Bo Diddley

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Bo Diddley! (Original Chess Artist and Rock Pioneer)

Gary: “In a discussion with Russ, the movie “Cadillac Records” came up and this made me think of the first time I ever purchased a record on the Chess Label: Bo Diddley…

Bo Diddley (Ellas McDaniel)

Born December 30, 1928/Died June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley (Checker #814) 1955

He was born Otha Ellas Bates in McComb, Mississippi and later took the name Ellas McDaniel, after his adoptive mother, Gussie McDaniel.

He adopted the stage name Bo Diddley, which is probably a southern black slang phrase meaning “nothing at all,” as in “he ain’t Bo Diddley. ” Another source says it was his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxer. The nickname is also linked to the diddley bow, a one stringed instrument used in the south by mainly black musicians in the fields.

Now, the first time I ever saw Bo was on the Ed Sullivan show, where he sang Bo Diddley.  As usual, Ed screwed up the introduction because he knew nothing about Rhythm & Blues or Rock and Roll and he fumbled the words.  I found out later what really happened…

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.  Now, if Bo had not sung his song a lot of people would never have heard of him; Ed had that much power.

Diddley is best known for the “Bo Diddley beat,” a rumba-based beat also influenced by what is known as “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. The Bo Diddley beat is often illustrated with the phrase: “shave ‘n’ a haircut – two bits.”

Photograph by Albert Watson

This beat has been used by many other artists, notably Johnny Otis on “Willie and the Hand Jive,” which is more about hambone than it is a direct copy of Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen’s “She’s the One,” U2’s “Desire,” Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and Rolling Stones’ “Mona” as well as more obscure numbers such as “Callin’ All Cows” by The Blues Rockers.

He did not have an enormous number of hits, but his music influenced many musicians to come.  I will include the songs that I grew up with and remember.
I’m A Man (Checker #814) 1955

Who Do You Love (Checker #842) 1956

Pretty Thing

Say Man (Checker #931) 1959 #20

Gun Slinger (BoKay) 1960 – Private Pressing

You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover
(Checker #1019) 1962 #48

You Don’t Love Me



(Checker #814) 1955

6 responses to “Bo Diddley

  1. “Elvis may be king, but Diddley is DADDY!”
    – Tom Petty

  2. Yeah, Diddley was one of the giants. He was a true original standing on the cusp of R&B and R&R – whose many innovations are legendary. (He may have even invented the tremolo bar for the guitar.) He was understandably bitter that he didn’t get the fame (or royalties) he was due as an early architect of R&R who predated Presley. My favorite quote of his: “Don’t trust nobody but your mama. And even then, look at her real good.” Rolling Stone magazine has done some terrific pieces on him over the years.

  3. Thanks for that rollingstone link to “The Indestructible Beat of Bo Diddley” – well worth the read. I read the whole thing, and it was an amazing account of a man who could do almost anything he set his mind to. I really admire how creative and inventive he was. It would have been great, had some of his private concert stuff been recorded. He was well ahead of his time with his rendition of RAP.

  4. Grea Stuff but you are missing my favourite Hey Bo Diidley I have it you need it

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