals, Ed reportedly didn't like the song since it was pure rhythm without a traditional verse and chorus. As a substitute, Ed told Bo to play another song that was a big hit at the time (Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons"). In order to stay on the bill, Bo agreed. However, when Bo was introduced that Sunday night, he and his band instead played "Bo Diddley". Ed was furious and barred Bo from ever appearing on the show again. It was too late though because like Danny and the Juniors would sing 3 years later, rock and roll was here to stay.

Back in the 1980s, Little Richard said that he was saddened by the lack of recognition that Bo received in the United States. Ironically, it was an ad he did for Nike in 1989 (where he famously said to sports icon Bo Jackson "Bo... you don't know Diddley") that helped introduce him to a new generation. Hopefully, that commercial led some to find out who the cat was with the hat, glasses, and rectangular-shaped guitar.

Although Bo had some health issues earlier this year (suffering a stroke in May and a heart attack in August), he has made some improvements. In November 2007, he returned to his hometown of McComb, MS and performed at the unveiling of a plaque in his honor. This was his first public performance since his stroke and heart attack. If you want to wish Bo a belated happy birthday, you can do so by clicking this link.

Below are clips of the legendary Bo Diddley in action (damn I love You Tube!)


pjazzypar said...

Hey Bo Diddley! and Happy Birthday to you. Definitely a pioneer in Rock and Roll who has lived to tell.

Holly Smith said...

I was one of those that learned about him with the Bo Jackson commercial. I wonder what I ever did with my "football/baseball" Bo Jackson card?? My brother probably sold it on me. Great post!

Malcolm said...

Pjazzy: Your comments made me wonder if there was a bio about Bo. I checked Amazon and found that there is one called "Bo Diddley- Living Legend". It must be out-of-print because it's only available through third party sellers. The minimum price they are asking is $29.96.

Holly: Thanks for the positive feedback! That Nike spot was like the commercials Ella Fitzgerald did for Memorex back in the 1970s... they helped introduce her to kids like me.

I think you might have to shake down your brother for that money if he sold your card out from under you. :-)

X. Dell said...

I was fortunate enough to meet Bo Diddley, and have a conversation with him for about forty-five minutes. Would you believe me, the musicologist, had that long to talk but didn't get to the topic of music until the last five minutes of gabbing?

Yeah, I know. Wasted time, perhaps. Still, I enjoyed talking to him about women, dogs, and baking (you read that right).

He remains, quite literally, one of the nicest people I have ever met. I think a more enlightened generation will come to discover him.

Malcolm said...

X. Dell: What a great story about Bo Diddley! The fact that you talked to him at length isn't wasted time in my opinion. Bo may have even welcomed the opportunity to discuss non-musical topics with fans for a change.

mister anchovy said...

Mr. Diddley sure is a powerful performer, even with the cute but not so good singers on this video. The last time I saw him play was back in the early 80s at a bar in Markham Ontario called Nags Head North, backed up by Paul James and his fabulous band. His rectangular guitar reminds me of cigar box guitars. Some single-string cigar box guitars are known in fact as Diddley Bos. I wonder about the history of the name.

Malcolm said...

Mr. Anchovy: I think of cigar box guitars as well when I see Bo's trademark ax. I have read various sources that Bo Diddley took his name from the one-stringed African guitar called the diddly-bo.

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