now brings you the actual, all-inclusive history of Rock'n'Soul music each week.
▶ History Checklist
Today, the romp-bompin' Bo Diddley, the baron of the beat!
Hear 2 massive music players, one of Bo and one of all his disciples from the 1950's to today!
Music Player quick-links:
Bo Diddley's disciples: 1950's-2010's
Part 1: The Rhythm King of Rock'n'Roll
It's that rhythm.
It had been around before in variations. "Shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits." His band says it came from a song called "The Hambone" (based on a rhythm and dance descended from the Juba dance of Haiti). Bo Diddley says it actually came out of his love of the insistent cadence of Country & Western star Gene Autry's "I Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle" (1942). Anything comes from anywhere, it's all in how you use it.
Chess Records in 1955 Chicago was the home of the electric blues gods; Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, their writer and bassist Willie Dixon, harpist Little Walter. Mature men from hard lives in the sharecropper South. When that gave out they migrated among millions to the Rust Belt states around the Great Lakes for factory jobs and record deals. Muddy's was the first all-electric Blues band, plugging Rock'n'Roll in in 1948. Wolf was the leer of the forbidden, crackling through the night airwaves. With the edgy John Lee Hooker, they stoked the souls of rambunctious young listeners, squirming to bust out.
You can hear it on those first singles by the new upstarts at Chess; when Chuck Berry and Bo crashed the party, it was like someone had flung writhing livewires onto the dance floor crowd. There is a jolting rush and breakneck intensity to those songs that had never been there before. Suddenly the Blues seemed plodding by comparison. It is alive, rude, both mean and joyful. So fast and so fuzzed out it made everything else trip over itself tepidly. What the hell was this? That hard stomping snarl of "Maybelline", that thundrous gallop and phasing tremolo of "Bo Diddley".
BOOM-de-boom-boom, De-BOOM-Boomp. Dag!
Bo's sound was the past and the future. The crossroads.
It was tribal drumming under an eerie richochet of distorted guitar. In your midnight bedroom, preening your ear covertly to the alien voices sparking out of the radio static, it transported you to some beyonder badlands where mad hooves cascaded like hailstones. BOOM-de-boom-boom, De-BOOM-Boomp. Above this thunderground shimmered an aurora of electronic reverb. Through this nether void Bo would ride hard on sheer pride. He was ego ("I walked 47 miles of barbed wire/ Wear a cobra snake for a necktie"), identity ("I'm a man/ I spell M-A-N"), insane ("You shoulda heard just what I seen"), and hilarious ("I came into this world playing a gold guitar!").
Surging sidesaddle was maraca man Jerome Green, comedic foil and timekeeper. And whiplashing with him lick for lick was Peggy "Little Bo" Jones, her guitar striding beside on "Roadrunner", "Pills", and "Hush Your Mouth". After her came Norma-Jean "The Duchess" Wofford to kick more ruckus. And Bo, a cracked inventer and inverter of sound with his square-box guitar he cobbled from stray junk. These incomparable compadres carried him through more classics than you can shake a drumstick at.
R: Norma-Jean "The Duchess" Wofford
To reiterate, the M-A-N was adult enough to respect the women. Female guitarists of the era often got spotlight specifically as the singing front, but weren't routine band members. While Bo Diddley could have hogged the light, he instead had a woman in his band as his equal sparring partner, not once but twice. Bo knew that well-rounded inclusion was the right way to go.
That persona. That rhythm. That attack. That fusion of the earthy and the eerie. That booming voice on "I Can Tell", that delirious giggle on "The Story of Bo Diddley", that gutteral sneer on "Oh Yea", those mournful highs on "Mona". What kid wouldn't fall in love with that? And around the world many did and would for years and years. The story of Bo Diddley would amplify every time a new movement plugged in a guitar.
When someone recently mentioned him in relation to the Blues, Bo calmly but clearly set them straight. "I'm not a blues artist. I'm a rock'n'roller."
You're the Man. M-A-N.
Part 2: Diddley Daddy: The Disiples of Bo Diddley
BO DIDDLEY: Disciples
Hear the unlimited Playlist here.)
The riff that will not fade away.
Bo's 1950's friends were the first to jibe handily with the hand jive. Buddy Holly, like Bo from South America ("south Texas"), was among the first to give Bo the thumbs up weaving his rhythm into "Not Fade Away". Johnny Otis, famed Jump Jive bandleader, bumps it lively with his "Willie & the Hand Jive", Elvis Presley with "His Latest Flame", and Mac Rebbenack (a.k.a., Dr. John) with "Storm Warning".
Bo had transmuted Gene Autry and now others were transfiguring him. This is that fluid moment in creativity when a unique riff or beat transcends to a consensual pattern -like the shuffle, the rhumba, the bossa nova, and the waltz- which pollinates laterally. Lawyers, accountants, and separatists aside, this is inevitable and natural. A creator does deserve credit for their efforts or innovations. But then every good idea takes on new lives in the responses of others.
Creativity is intrinsically cyclical and progressive, a crossroads relay of past and future. Muddy Waters's "Hoochie Coochie Man" (1954) had inspired Bo's "I'm A Man". Muddy then answered Bo's song with his "Mannish Boy" (1955), and later they did "I'm A Man" together with Little Walter (1967). And Etta James set them all straight with "W-O-M-A-N".
As the original big bang of rock surged into early 60's Surf, Bo's sense of rhythmic propulsion undergirded the rumbling attack of Surf and Hot Rod instrumentals. Dick Dale's "Surfin' Drums", The Imps "That'll Get It", and Lonnie Mack's "Memphis". Our man even did a 1963 album responding back called "Surfin' With Bo Diddley". (Ax murderer Link Wray foreshadowed Punk in 1962, churning through a hyperspeed "Bo Diddley" like his sleeves were burning.) In covers, homages, or in sonic spirit, Bo's influence was now encoded in Pop's DNA.
It hipshakes through Soul in hits like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey", Marvin Gaye's "Baby, Don't You Do It", The Shangri-La's' "Simon Speaks", and Shirley Ellis' "The Clapping Song" (and Olivia Molina's cover "Juego De Palabras"). BOOM-de-boom-boom, De-BOOM-Boomp...
England always values our culture better than we do. From their perspective the Blues masters and the rocker rogues were gods raining from Olympus in sheaths of steam. The resultant mid-60's British Invasion was the second ring of the big bang, and Bo's beats pulsared through it as much as Chuck's comet flares. The Liverbirds' sent a father's day card covering "Diddley Daddy". The Pretty Things, tougher older brothers of The Rolling Stones, took their name from Bo's song and his rhythm for their classic "Rosalyn". (Then later, Bowie borrowed their name for three songs and covered "Rosalyn"!) The Animals made up a fake tale of meeting him in their "The Story of Bo Diddley" in homage to his mythos. The Stones made their big breakthrough covering "Not Fade Away" with extra emphasis on Bo's beat.
As the bluesy vamps of The Stones, Yardbirds, Animals, Kinks, and Pretties snarled their way into the emerging Garage Rock, Bo's legacy blew cheap speakers in rehearsals worldwide. English bands like Stovepipe No. 4 ("Pretty Thing"), Rey Anton & the Peppermint Men ("You Can't Judge a Book"), and The Who (Jerome's maracas live in their "Magic Bus"). Bo's strut further disordered borders with artists like Jacques Dutronic (France), Els Xocs (Spain), Dawn Penn (Jamaica), and Jeannie C. Riley (Texas).
American bastards like The Juveniles ("Bo Diddley"), the garage gods The Sonics ("Diddy Wah Diddy"), and The Preachers (who throw some immortal 'twist-and-shreik!' into their "Who Do You Love" cover) all bomped the bomp. Most famously/infamously, The Strangeloves stomped the streets with their beat repeat "I Want Candy". Besides covers and clones, the beat was now splicing into interpolated cousins. The Byrds married The Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" to Bo's beat with their "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe". Bob Dylan brought it all back home to Jerome with "Maggie's Farm".
As the music got rougher in the ascending 60's, in came Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band screaming Howlin' Wolf in Bo's clothing with their corrosive "Who Do You Love". Soon enough The Doors expanded that song into a panting rant in panavision. Hard on their heels were the bristling Stooges with their homages "Little Doll" and "1969", stripping the excesses of psychedelia down to a primal, throbbing buzz that would invent Punk. (Recently Iggy wrote a loving essay about Bo for Rolling Stone: "Bo's hands are about a foot long from the wrist to the tip of the finger. He really controls his guitar." It's all about concentrated chaos.)
As early 70's Glam vamped on 50's Rock, David Bowie expressed that pulse as "Panic In Detroit", The New York Dolls spilled their ills with his "Pills" in 1973, and Bo footed the platform for songs by Fancy, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, and The Sweet. His pattern also pulsed unexpected parts like Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and Jethro Tull's "Aqualung".
When late 70's Punk brought it all back to basics, they were aflame with the direct fury of 50's rock. Chuck and Bo's riffs ricocheted through reverb in squalid alkie-holes planetwide all over again. On The Clash's first tour of America, they insisted that Bo Diddley be their opening act. "Every time I look at him, my jaw just drops," said Joe Strummer. It was a middle-finger salute to their coked-and-clueless record label and a laurel leaf to their Dionysus. Their songs "Hateful" and "Rudie Can't Fail" pound with the maestro's pulse. The impulse of PostPunk bands to marry primal polyrhythms with sharp abrasive textures, such as The Slits, Talking Heads, Pulsallama, Bush Tetras,and LiliPUT, is Bo's crossroads recrossed again.
Bow Wow Wow made it big on a cover version of a swipe, with "I Want Candy". 80's kids didn't know to judge a beat by its cover because it was too busy moving their backsides. And did so again with George Michael's "Faith". It strobes through Lyndsey Buckingham's swirling "Loving Cup" and The Smiths' amazing "How Soon Is Now". That ferocious edge cycles again in Minutemen's "Case Closed", Husker Du's "Hare Krsna", and songs by X, The Milkshakes, Throwing Muses, and Jane's Addiction. In 1987 the Jesus & Mary Chain declared in wax that "Bo Diddley Is Jesus".
Public Enemy's radical cocktail of hardbumping rhythms with sheets of flanging noise is the very spirit of Bo. (Chuck D is a deep fan of the pychedelic Chess albums of Wolf and Waters, and Bo in his SM fetish belts on 1970's "Black Gladiator" cover freaked him out). Deconstructing the past reconstructs the future. U2's heart bumpathumped with "Desire". Chris Isaak may have been Elvis Orbison, but he still brought it to Jerome with his take on "Diddley Daddy" in '89. Guns'n'Roses free-bass'ed it as "Mr. Brownstone".
As a pattern beat or polyrhythmic approach, Bo's hooves steadily galloped through the 90's and 00's. The beat was a pathway, of knowing where you came from to know where to go next. And to spite any currently popular trails you didn't want to go near. Whether Dick Dale, The Gories, Shonen Knife, The White Stripes, Gorillaz, Fatboy Slim, tUnE-yArDs, Ty Segall, Janelle Monae, Bleached, or The Love Me Nots, the original primal beat of Rock'n'Roll strode on and on...
It's that rhythm. The riff that will not fade away. BOOM-de-boom-boom, De-BOOM-Boomp. This is the continuing story of Bo Diddley...
© Tym Stevens
The Real History of Rock and Soul!: A Manifesto, A Handy Checklist
Revolution 1950's: The Big Damn Bang of Rock'n'Roll!
1950's PUNK: Sex, Thugs, and Rock'n'Roll!
CHUCK BERRY: The Guitar God and His Disciples
BUDDY HOLLY: Rock's Everyman and His Disciples
LITTLE RICHARD: The Voice of Rock and His Disciples
JIMMY REED: The Groover of Rock, From Motown To Sesame Street