The Cigar Box Gunslinger: How Bo Diddley Changed The World

“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob.” Bo Diddley

In the spring of 1955, rock and roll was still in the earliest stages of its takeover of the music industry. With the replacement of the 78 rpm shellac discs by the vinyl 45 a few years earlier, the industry had a durable product they believed could fuel a recorded music sales boom for their companies. They weren’t wrong. Bill Haley And His Comets led the way with 1954’s biggest hit Rock Around The Clock, and nearly overnight, retailers couldn’t keep enough of the seven-inch records with the weird sized hole in the middle on their shelves.

With musicians like Ray Charles and Fats Domino pointing the way forward, the growing teenage consumer feeding frenzy for the freshly pressed 45 rpm disks seemed to have no limits. Sam Phillips, the producer at Sun Records had already released music by rock ribbed blues men, Howlin Wolf and BB King, and is quoted as saying, “If I could find a white boy who could sing like a black man, I’d make a million dollars.” In 1954, when Elvis Presley had a huge hit with Arthur Crudup’s 1946 song, “That’s Alright,” Phillips’ assumption was proven correct. While the song helped make Elvis a star, it also cracked the door open to black rhythm and blues artists. Soon, guys like Chuck Berry kicked the door in with crossover hits like “Maybelline” and “Johnny B. Goode.”

Hot on the heels of Chuck Berry was another Chicago blues man named Ellias McDaniel and he was about to change the world.

McDaniel had come to Chicago by way of McComb, Mississippi and was signed by Checker Records, a subsidiary of the world-famous Chess Records. In the spring of 1955, history was made when McDaniel, and Checker released a single under McDaniel’s nickname, Bo Diddley. Diddley’s first song was also called “Bo Diddley.” It was a clever piece of marketing that helped propel an already game-changing song to the top of the charts. The song itself was wrapped in one of the most powerful, and catchy beats ever caught on tape, and it became universally known as the “Bo Diddley beat.” The song was initially marketed to the black R&B audience, but with its driving beat and mysterious lyrics, it muscled its way from the black R&B charts through the crossover door and sailed up the Hot 100. Its effect on teenage pop culture, during its time, and today, cannot be overstated.

So, what is the Bo Diddley beat? In technical terms, it is a 3-2 Clave, which is musical shorthand for a fusion of Caribbean and African rhythms, which possibly dates back as far, or perhaps beyond, Lionel Belasco’s, 1906 hit L’année Passée. While that song has a more Latin/Calypso vibe, than the rough and ready, Bo Diddley beat, it is undoubtedly a forebear of the mountain of hit songs generated by Elias McDaniel’s recorded magic. Eventually, a New Orleans artist, with the outstanding Star Wars name, Lord Invader wrote and recorded a song called Rum And Coca Cola.

A year later, in 1944, that song became a surprise worldwide sensation for the Andrews Sisters. With US troops serving in every combat theater of World War II, the ladies had used their stunning harmonies to narrate every GI’s perfect sexy weekend liberty pass. A few years later, another New Orleans artist, James “Sugar Boy” Crawford wrote and recorded a song called “Jock-o-Mo.” Sometimes called Iko-Iko, its charismatic spontaneity lit up the French Quarter bar rooms and was another paving stone on the road merging musical cultures of black R&B, with the suburban appetite for rock and roll.

With Bo Diddley’s song rising up the charts, Ed Sullivan broke the color barrier by making him the first black performer to appear on his show. It was agreed ahead of time Diddley would play Tennessee Ernie Ford’s, “Sixteen Tons” instead of “Bo Diddley,” which was still considered “race music.” Once on stage, the show’s director flashed a cue card to the band that said, “Bo Diddley” on it. Diddley either took it to mean he had the go ahead to play his hit record, or he was just being defiant, but one way or the other, Sullivan believed he’d been crossed, and banned Diddley from the show. Another black milestone?

Throughout the years since 1955, the Bo Diddley beat would show up hundreds, if not thousands of times in pop music. While the list of songs is much too lengthy to recount here, a few of them would include “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly, “Faith” by George Michael, “She’s the One” by Bruce Springsteen, “Magic Bus” by The Who, and “American Girl” by Tom Petty. Whether it was saccharine garden party music like Ricky Nelsons’ “Be Bop Baby,” or George Thorogood’s sweaty stage stomping version of Bo Diddley’s very own “Who Do You Love,” one thing is for sure, Elias McDaniel, and his Gretsch Cigar Box guitars will always be remembered as one of the most significant, and influential artists of all time.

Credits: Jay Luster / https://www.rockandbluesmuse.com/

Listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers take on Bob Dylan song 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'

There are few songs that encapsulate the mood of America in the 1960s as well as Bob Dylan’s ‘Homesick Subterranean Blues’.

For me, there’s no other Dylan song like it. It sits on the threshold between old Bob’s early balladry and his embrace of a more rock-driven electronically-enhanced sound, making it immersive both lyrically and rhythmically — and the world clearly agrees.


‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ has been covered by all manner of artists, from Gregory Isaacs reggae version on Is It Rolling Bob? to this Red-Hot Chili Peppers rendition, a demo recording of the cover that featured on their 1987 album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.



Much of the charm of Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ stems from the stream-of-consciousness lyrics which seem to fly past your ear at 100mph. Skipping from one cultural reference to the next without taking a breath, Dylan sings of America’s disillusioned youth, (“20 years of schooling’ and they put you on the day shift”), notable drugs busts (“The phone’s tapped anyway/Maggie says that many say/They must bust in early May/Orders from the D.A.”), and the Police’s violent treatment of civil rights protesters. (“Better stay away from those/That carry around a fire hose”) – combining it all in a kaleidoscopic swirl of social commentary reminiscent of Beat pioneers, Alan Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.



I suppose that explains why ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is such a damn good song to drive to. It was Dylan’s first attempt to implement the motoric spirit of Kerouac’s beat manifesto, On The Road, into his own music; giving it a drive that seems to exude from its every pore. 


The track’s road-ready charm obviously wasn’t lost on Red Hot Chili Peppers either, who introduce their funk rework (which itself is a reworking of their previous cover of Dylan’s song) with a clip of Anthony Kiedis talking about his new Cadillac: “You know what’s really really cool? I just bought this Cadillac, this convertible 1960’s Cadillac with a white interior and I drove it up here and I’ve just been cruising in it on the freeway, having a really really good time and smoking big spliffs… It’s a good feeling, I can tell ya.”



In this cover, we hear RHCP strip back their original, high-octane rap-funk version of” Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and deliver something a lot more laid-back. Chad Smith’s reverb-drenched snare roots the track firmly in that west coast 1980s sound, while Flea’s slapped bass wiggles and winds its way around Kiedis’ vocals, finding every gap in the sonic canvas and filling it with color. –


  Credits: Sam Kemp / faroutmagazine.co.uk

Carlos Santana: “Feedback Is Good for You”

The legend says the world needs to be “far out,” and he’s cut a new album, Blessings and Miracles, to take it there.

He talks about his fabled tone, advice from Miles Davis, his search for universal melodies, and stepping outside the cage.



Carlos Santana plays like a superhighway. His notes—always exquisite and succulent—are founded on terra firma yet travel to many places. The 74-year-old 6-string guru often uses the word multidimensional to describe his technicolor sonic thumbprint. And, through more than a half-century of recordings and concerts, that multidimensionality speaks as articulately as the beautiful unison-string bends in his band’s classic “Samba Pa Ti,” projecting his devotion to melody, intention, the echoes of his influences, imagination, inspiration, awareness, fidelity to his art, and a desire to communicate.


Of all those dimensions within Santana’s playing, his desire to communicate and his awareness that his music can telegraph a subtly different message to each listener may be the most important. It’s key to understanding the search he embarks on every time he takes a solo or writes a song. Or makes a new album, like the recently unveiled Santana band recording Blessings and Miracles, which seems to draw on every period of his career—or at least all the aspects of his search for, as he called it in the title of his 2014 autobiography, the Universal Tone.


“I think of melodies that are universally accepted—by Greeks, Apaches, Puerto Ricans, Aboriginals … everybody,” Santana explains. “Because everyone understands the sacred language of melody, nothing speaks more clearly, and you can hear the way melodies transcend any cultural differences. For example, play the first four notes of ‘Nature Boy,’ by Nat King Cole. [He sings the intro to the song’s melody, and then sings the same notes with different phrasing.] See, it’s also ‘Danny Boy’—the same four notes.


“We’re in the business of getting people’s attention,” he continues. “Understanding the universal nature of melody is important. I have never created and will never create an album that’s background music. I don’t do background music. When you go to hear Santana, like the people I love … Miles [Davis], Stevie Ray Vaughan, the music has to take center stage and captivate your attention. It tries to offer you something that’s really good in you and for you, that you aren’t aware of.” Everyone understands the sacred language of melody.


One of those somethings is the long, held note—an emotional trigger that’s among his historic signatures. “Feedback is good for you,” Santana says. “With the correct tone between the pickups and speakers, it’s a living light, it’s constantly breathing. But feedback coming from a pedal is bad feedback. It’s like a cadaver. There’s no life in there. So, I don’t use pedals for sustain. I walk around and mark the floor where the sound becomes a laser beam between me and my guitar, so it’s constantly breathing. That’s why we like Star Wars. You get to hear Darth Vader breathe.” Parenthetically, that notion also correlates with the healing feeling that comes with yoga’s soothing ujjayi, or ocean, breath.


With the title Blessing and Miracles tagged to his namesake outfit’s 26th album, it’s no surprise that Santana self-produced the recording with high goals. “There’s no difference between radio today and in the ’50s,” he relates. “It was corny, boring, and then along came the Doors with an eight-minute version of ‘Light My Fire,’ and the Chambers Brothers, with ‘Time.’ I grew up in the ’60s with the ground-zero cultural revolution, so it’s natural for me to play my guitar sometimes melodically and contained, and sometimes like a hurricane.


If I play something like ‘Maria Maria’ [from Santana’s 1999 mega-hit Supernatural] it feels commercial because it has a regular melody, but if you put some Sonny Sharrock and John McLaughlin influence in there, that’s radical! And that’s exactly what the world needs today—to get far out!”


To get far out music to the people, Santana figured he also had to go deep inside the industry. So, over the several-year course of making the 15-song album, he recruited Chris Stapleton, Steve Winwood, Living Colour’s Corey Glover, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Chick and Gayle Corea, and his old Supernatural teammate Rob Thomas. Santana and Thomas’ song on that triple-platinum album, “Smooth,” spent 12 weeks on top of the Billboard charts.


“I’m at a point where intention, motive, and purpose are very, very clear,” Santana says. “I wanted names that would help get me back on radio. We didn’t do any planning like that for Africa Speaks. [The exploratory Afro-Latin album the Santana band made in 2019 with Spanish guest vocalist Buika.] But now is the time.


Credits: Ted Drozdowski – https://www.premierguitar.com/

Ronnie James Dio Documentary Set for Release in 2022

A documentary on the life of the late heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio is set for release in 2022, nearly two years after the film was first revealed.

Co-directed by Demian Fenton and Don Argott, who worked together on several films including Rock School in 2005, the film, which is presently untitled, features interviews with Dio’s Black Sabbath bandmate Geezer Butler, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, Jack Black, Lita Ford, and more.


“[It] goes all the way through his life till the end,” said his Dio’s widow Wendy who watched the film, which she described as “very emotional,” in a recent interview. “I was watching it with my publicist and a person from BMG, who are funding the documentary,” she added, “and we all cried.”


The documentary will feature never-before-seen archival footage and photos from Dio’s personal archives and include intimate scenes with some of the artist’s closest peers, friends, and family.


“Ronnie loved his fans,” said Wendy Dio in an earlier statement, “and I hope they will enjoy this trip through Ronnie’s life.”


Portions of Dio’s unfinished autobiography, Rainbow in the Dark, named after his 1983 hit with his band Dio, will also be incorporated in the film. Dio was working on the book with rock biographer Mick Wall prior to his death on May 16, 2010 from stomach cancer. It was later completed by the Dio family estate along with Wall and released in 2021.


“His voice is still with us, as it always will be, and the power and honesty in it will always give me a thrill and a chill,” said Halford in an interview around the 10th anniversary of Dio’s death in 2020. Halford called Dio a mentor who always gave 100 percent onstage, songwriting, producing, and recording.


“As a fellow singer, his standalone voice means everything, possessing such uniqueness with instant recognition—10 years or 100 years, it doesn’t really matter,” added Halford. “Ronnie and all we love about him is eternal.”


Credits: TINA BENITEZ-EVES / American Songwriter