Bo Diddley, 1928 – 2008

June 2, 2008 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | Leave a comment

Rest in peace.

I doubt he’ll ever be assigned the prominent place in rock’s pantheon that he deserved, but the man invented an entire sound, which is far more than some of his wealthier successors ever achieved.


The influence of Diddley’s late 50s and early 60s recordings on the rhythm, guitar style, and spirit of rock’n’roll is enormous. His 1955 debut single “Bo Diddley” is credited with inventing what became known as the “Bo Diddley rhythm,” a variation on the clave also known as the “shave and a haircut, two bits” rhythm. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Fleetwood Mac, have all covered the song, and countless hits– from “Not Fade Away” to “I Want Candy”– have copied the rhythm.

Initially a member of the Chess label roster– which also included Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, and Etta James– Diddley later counted Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, and the Clash among his boosters and touring partners. He was one of rock’n’roll’s early innovators of the electric guitar, pioneering the use of tremelo and reverb effects.


His original style of rhythm and blues influenced generations of musicians. And his Bo Diddley syncopated beat — three strokes/rest/two strokes — became a stock rhythm of rock ’n’ roll.

It can be found in Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” Johnny Otis’s “Willie and the Hand Jive,” the Who’s “Magic Bus,” Bruce Springsteen’s “She’s the One” and U2’s “Desire,” among hundreds of other songs.

Yet the rhythm was only one element of his best records. In songs like “Bo Diddley,” “Who Do You Love,” “Mona,” “Crackin’ Up,” “Say, Man,” “Ride On Josephine” and “Road Runner,” his booming voice was loaded up with echo and his guitar work came with distortion and a novel bubbling tremelo. The songs were knowing, wisecracking and full of slang, mother wit and sexual cockiness. They were both playful and radical.

So were his live performances: trancelike ruckuses instigated by a large man with a strange-looking guitar. It was square and he designed it himself, long before custom guitar shapes became commonplace in rock.

Mr. Diddley was a wild performer, jumping, lurching, balancing on his toes and shaking his knees as he wrangled with his instrument, sometimes playing it above his head. Elvis Presley, it has long been supposed, borrowed from Mr. Diddley’s stage moves; Jimi Hendrix, too.

How influential was Diddley’s sound? Take a stop by Reason’s blog and you might be surprised.


Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: