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Bo Diddley

He only had a few hits in the 1950s and early '60s, but as Bo Diddley sang, "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." You can't judge an artist by his chart success, either, and Diddley produced greater and more influential music than all but a handful of the best early rockers. The Bo Diddley beat -- bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp -- is one of rock & roll's bedrock rhythms, showing up in the work of Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, and even pop-garage knock-offs like the Strangeloves' 1965 hit "I Want Candy." Diddley's hypnotic rhythmic attack and declamatory, boasting vocals stretched back as far as Africa for their roots, and looked as far into the future as rap. His trademark otherworldly vibrating, fuzzy guitar style did much to expand the instrument's power and range. But even more important, Bo's bounce was fun and irresistibly rocking, with a wisecracking, jiving tone that epitomized rock & roll at its most humorously outlandish and freewheeling.

Before taking up blues and R&B, Diddley had studied classical violin, but shifted gears after hearing John Lee Hooker. In the early '50s, he began playing with his longtime partner, maraca player Jerome Green, to get what Bo's called "that freight train sound." Billy Boy Arnold, a fine blues harmonica player and singer in his own right, was also playing with Diddley when the guitarist got a deal with Chess in the mid-'50s (after being turned down by rival Chicago label Vee-Jay). His very first single, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" (1955), was a double-sided monster. The A-side was soaked with futuristic waves of tremolo guitar, set to an ageless nursery rhyme; the flip was a bump-and-grind, harmonica-driven shuffle, based around a devastating blues riff. But the result was not exactly blues, or even straight R&B, but a new kind of guitar-based rock & roll, soaked in the blues and R&B, but owing allegiance to neither.

Diddley was never a top seller on the order of his Chess rival Chuck Berry, but over the next half-dozen or so years, he produced a catalog of classics that rival Berry's in quality. "You Don't Love Me," "Diddley Daddy," "Pretty Thing," "Diddy Wah Diddy," "Who Do You Love?," "Mona," "Road Runner," "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover" -- all are stone-cold standards of early, riff-driven rock & roll at its funkiest. Oddly enough, his only Top 20 pop hit was an atypical, absurd back-and-forth rap between him and Jerome Green, "Say Man," that came about almost by accident as the pair were fooling around in the studio.

As a live performer, Diddley was galvanizing, using his trademark square guitars and distorted amplification to produce new sounds that anticipated the innovations of '60s guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. In Great Britain, he was revered as a giant on the order of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. The Rolling Stones in particular borrowed a lot from Bo's rhythms and attitude in their early days, although they only officially covered a couple of his tunes, "Mona" and "I'm Alright." Other British R&B groups like the Yardbirds, Animals, and Pretty Things also covered Diddley standards in their early days. Buddy Holly covered "Bo Diddley" and used a modified Bo Diddley beat on "Not Fade Away"; when the Stones gave the song the full-on Bo treatment (complete with shaking maracas), the result was their first big British hit.

The British Invasion helped increase the public's awareness of Diddley's importance, and ever since then he's been a popular live act. Sadly, though, his career as a recording artist -- in commercial and artistic terms -- was over by the time the Beatles and Stones hit America. He would record with ongoing and declining frequency, but after 1963, he never wrote or recorded original material on par with his early classics. Whether he'd spent his muse, or just felt he could coast on his laurels, is hard to say. But he remains a vital part of the collective rock & roll consciousness, and occasionally reached wider visibility via a 1979 tour with the Clash, a cameo role in the film Trading Places, a late-'80s tour with Ronnie Wood, and a 1989 television commercial for sports shoes with star athlete Bo Jackson. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

pcmanna60
Legend
Great stories..... . y e a h Bo is just pure 1A Bad A**....had a chance to see him live a year or two before he passed.....m i s s e d the show.....bum m i n g even more now that I read other peoples comments of what a great live act he was right up until the end......
jim.orangebu c k e t
That story of Dayton, Ohio reminded me of the scene of the frat boys at a club from the movie Animal House . Been there too ! Keep on rock'n!!
Big Bad Bo - The All-American - B o y
Bo Diddley gave Porky Chedwick credit for help getting him started - Porky died Mar 2, 2014 @ 96
tomquinn1412
Saw him preform in D.C. many times where I lived. Still enjoy his tunes. In the 50's we all loved his outrageous slanting while he played and we waited for him to fall down which he never did.
I had a chance to see Bo Diddley a few years ago and am still kicking myself for passing up the opportunity. Bo was ahead of his time. People like that often don't get the recognition they deserve.
Crackin' Up---one my favorites
Bo was big on WAMO Porky digged him---BIG BAD BO
grizmon541
I remember Porky Chedwick growing up in Natrona Heights Pa.
fitzgeraldde s m o n d
I first saw and heard Bo Diddley in 1963 or 64 and he was fabulous. His 3 man group blew out the walls of a big hall, and left us all reeling for several days. DGFitzGerald
It is great to know someone else remebers pittsburgh own Porky Chedwick: from my days at Pitt
lol to the duchess
Bo is a BAD A__!
Bo's PILLS great stuff
I'm a rooooooooad runner honey...and you can't catch up with me
I like a lot of different music, and have seen lots of shows, but Bo Diddley's show was one of the best. Saw him a few yrs ago, 81yrs old and rocked the house!!! Classic. Rip
i knew bo was special back in the fifties when i heard im a man got somethin in my pocket...... . . t h a t beat from congo square, i was hooked.then he came to the bklyn paramount & blew everyone away.
Big Bad Bo.....the Road Runner
Circa 1955, Wash DC - Bo lived on R. I. Ave NE - I'm 15, hooked on R & B and living next door to my friend is guitarist Bill Harris for The Clovers. Bo pulls up in his '55 Chev Nomad with song titles plasterd over entire car. Words cannot describe the scene. Still have his 45's
Saw Bo on the boston common when we had local concerts in the open space. Talked to him for a while telling him I had bought his album on a 75 for my first stereo recording machine IT WAS I'M MAN . my PARENTS WERE NOT HAPPY WHEN THEY HEARD IT COMING HOME FROM CHURCH !!!!!
Sir Bo never gets old
he was the greatist nobody can ever comparte to him
I once saw Bo when he was an old man and he did a drum solo to show the drummer what he wanted. He BEAT those things. It was like the kit was about to come apart. The cymbal had a standing wave like a cartoon. That's how he played--his guitar was distorted because he tore it up. His voice was rough because he shouted it. He prefigured rap and was tougher than all of them together.
I saw Bo at the Filmore. Wow what a showman!
djgforce11
1 of the most important & influential American artists ever,his importance cannot be understated!
bo is the best now or forever
photoruff_pw h s
In the Mid 50's in Mississippi Delta where I grew up, we had dances with a real bands. I remember the dances in Belzoni, MS. and the bands had to know and play Bo Diddley. His music wasn't played on the normal radio, but we all knew Bo Diddley's music.
stevensegal2 0 0 9
One of the best
I met Bo in a local supper club in the late 80's where he was perfoming that night. We spent a 1/2 hour in the lounge before the show just discussing his career. I first hear Bo in the summer on 1955 when his first big hit Bo Diddley/I'm a Man came out on a 45. My buddy an I must have worn out 3 copies of that record. I've never forgotten that night and our conversation , and also my wife and I sat at a table right next to the stage, and I sang along with Bo for his whole set. Many years later
Loved him as the pawn shop owner in "Trading Places".
Bo Diddley is the man!!!!
Bo Diddley one of the best ever bass plukers ever thanx Pandora
"Who Do You Love" - my favorite Bo tune. One of the greatest chugging beats ever waxed.
OLE BO KNOWS HOW TO ROLL WITH HIS FAMOUS BEAT,GREAT STUFF,"DON`T KNOW WHERE IV`E BEEN" IS ONE OF HIS BEST........ . . .
Bo Diddley lived in New Mexico in the mid 70's. He played several dances at my church hall. He put on great shows. Great moves on the stage.
twine2rhyme
Bo Diddley is the greatest!!!T h e best he ever did, I believe was "You can't judge a book by looking at the cover".
I was incredibly lucky! I saw Bo Diddly four years ago when I was fourteen. It was an amazing show and an amazing venue...we made eye contact. I feel blessed to have gotten the chance to see at least one rock and roll pioneer...
leon3anderso n
surfin' with Bo Diddley is one of the best !
In February 1958, a couple of my Kettering OH Fairmont High School friends, one from Atlanta, another from Texas, who knew of Bo's music, heard Bo Diddley was coming to town. "Who in the world is Bo Diddley?" I asked. The venue was an all black "club" called Dell's Hall on the West Side of Dayton, just off Germantown St. About eight of us went to see Bo on a week night. We were all juniors in high school. Half of us went in my '51 Lincoln. Needless to say, I was terrified being the only white pe
Spoke to Bo in '85 in Greensboro,N . C .
If you want to listen to a real music innovator, do yourself a favor & listen to "Bo Diddley" & "Go Bo Diddley". Both albums are very good & listenng to them you will hear the influence he has had on many, many artists thru the years. This man will be truly missed & he will be listened to for many years to come. Goodbye dear old friend, I will miss you. Maynard G.
Long live Bo Diddley !!!
munkyboy333
Keep playing those blues in the afterlife, Bo. We will miss him and his influence. Thank you for your music...
Too bad he was not given credit. It made him bitter later in his life
What a musician! Been listening to this man clear back in the 50's when I was a little girl......My mom had a listening and dancing to this music back then, still dance around when I listen to music today......A g e 60 at the present.....
What ashame all the good ones have to leave us but, we still have the Greats Music.....
Bo Diddley will live on in our hearts
I saw Bo and Johnnie Johnson (Chuck Berry's sideman) together. WOW!!!!
6/2/08 R.I.P BO DIDDLEY---On e of my all-time faves. I saw him a bunch of times, usually with a sub-mediocre pick-up band who barely got what he was doing. Best time was with his own band, with two drummers and he had a wild Hawaiian shirt on if memory serves, in 1969 or 1970 at the true first Chicago Blues Festival, way before he adopted that cowboy hat persona. He was out of this world that day! But what a guitar sound, and that beat, what a beat. Every band who plays ROCK & ROLL owes him
investigator b o b
Rest in Peace- one of the greatest!
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