Bo Diddley

  • Pioneering Rock & Roll and R&B singer, songwriter and guitarist born Ellas Bates in 1928 in McComb Mississippi. Died in 2008 of heart failure.
  • He was adopted by his mother’s cousin, Bessie McDaniel, and he assumed the name Ellas McDaniel at that time. When he was six years old, the family moved to Chicago. He was active in his neighborhood Baptist church, playing the trombone and violin. However, he preferred rhythmic music and learned to play the guitar. By his mid-teens, he was playing in a band named The Hipsters on street corners in Chicago, and for several years he continued to perform on the street while earning money as a carpenter and mechanic.
  • By 1951, he landed a regular gig at the 708 Club in Chicago, performing swing blues music. He began to write his own music and he developed his signature fuzzy, vibrating guitar sound. He developed a rhythmic beat that would become copied by rock and roll artists for decades to come, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Even today, it is referred to as “the Bo Diddey beat – bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp,
  • The origin of his stage name is unclear – Diddley himself gave several versions of the truth. He claimed that schoolmates gave him the name, and he also said that his adoptive mother knew a singer with the name. Another story said that it was the name of a local comedian and that his record label encouraged him to use it.
  • In late 1954, he teamed up with a harmonica player, drummer and bass player to record demos of two songs that he had penned – I’m A Man and Bo Diddley. Chess Records heard it and signed Diddley. The songs were re-recorded and released in 1955, with Bo Diddley as the A-Side and I’m A Man as the B-Side of the single. Bo Diddley immediately became a hit, reaching #1 on the R&B chart. I’m A Man also was a hit. Both songs are on Rolling Stones’ list of the Greatest Songs of All Time, at #62 and #378 respectively, and the double single was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2012.
  • Between 1955 and 1959, twelve more singles were released, as well as two studio albums. The single Pretty Thing peaked at #4 on the R&B chart in 1955 and Say Man peaked at #3 on the chart, and #20 on the Hot 100 chart in 1959, his highest charting single. Another single during this time was Who Do You Love? –  while Diddley’s version did not chart, the legacy of the song made it one of his most popular songs. It was covered by many artists, most notably George Thorogood and the Destroyers, where it became a staple on classic rock radio. Rolling Stone put Diddley’s version at #133 on its GOAT songs list, and it was given the Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2010.
  • In the 60s, Diddley released 14 studio albums and 18 singles, with Road Runner, You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover and Ooh Baby charting at #21 or higher on the R&B chart. While his new songs were not charting highly once the British Invasion took over music in the U.S., his reputation as a pioneer of the sound of rock and roll was acknowledged by artists and critics alike, cementing his legacy. His live performances continued to be appreciated and well attended. He used a square-shaped guitar that became a signature of his, and the unique amplified sounds he coaxed from his guitar influenced many guitarist to come. He continued to perform until the age of 78, when he suffered a stroke.
  • Diddley was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. Rolling Stone placed him at #20 on their list of the Greatest Artists of All Time.
  • In 1955, he performed his iconic self-titled single Bo Diddley on The Ed Sullivan Show. Watch it here, and hear that famous “bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp” beat that became basic to Rock & Roll. Then, watch him perform a more rockin’ version of it again 34 years later.

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