Bo Diddley (December 30 1928 – June 2 2008, born Ellas Otha Bates), was an original and influential American rock & roll singer, guitarist, and songwriter. He was known as The Originator because of his key role in the transition from blues music to rock 'n' roll, influencing a host of legendary acts including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He introduced more insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged guitar sound on a wide-ranging catalog of songs. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award." He was also known for his technical innovations, including his trademark rectangular guitar. Bo Diddley received an honorary degree from the University of Florida in August 2008 that was accepted by his daughter, Evelyn Kelly, on his behalf.
Further inspired musically after seeing John Lee Hooker, he supplemented his work as a carpenter and mechanic with a developing career playing on street corners with friends, including Jerome Green (c. 1934–1973), as a band called the Hipsters (later the Langley Avenue Jive Cats). During the summer of 1943–44, he played for tips at the Maxwell Street market in a band with Earl Hooker. In 1951, he landed a regular spot at the 708 Club on Chicago's South Side, with a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters.
In late 1954, he teamed up with harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold, drummer Clifton James and bass player Roosevelt Jackson, and recorded demos of "I'm A Man" and "Bo Diddley". They re-recorded the songs at Chess Studios with a backing ensemble comprising Otis Spann (piano), Lester Davenport (harmonica), Frank Kirkland (drums) and Jerome Green (maracas). The record was released in March 1955, and the A-side, "Bo Diddley", became a #1 R&B hit.
McDaniel would adopt the stage name "Bo Diddley". The origin of the name is somewhat unclear, as several differing stories and claims exist. Some sources state that it was his nickname as a teenage Golden Gloves boxer, while others claim that it originates from the a one-stringed instrument called the diddley bow. Bo Diddley himself has said that the name first belonged to a singer his adoptive mother was familiar with, while harmonicist Billy Boy Arnold once said in an interview that it was originally the name of a local comedian that Leonard Chess borrowed for the song title and artist name for Bo Diddley's first single.
In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as a two-bar phrase:
His songs (for example, "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love?") often have no chord changes; that is, the musicians play the same chord throughout the piece, so that the rhythms create the excitement, rather than having the excitement generated by harmonic tension and release. In his other recordings, Bo Diddley used a variety of rhythms, from straight back beat to pop ballad style to doo-wop, frequently with maracas by Jerome Green.
Also an influential guitar player, he developed many special effects and other innovations in tone and attack. Bo Diddley's trademark instrument was the rectangular-bodied Gretsch, nicknamed "The Twang Machine." Although he had other similar-shaped guitars custom-made for him by other manufacturers, he fashioned this guitar himself around 1958 and wielded it in thousands of concerts over the years. In a 2005 interview on JJJ radio in Australia, Bo implied that the design sprang from an embarrassing moment. In an early gig, while jumping around on stage with a Gibson L5 guitar, he landed awkwardly hurting his groin. He then went about designing a smaller, less restrictive guitar that allowed him to keep jumping around on stage while still playing his guitar. He also played the violin, which is featured on his mournful instrumental "The Clock Strikes Twelve", a 12-bar blues.
He often created lyrics as witty and humorous adaptations of folk music themes. The song "Bo Diddley" was based on the lullaby "Hush Little Baby." Likewise, "Hey Bo Diddley" is based on the folk song "Old MacDonald". The rap-style boasting of "Who Do You Love", a wordplay on hoodoo, used many striking lyrics from the African-American tradition of toasts and boasts. His "Say Man" and "Say Man, Back Again" both share a strong connection to the insult game known as the dozens. For example: "You got the nerve to call somebody ugly, why you so ugly the stork that brought you into the world ought to be arrested".
He continued to have hits through the late 1950s and the 1960s, including "Pretty Thing" (1956), "Say Man" (1959), and "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover" (1962). He released a string of albums whose titles — including Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger and Have Guitar, Will Travel — bolstered his self-invented legend. Between 1958 and 1963, Checker Records released 11 full-length albums by Bo Diddley. Although he broke through as a crossover artist with white audiences (appearing on the Alan Freed concerts, for example), he rarely tailored his compositions to teenage concerns.
In 1963, he starred in a UK concert tour with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard. The Rolling Stones, still unknown at that time, appeared much lower on the same bill. Over the decades, his performances have ranged from sweaty Chicago clubs to rock and roll oldies tours. He appeared as an opening act for The Clash in 1979 and as a guest of the Rolling Stones. On March 25 1972, he played with The Grateful Dead at the Academy of Music in New York City. The Dead released part of this concert as volume 30 Dick's Picks of their live album series.
Bo Diddley is one of the first American male musicians to include women in his band, including Peggy Jones (aka Lady Bo, born 1940), Norma-Jean Wofford (aka The Duchess, c. 1942–2005), Cornelia Redmond (aka Cookie) and Debby Hastings, who led his band for the final 25 years of his performing career. He also set up one of the first home recording studios.
In recent years, Bo Diddley achieved numerous accolades in recognition of his significant role as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. In 1986, he was inducted into the Washington Area Music Association's Hall of Fame. The following year saw his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His pioneering contribution to rockabilly has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1996, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. The following year saw his 1955 recording of his song "Bo Diddley" inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of lasting qualitative or historical significance. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
His pawnbroker character's offering Louis Winthorpe III "fifty bucks" created one of more quoted scenes in 1983's Trading Places. In the late 1980s, he teamed with Bo Jackson in Nike's famous "Bo Knows" commercials, saying his one line: "Bo, you don't know Diddley!"
The start of the new millennium saw Bo Diddley inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and into the North Florida Music Association's Hall of Fame. He received a Pioneer in Entertainment Award in 2002 from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, and a Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) Icon Award.
In 2003, U.S. Representative John Conyers paid tribute to Bo Diddley in the United States House of Representatives describing him as "one of the true pioneers of rock and roll, who has influenced generations".
In 2004, Mickey and Sylvia's 1956 recording of his song, "Love Is Strange," was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of qualitative or historical significance, and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him #20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
In 2005, Bo Diddley celebrated his 50th anniversary in music with successful tours of Australia and Europe, and with coast-to-coast shows across North America. He performed his song "Bo Diddley" with Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 20th annual induction ceremony and in the UK, Uncut magazine included his 1958 debut album "Bo Diddley" in its listing of the '100 Music, Movie & TV Moments That Have Changed The World'.
In 2006, Bo Diddley participated as the headliner of a grass-roots organized fundraiser concert, to benefit the town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The "Florida Keys for Katrina Relief" had originally been set for October 23 2005, when Hurricane Wilma barreled through the Florida Keys on October 24 causing flooding and economic mayhem. In January 2006, the Florida Keys had recovered enough to host the fundraising concert to benefit the more hard-hit community of Ocean Springs. When asked about the fundraiser Bo Diddley stated, "This is the United States of America. We believe in helping one another.. In an interview with Holger Petersen, on Saturday Night Blues on CBC Radio in the fall of 2006 Bo Diddley commented about the racism that existed in the music industry establishment during the early part of his career that saw him deprived of his royalty revenue from the most successful part of his career.
He spent many years in New Mexico, not only as a musician, but also for 2 1/2 years as a law officer.He lived in Los Lunas from 1971 to 1978 while continuing his musical career. Bo Diddley served for two and a half years as Deputy Sheriff in the Valencia County Citizens' Patrol; during that time he personally purchased and donated three highway patrol pursuit cars.
For the remainder of his life he resided in Archer, Florida, a small farming town near Gainesville, Florida, where he attended a born again Christian church with some of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He continued to tour around the world. As of the last two years of his life, he had intended to record some faith-based songs, at least some of which would be utilizing his own original music.
Bo Diddley performed a number of shows around the country in 2005 and 2006 with the Johnnie Johnson Band, featuring Johnson on keyboards, Richard Hunt on drums and Gus Thornton on bass.
While recovering from the stroke and heart attack, Diddley came back to his home town of McComb in early November 2007 for the unveiling of a plaque devoted to him on the National Blues Trail stating that he was "acclaimed as a founder of rock and roll." He was not supposed to perform, but as he listened to the music of local musician Jesse Robinson who sang a song written for this occasion, Robinson sensed that he wanted to perform and handed him a microphone. That was the first and last time that Bo Diddley performed publicly since suffering a stroke.
At the time of his death, Diddley's survivors included his 4 children, Evelyn Kelly, Ellas A. McDaniel, Tammi D. McDaniel, and Terri Lynn McDaniel; 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren; and a brother, Kenneth Haynes of Biloxi, MS.
His funeral, a four-hour "homecoming" service, took place on June 7, 2008 at Showers of Blessings Church in Gainesville, Florida and kept in tune with the vibrant spirit of Bo Diddley's life and career. The many in attendance chanted "Hey Bo Diddley" as a gospel band played the legend's music. A number of music notables sent flowers, including: George Thorogood, Tom Petty, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard, who had been asking his audiences to pray for Bo Diddley throughout his illness, had to fulfill concert commitments in Westbury and New York City the weekend of the funeral. He took time to remember Bo Diddley, his friend of a half-century, performing his namesake tune in his honor.
After the funeral service, a tribute concert was held at the Martin Luther King Center, also in Gainesville, and featured his touring band, The Debby Hastings Band, and guest artist Eric Burdon.
