Tom Petty turned a nice phrase when he said “Elvis is the King but Diddley is the Daddy”. In 1955 Elias McDaniel, a guitarist in the Chicago clubs, made a record for Chess Records which became a #1 R&B hit. He took the name of the song & for the next 50 years he performed as Bo Diddley.
Here it is. Proof that it is Bo Diddley’s world, we just live in it. This is the beat, it’s our beat but we call it the Bo Diddley beat. Who needs chord changes ? This is relentless, exciting, almost primal. OK it’s a sub-Saharan rhythm but this is the future, slick with a braggadocio that still convinces. The early white rock & rollers appropriated much from mid-1950s Rhythm & Blues. You listen to Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” or even Elvis’ “His latest Flame” & you can still hear Bo. It was with some justification that he was able to call himself “the Originator”.
Bo stuck with his beat. The sound got more electric, “Pretty Thing”, “Who Do You Love”, “Say Man” were rough & basic. He had an individual taste in guitars, in 1960 there was a new LP & a new nickname, “Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger”…I love it. In the early 1960s teen tastes became a little more vanilla & Bo was out of fashion. A new generation of musicians & listeners looked to the blues & to early Rock & Roll’s energy. Bo was back.
The Rolling Stones revived “Not Fade Away”, The Pretty Things had 3 of his tracks on their first LP, Van Morrison used the beat for “Mystic Eyes”. As for “I Want Candy”, a 1965 hit for the Strangeloves…I hope that Bo had a good lawyer ! So Bo Diddley got to appear on the TV music shows again. It was here that I saw him for the first time, a big, impressive man with a big sound. He had something that all these young Brits wanted & he had something none of them had got. Norma-Jean Wofford was “The Duchess”, skin-tight pants & a rhythm guitar. With a single sway of her hips she shames the antics of the corn-fed go-go dancing dames. Whether she was alone or part of the Bo-ettes, the Duchess was one of the coolest rockers around. This “Shindig” excerpt is fantastic.
There was no new music from Bo, just that reliable beat. He did not go away. There’s the Velvet Underground for a start. In 1969 Quicksilver Messenger Sevice recorded 2 of his songs on their LP “Happy Trails”. In the same year, well listen to “1969” by the Stooges. Bo had lost the Duchess but still put on a great show.
Wow ! Bo Goes Mod ! It is 1970 & this clip is the inspiration for this post. It is the same song he did in 1955 & listen to how the sound has changed yet stayed the same. I struggle to find the adjectives to describe how bloody great I think this is. Man, they look & sound so sharp. I love the Internet !
Bo Diddley continued to work & to receive his due from the inheritors of his instigations. He is a true rock & roll legend. Let’s see…New York Dolls “Pills”, The Clash “Rudi Can’t Fail”…All of these names are in my record collection & I’m sure that there are those I have over-looked. On his death in 2008 the tributes were from Presidents & from Rock royalty. One of these musicians paying their respects was Tom Petty & I will add this fine performance of “Mona” where Tom & the Heartbreakers do absolutely the right thing by such a deserving artist.