Gone But Not Forgotten: Bo Diddley

Bo_Diddley_Prag_2005_04

Wikimedia Commons User – Aconcagua

The “Bo Diddley Beat” is a timeless style that has influenced everyone from Buddy Holly to the Clash. It’s driving, five beat rhythm has been borrowed, copied, twisted and turned in every possible way over many decades. But it’s origin can be traced back to one man- Elias McDaniel. Musical styles come and go, many of them becoming lost through the years as trends change with the public’s attention span. The timeless “Bo Diddley Beat” never ends though, as it continues to be renewed and inspires each new generation.

Ellas Otha Bates was born on December 30th 1928 in McComb Mississippi. He later changed his name to Elias McDaniel when he chose Gussie McDaniel, his mother’s cousin’s surname, as she raised him. The facts regarding how he came to use his famous stage name differ greatly, but Bo himself often said that the name was first used by a singer his family knew when he was younger and it just began to stick with him over the years.

Indeed, Bo had the ability to crossover to the more mainstream audiences and proudly take the Blues and his driving rhythm along with him!

The McDaniel family moved to the south side of Chicago in the early thirties and young Elias took to music right away. He was very active in the church and studied the violin and the trombone and played in the church orchestra. His interest in the guitar took off after hearing artists such as John Lee Hooker. He frequently spoke of his love for artists such as Louis Jordan and Gene Autry. Over the years Bo often told the story of stumbling upon the Great Bo Diddley beat when he was trying to play Autry’s “I’ve got spurs that jingle jangle jingle.”

Bo_Diddley_Wolfsburg_2004_byAconcagua

Wikimedia Commons User – Aconcagua

He immediately hit the scene and started to make a mark for himself early on around Maxwell Street playing with the great Earl Hooker. Jody Williams and others also joined Diddley and in 1954 along with Billy Boy Arnold on Harmonica and Roosevelt Jackson on Bass, classic tunes such as “I’m a man” and “Bo Diddley” were recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago. The great Otis Spann also played piano on the tracks. In 1955 he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and did many rock and roll package tours sponsored by Alan Freed. Bo Diddley instantly blended with the Rock and Roll crowd and was rightfully viewed as one of its originators. All of the tunes released during this time would be released on compilation albums such as 1958’s “Bo Diddley.”

Albums like “Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger” took him into the 1960’s with the hits “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover.” He even showed his influence on 60’s surf bands like the Ventures and The Safari’s with his own LP “Surfing With Bo Diddley.” Indeed, Bo had the ability to crossover to the more mainstream audiences and proudly take the Blues and his driving rhythm along with him! This appeal landed him on a ‘63 UK tour with The Rolling Stones, Little Richard and The Everly Brothers.

The music world owes a huge debt to the man as he single-handedly started a musical style that’s still running strong today

As the years passed, Bo kept playing his music the only way he knew how: with complete honesty. Trends and styles came and went, but Bo stuck with what he knew. He was as at home opening for the Clash in giant Stadiums, as he did in 1979, or playing local small venues. As long as the people still wanted to hear his beat, he’d play it for them. The Bo Diddley Beat never went out of style though, as each new generation found it’s own version of “I Want Candy” or “I’m A Man”, and new upstarts always traced it’s origins back to the man himself.

Bo-Diddley_byMasao Nakagami

Bo Diddley by Masao Nakagami

On June 2, 2008, the World lost one of the greatest pioneers of any Musical style. It’s comforting to know that Bo Diddley passed away with Family and Friends by his side. Bo’s Grandson has often told the tale that everyone sung a Gospel song, “Walk Around Heaven” to Bo at his bedside, an he gave a big thumbs up and a “Wow! I’m going to Heaven!” for his last words at it’s conclusion. When all is said and done, songs like U2’s “Desire” and “Not fade away” from Buddy Holly all lead back to the great Bo Diddley and his driving rhythm. The music world owes a huge debt to the man as he single-handedly started a musical style that’s still running strong today. R.I.P. Bo Diddley December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008. Thanks for the Music.

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BG is a free magazine bringing you stories about Buddy Guy's Legends, blues music, and music generally. Please direct submissions to buddyguyslegends@gmail.com for consideration.

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