Bo Diddley – Rock ‘n’ Roll rebel
Ellas Otha Bates otherwise known as Bo Diddley is a Rock ‘n’ Roll rebel and a guitar bad ass! And he’s one of the fathers of modern music. Along with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and a few others. Together they all played a key role in the transition from Blues to Rock and Roll. And what a transition it was! Furthermore, his music influences other iconic rock stars like Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones and even Eric Clapton to name a few.
The Early Years
While his main interest as a child is originally boxing (which is where got his name). At the same time, he attends church regularly and is inspired by the gospel and soul rhythms. Then still at an early age, he learns the violin and studies classical music. It’s after he hears John Lee Hooker performs for the first time that things take a different direction.
It’s at this moment that he realizes his calling by playing the guitar and performing the blues. He begins performing at first on the streets. Soon enough he is booking gigs in clubs.
Heavily influenced by the blues, he incorporates music by favorites like John Lee Hooker and Chicago blues innovator Muddy Waters. At age 26, he decided to audition for Chess Records. It goes well, and he secures a contract with the subsidiary label Checker Records.
After signing the deal, he plays a show with Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans who helps to further secure his solid Blues credentials. His first single “Bo Diddley” is a monster hit and reaches #1 on the R&B charts. The song introduces the world to the “Bo Diddley” beat which is the musical invention he is most famous for. The beats are an African influenced 4/4 rhythm and its syncopated, five-accent swing is instantly recognizable.
The Live Performances
Bo Diddley is dressed to the nines in his suit as well as his favorite Gretsch guitar. Furthermore, Bo had something else most musicians didn’t have at the time. He has his female instrumentalists starting off with Peggy Jones aka “Lady Bo” who replaces Bo Diddley’s guitarist Jody Williams.
Jones played with Diddley from 1957 until 1961. Following after is the guitarist Norma-Jean Wofford who takes over Lady Bo’s position. Soon after she is named “The Duchess” by Bo Diddley and accompanies Bo Diddley on his first England tour in 1962.
Another important collaborator of Bo Diddley is Debby Hastings. She stays much longer with him than the Duchess and Lady Bo. The electric bass player joined him around 1984 and has worked with him until his death in 2008. From 1994 on she is also his music director.
Blues & Beyond
Bo Diddley is far from done with the blues after the 50s’. His blues career culminates in the 1967 super-group studio album Super Blues featuring Diddley, Muddy Waters, and Little Walter. The album features a new rendition of the song “I’m a Man” along with other songs made famous by members of the group including “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Juke.”
Diddley continues to perform and tour throughout the ensuing decades. And he’s revered by generations of rock and R&B artists and receiving numerous awards and accolades. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts Bo Diddley in January 1987. The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame inducts him in 2004. Lastly, Bo Diddley is ranked at number 20 on Rolling Stone’s Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
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