In the days following his death, tributes were paid to him by President George W. Bush and by the US House of Representatives, as well as by countless musicians and performers, including Eric Burdon, Elvis Costello, Ronnie Hawkins, Mick Jagger, BB King, Tom Petty, Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt, George Thorogood and Ronnie Wood. He was posthumously awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts degree by the University of Florida for his influence on American popular music and in its "People in America" radio series about influential people in American history, the Voice of America radio service paid tribute to him, describing how "his influence was so widespread that it is hard to imagine what rock and roll would have sounded like without him." Sir Mick Jagger hailed him as one of the leading influences on his band The Rolling Stones, stating that "he was a wonderful, original musician who was an enormous force in music and was a big influence on The Rolling Stones. He was very generous to us in our early years and we learned a lot from him." Jagger also praised the late star as a one-off musician, adding, "We will never see his like again.
Diddley's own songs have been frequently covered. The Clash recorded "Mona" during the London Calling sessions. "The Story of Bo Diddley" was recorded by both The Animals and Bob Seger, the former including an Eric Burdon rap about meeting Bo, Jerome and the Duchess, and their reactions to the Animals using their material. The Who, The Remains and The Yardbirds covered "I'm a Man", and The Woolies, George Thorogood, Ronnie Hawkins and Juicy Lucy had hits with "Who Do You Love", which was also covered by Quicksilver Messenger Service, who also covered "Mona", Patti Smith and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and was a concert favorite of The Doors. Chris Isaak covered "Diddley Daddy" on his third album, Heart Shaped World. Diddley's "Road Runner" was the opening track on The Pretty Things' eponymous first album in 1965, and was also frequently covered in concert by bands including Humble Pie and The Who, and on Aerosmith's album Honkin' on Bobo. Guru Guru - a Krautrock band - performed "Bo Diddley" on their live album Essen 1970, though the track cuts off rather abruptly at the twelve-minute mark. Both Eric Clapton and Creedence Clearwater Revival covered "Before You Accuse Me". Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker counts Diddley as one of her chief influences and covered "Bo Diddley" on her solo album, Life in Exile After Abdication. Tom Petty has played "I Need You Baby (Mona)" in concert, and performed it with Diddley himself in 1999. A short version of "Who Do You Love" appears as a bonus track on the CD reissue of the Grateful Dead's album Europe '72.
In 1963, Buddy Holly's version of "Bo Diddley" provided Holly with a top-ten posthumous hit in the UK, peaking at No. 7 in the summer of that year. The B-side of Holly's 1958 hit, "Oh Boy", namely "Not Fade Away" (written in part by Holly under the pseudonym Charles Hardin [he was christened Charles Hardin Holley]) also featured the classic Bo Diddley beat and inspired The Rolling Stones 1964 version, which was their third UK release (peaking at No. 3 in the UK early in 1964) and their first release in the United States. The Rolling Stones also recorded a cover of "Mona (I need you)" in their first album.
Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" (originally "Manish Boy") was an adaptation of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" and also an answer song, the title being Muddy Waters' take on his younger rival. Tiny Letters recorded a song called "song to Jerome Green," about Bo's maraca player. "Say Man" was Bo Diddley's only Top 40 hit. David Lindley recorded a tribute song entitled "Pay Bo Diddley". The Jesus and Mary Chain covered "Who Do You Love" on their 12" "April Skies" in 1987 and in the same year recorded a tribute song "Bo Diddley is Jesus" on a 2x7". Elliott Murphy used both his name and beat in his song "Bilbao Bo Diddley". Ronnie Hawkins recorded and covered "Hey Bo Diddley", "Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love" during his many recording sessions, including those with his backing band of the time, The Hawks, who later became known as The Band. The Finnish rock/blues band Max on the Rox also covered "Who Do You Love" in their second album, Rox II.
Diddley was popular with proto-punk musicians and later in the punk scene. For example both the New York Dolls and The Lurkers recorded their own version of his song "Pills", and Diddley was the opening act on The Clash's first U.S. tour.
Diddley's song "Who Do You Love" can be heard in the intro credits to the movie La Bamba. He appeared on a 2003 episode of the sitcom According to Jim entitled "Bo Diddley", had a small role as a pawnbroker in the 1983 film Trading Places, starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, and appeared in George Thorogood's "Bad To The Bone" video. The song "Bad To The Bone" itself is a re-work of Diddley's "I'm A Man." Eric Clapton's 1989 "Journeyman" and 1992 "Unplugged" included electric and acoustic covers of Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me".
The country singer Kenny Rogers admitted to being a big fan of Bo Diddley, inviting him several times on his TV show in the 1970s and sometimes singing "Bo Diddley" in concert.