Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page

Tribute Bo Diddley

Bo DiddleyBo 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 & 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.

Early life and career
Born in McComb, Mississippi, as Ellas Otha Bates, he was adopted and raised by his mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel, whose surname he assumed, becoming Ellas McDaniel. In 1934, the McDaniel family moved to the largely black South Side area of Chicago, where the boy dropped the name Otha and became known as Ellas McDaniel, until his musical ambitions demanded that he take on a more catchy identity. In Chicago he was an active member of his local Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he studied the trombone and the violin, becoming proficient enough on the latter for the musical director to invite him to join the orchestra, with which he performed until the age of 18. He was more impressed, however, by the pulsating, rhythmic music he heard at a local Pentecostal Church. Also, he became interested in the guitar.

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. 19341973), in a band called The Hipsters (later The Langley Avenue Jive Cats). During the summer of 194344, 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 harmonic's 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.

The Bo Diddley beat and guitar
Bo Diddley was well known for the "Bo Diddley beat," a rumba-like beat similar to "hambone", a style used by street performers who play out the beat by slapping and patting their arms, legs, chest, and cheeks while chanting rhymes. Somewhat resembling "shave and a haircut" beat, Diddley came across it while trying to play Gene Autry's "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle". Three years before Bo's "Bo Diddley", a song that closely resembles it, "Hambone", was cut by Red Saunders' Orchestra with The Hambone Kids.

In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as a two-bar phrase:

"One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four and..."
The bolded counts are the clave rhythm. "Shave and a haircut", another clave derivative, also fits, as does the non-musician's count of "one-two-three one-two".

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.

Bo Diddley during an April 21, 2005 concert at the Lucerna Bar in PragueAlso 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" (referred to as "cigar-box shaped" by music promoter Dick Clark). 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. During 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".

Success in the 1950s and 1960s
On November 20, 1955, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television variety show, where he infuriated the host. "I did two songs and he got mad," Bo Diddley later recalled. "Ed Sullivan said that I was one of the first colored boys to ever double-cross him. Said that I wouldn't last six months". The show had requested that he sing the Merle Travis penned, Tennessee Ernie Ford hit "Sixteen Tons", but, when he appeared on stage, he sang "Bo Diddley" instead. This substitution resulted in his being banned from further appearances.

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 at 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 barely known outside London at that time, appeared as a supporting act on the same bill.

In addition to the many songs recorded by him, in 1956 he co-wrote, with Jody Williams, the pioneering pop song "Love Is Strange", a hit for Mickey & Sylvia in 1957.

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. 19422005), 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.

The later years
Over the decades, Bo Diddley's venues have ranged from small clubs to stadiums. On March 25, 1972, he played with The Grateful Dead at the Academy of Music in New York City. The Grateful Dead released part of this concert as volume 30 Dick's Picks of their concert album series. Also in the early 1970s, the soundtrack for the ground-breaking animated film "Fritz The Cat" contained his song "Bo Diddley", in which a crow idly finger-pops along to the track.

He appeared as an opening act for The Clash in 1979 and joined The Rolling Stones as a guest on their 1994 pay-per-view concert broadcast, performing "Who Do You Love" with the band.

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!"

In 2002 Bo Diddley gave an interview to Zoran Misetic from Pop Entertainment, in which he spoke about the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attacks.

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 grassroots 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.

Bo Diddley spent many years in New Mexico, living in Los Lunas from 1971 to 1978 while continuing his musical career. He 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.

New Years Eve 2003 then again in 2006 Bo performed with The Rogue Suspects which included band members Greg Frederick on bass, Dirk Price on guitar, Dean Angermeier on Keys, Gary Keeney on drums and featuring former Crosby Stills and Nash guitarist Jeff Pevar and percussionist Teri Cote.

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.

Illness
On May 13, 2007, Bo Diddley was admitted to intensive care in Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, following a stroke after a concert at Council Bluffs, Iowa on May 12. Starting the show, he had complained that he didn't feel well. He referred to smoke from the wildfires that were ravaging the area surrounding his Florida home, and seemed lethargic and slightly dazed. Later he warmed to the encouragement of the audience and delivered an energetic performance. Later that evening, after the concert, he suffered a stroke. The next day, as Bo Diddley was being taken to the airport, it was apparent that he required hospitalization and he was taken by ambulance to Creighton University Medical Center. He had a history of hypertension and diabetes, and the stroke affected the left side of his brain, causing receptive and expressive aphasia (speech impairment). The stroke was followed by a heart attack, suffered in Gainesville, Florida, on August 28, 2007.

While recovering from the stroke and heart attack, Diddley came back to his home town of McComb, Mississippi, 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 after suffering a stroke.

Death
Bo Diddley died on June 2, 2008 of heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida. Garry Mitchell, a grandson of Diddley and one of more than 35 family members at the musician's home when he died at 1:45 a.m. EDT (05:45 GMT), said his death was not unexpected. "There was a gospel song that was sung (at his bedside) and (when it was done) he said 'wow' with a thumbs up," Mitchell told Reuters, when asked to describe the scene at Diddley's deathbed. "The song was 'Walk Around Heaven' and in his last words said 'I'm going to heaven.'"

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, the United States House of Representatives, and countless musicians and performers, including Eric Burdon, Elvis Costello, Ronnie Hawkins, Mick Jagger, B.B. 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." Mick Jagger stated 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.