June 2, 2008


Bo Diddley dies at 79; his beat marked rock 'n' roll: A primal guitar sound and stage swagger influenced music from Elvis to rap. But he never got the full rewards of a pioneer. (Chris Lee, 6/02/08, Los Angeles Times)

Alongside Chuck Berry, Diddley is recognized as one of rock's most influential guitarists, expanding the instrument's vocabulary with a crunching, tremolo-laden sound. He played a rectangular "cigar box" guitar of his own design, an instantly recognizable visual counterpart to the distinctive chank-a-chank, a-chank, a-chank-chank rhythm that bore his name and provided the backbeat for his own songs including "Bo Diddley," "Mona" and "Who Do You Love."

That beat, fusing blues, R&B, Latin and African rhythms, resurfaced over the decades in countless other rock and R&B songs, among them Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," Johnny Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive," Bruce Springsteen's "She's the One," David Bowie's "Panic in Detroit," U2's "Desire" and George Michael's "Faith."

"Bo's one of the guys who invented rock 'n' roll," said Eric Burdon, lead singer of the Animals, the British Invasion band that recorded the tribute song "The Story of Bo Diddley" in 1964. "He took two cultures that existed in separate forms -- country and western and the kind of blues that used to be known as 'race music' -- and put them together. His beat was a jungle beat. That's what he called it."

Diddley's most famous songs -- "Who Do You Love," "Mona," "I'm a Man" and "Bo Diddley" -- are the foundation of a huge catalog of songs that have been covered by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead and the Doors and even sampled by rap group De La Soul.

In fact, Diddley is considered by some as a pioneer of rap with his 1959 Top 20 hit "Say Man." On that track, Diddley and his maraca player Jerome Green trade jive-talking insults over a percolating beat, a precursor to rap performers' fondness for dissing one another. "That came out of the black neighborhood way back," Diddley told The Times in 1989. "We used to call it 'signifying.' "

At the same time, he has also been cited as a progenitor of hard rock and heavy metal music for his distortion-drenched sound and near-brutal manner of attacking the fret board.

Bo Diddley was born Otha Ellas Bates in McComb, Miss., on Dec. 30, 1928. His father died shortly after his birth. And in 1934, when his 16-year-old mother became unable to support him, Diddley was adopted by her first cousin, Gussie McDaniel. She legally changed his name to Ellas McDaniel and brought him north with her family to the South Side of Chicago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 2, 2008 12:19 PM

I must have forgotten, if I'd ever realized it, that the great versions of "Who Do You Love" and "Mona" on the Quicksilver Messenger Service live album Happy Trails were both Bo Diddley numbers.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 2, 2008 5:26 PM

Bo had basically one riff, but what a riff it was. I was lucky enough to see him live. RIP.

Posted by: Ted Welter at June 2, 2008 8:27 PM