06/03/08 - R.I.P. Bo Diddley

Tutelage Led By Vinny "Bond" Marini Tuesday, June 3, 2008

December 30, 1928 - June 2, 2008

If you had not heard, yesterday morning the great Bo Diddley passed away. He was 79 years young and left us due to heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla., spokeswoman Susan Clary said. He had suffered a heart attack in August, three months after suffering a stroke while touring in Iowa.
Doctors said the stroke affected his ability to speak, and he had returned to Florida to continue rehabilitation.

Mr. Diddley was known for his homemade square guitar, dark glasses and black hat, was an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and had a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards in Los Angeles in 1996, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 at the Grammy Awards.

In 1989 Mr. Diddley was introduced to a new generation when he appeared in a Nike commercial, telling baseball and football star Bo Jackson, "Bo, You Don't Know Diddley."

The man who would become Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates on Dec. 30, 1928, in McComb, Mississippi. His mother, who was about 15, asked her first cousin, Gussie McDaniel, to raise the child. Diddley never knew his father.

After Gussie McDaniel moved her family to Chicago during the Great Depression in 1935, she changed the child's last name to Bates McDaniel. Ellas McDaniel attended public school, where he learned how to box. At one point, he dreamed of becoming a prizefighter.

Like other great blues and rhythm-and-blues artists, Mr. Diddley first exposure to music came from church, in this case the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side. He learned to play the violin and the trombone. At age 12, Mr. Diddley took up the guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker's 1949 rhythm-and-blues hit, "Boogie Chillen."

"Diddley claimed that playing the violin influenced his muted-string, choke-neck style of rhythm -- an early forerunner of funk that can be heard on songs like 'Pretty Thing,'" the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says in its official Bo Diddley biography.

Mr. Diddley's influence was felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Buddy Holly borrowed the bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp rhythm for his song "Not Fade Away."

The Rolling Stones' bluesy remake of that Holly song gave them their first chart single in the United States, in 1964.

Mr. Diddley was also one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, adding reverb and tremelo effects. He even rigged some of his guitars himself.
"He treats it like it was a drum, very rhythmic," E. Michael Harrington, professor of music theory and composition at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., said in 2006.

Growing up, Mr. Diddley said he had no musical idols, and he wasn't entirely pleased that others drew on his innovations.
"I don't like to copy anybody. Everybody tries to do what I do, update it," he said. "I don't have any idols I copied after."

"They copied everything I did, upgraded it, messed it up. It seems to me that nobody can come up with their own thing, they have to put a little bit of Bo Diddley there," he said.

Despite his success, Mr. Diddley claimed he only received a small portion of the money he made during his career. Partly as a result, he continued to tour and record music until his stroke. Between tours, he made his home near Gainesville in north Florida.
"Seventy ain't nothing but a damn number," he told The Associated Press in 1999. "I'm writing and creating new stuff and putting together new different things. Trying to stay out there and roll with the punches. I ain't quit yet."

Mr. Diddley, like other artists of his generations, was paid a flat fee for his recordings and said he received no royalty payments on record sales. He also said he was never paid for many of his performances.

"I am owed. I've never got paid," he said. "A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun."

One of the great sins perpetrated by the record labels was this type of injustice.

As our good friend Travis said in one of his emails "There are no replacements for legends like these. There are new blues musicians, but when the originals go they go forever." So very true.

I got to see Mr. Diddley back when I was in Rochester. It was the early 70's and Mr. Diddley could rock a joint like very few I have seen live.

Rest In Peace Mr. Diddley. You may have left us, but the brilliant music you created will live with us forever.

Enjoy Mr. Diddley along with some of the artists who adapted his signature rhythm: bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp, often summarized as "shave and a haircut, two bits."

Resources used: The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Bloomberg News and the Associated Press.