Bo Diddley, who died Monday at age 79 in Florida, was as essential to the creation of rock 'n' roll as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, though he seldom got the credit or the accolades that were showered on his better-known peers.
The singer-guitarist was a hard-scrabble visionary from the streets of Chicago's South Side who literally had to fight for everything he got. He created rock 'n' roll's essential rhythm, pioneered an approach to electric-guitar playing that was at least a decade ahead of its time and developed a vocal style and stage persona that influenced everyone from Elvis to Chuck D.
Diddley, born Otha Ellas Bates in 1928 and later renamed Ellas Bates McDaniel, first moved to Chicago with his family to escape the sharecropping life of Mississippi in the mid-'30s. He never knew his father and his mother was a teenager when she gave birth to him; the boy's primary caretaker was his mother's first cousin, Gussie McDaniel. As a child, he was mocked for his "country" ways and found himself scrapping with grade-school bullies several times a week. By the time he was a teenager, however, he had become an accomplished boxer, and a boy nobody wanted to mess with.
"When I started fighting back, there wasn't anyone around to whup me and they didn't try, so the kids started calling me 'Bo Diddley,' " Diddley wrote in the liner notes to the 1990 compilation, "Bo Diddley: The Chess Box."
At the same time, the budding pugilist was taking violin lessons at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, and later built himself violins and guitars at Foster Vocational High School. These were the first of many custom-made guitars the aspiring musician would wield, and he developed a playing style as distinctive as the box-shaped instruments he made. His large hands made the finger-picking style of country-blues guitarists difficult to master, so he developed a more percussive approach that drew on Afro-Caribbean rhythms and the choppy wrist strokes he adapted from playing the violin.
"When I was about 15, I was trying to play like Muddy Waters, but it didn't work," he said in a 1985 interview. "I figured I was on my way to becoming a first-class fool trying to play like Muddy and them. So I invented my own style. I always felt it was better to do your own thing than try to copy someone else, but I had no idea my thing would change rock music."
Diddley called his syncopated groove a "freight-train" sound, others described it as a "shave-and-a-haircut" rhythm. The beat had been around for centuries, most notably in West African drumming, but Diddley mastered it and augmented it for the rock 'n' roll era. He perfected his sound by playing on Maxwell Street and various South Side street corners for pocket change with his band the Hipsters.
By the early '50s, he was gigging regularly at the famed blues tavern the 708 Club with a band that include maracas player Jerome Greene, bassist Roosevelt Jackson and drummer Clifton James. His custom-built guitars and amplifiers sounded like no one else's, heavy on reverb and distortion. When he stepped into Chicago's Chess Records studio in March 1955 to record for the first time, Diddley and his band were already seasoned entertainers of 11 years with a sound all their own. His songs were filled with tall stories, jokes, insults and good-natured bragging. Diddley portrayed himself as a larger-than-life character, and sang with a mixture of cartoonish joy and hoodoo-man menace.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Bo Diddley dead at 79
Worth sharing although to be honest I'm not familiar with his body of work. Though this is for those of you who are big fans of his music. Perhaps I should look the man's recordings up when I get a chance. Tribune: