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Artist Bo Diddley

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Music Style Rock n Roll

•Born: 30 December 1928
•Birthplace: McComb, Mississippi
•Died: 2 June 2008 (heart failure)
•Best Known As: The early rock 'n' roll inventor nicknamed "The Originator"

Name at birth: Ellas Bates
Bo Diddley was born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago, where he was exposed to music and the blues. After studying violin and trombone, he took up the electric guitar. Diddley's flamboyance, square (often homemade) guitars and distinctive backbeat (sometimes described as "shave-and-a-hair-cut") earned him a record contract with Chess Records, and in 1955 he had his first hit with the two-sided "Bo Diddley/I'm A Man." Although he had several hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and appeared on TV with Dick Clark and Ed Sullivan, Diddley's aggressive beat, suggestive lyrics and raw performances ended up making him more influential than rich and famous. Still, he continued performing into the 21st century, and was recognized as an influence on artists ranging from Buddy Holly to The Rolling Stones. He was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

He was born Ellas Bates but later took the last name of Gussie McDaniel, a cousin who helped raise him... The exact origin of his stage name is unknown; some sources say he picked it up while boxing as a young man, others that it came from a one-string instrument called a diddley bow... "Who Do You Love" (written by Diddley and later covered by George Thorogood) and the Who song "Magic Bus" are two songs with the distinctive Bo Diddley beat.

Personal Information
Born Elias Bates on December 30, 1928, in McComb, MS; son of Eugene Bates and Ethel Wilson; legally adopted by mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel, 1934; married Louise Woolingham (divorced); married Ethel Smith, 1946 (divorced); married Kay Reynolds, 1960.

Formed Langley Avenue Jive Cats with Earl Hooker, early 1940s; recorded for Chess Records, 1955-74; toured the United Kingdom and performed with the Rolling Stones, 1963; toured with the Clash, 1979; performed at Live Aid Concert in Philadelphia, 1985; played at George Bush's presidential inaugural, 1989; performed at Bill Clinton's presidential inaugural, 1993.

Life's Work
Bo Diddley surprised the music world in the mid-1950s when he unleashed a new guitar sound, one dominated by heavy rhythmic drive and distortion, and one that was quickly absorbed by other players. "Unarguably one of the most-influential musicians in rock 'n' roll," noted Doug Pullen in Music Hound Rock, "Diddley's distinctive 'chunka, chunka' rhythm guitar riff is the stuff of which rock's bedrock was made." The sound formed the core of several hits, including "Who Do You Love," "Bo Diddley," and "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." Dave Marsh wrote in the New Rolling Stone Record Guide, "Bo Diddley was one of the great fathers of rock & roll, ranking with such transitional blues artists as Fats Domino and Chuck Berry in both importance and influence."

Diddley was born Elias Bates in McComb, Mississippi, on December 30, 1928. At eight he was adopted by his mother's cousin, who taught Sunday school in Chicago, and changed his last name to McDaniel. He took classical violin lessons from Professor O.W. Frederick at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but later switched to guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker on the radio. In his teens he started boxing and became known by his nickname, Bo Diddley. He attended Foster Vocational High School, where he learned to build violins and guitars, but eventually quit school in order to work at manual labor jobs. He also played guitar on street corners during his spare time to make money, but his adoptive mother, his uncles, and the church's preachers and deacons protested against the "devil's music." Due to these conflicts, he later left home.

In the early 1950s Diddley and Billy Boy Arnold formed a band that included a washboard and maracas player. By 1954 the group was performing at the Sawdust Trail and Castle Rock in Chicago, and they recorded a demo to circulate at record labels like United and Vee-Jay. The disc finally came to the attention of Leonard Chess of Chess Records. He liked it, he told Diddley, but the song would have to be re-recorded and the obscene lyrics changed to make it marketable. Named after the singer, the single "Bo Diddley" rose to number two on Billboard's rhythm and blues chart. Mark Guarino wrote in the Arlington Heights, Illinois, Daily Herald, "Starting with his first hit, Diddley infused a raw, distorted guitar power that hadn't been heard before."

Diddley's guitar sound, filled with propulsive rhythm, helped to lay the foundation for rock-n-roll. In Marshall Cavendish's Illustrated Guide to Popular Music, writer Val Wilmer declared, "An entire rock generation cut its teeth on the 'Diddley beat,' which Bo first heard played on tambourines in church." Music scholars have traced the roots of the beat to an even earlier time. "Musicologists have pointed to that beat's roots in West Africa before slavery," wrote Dave Scheiber in the Chicago Sun Times, and "then to Deep South slaves patting out what became known as the 'Hambone' rhythm on their bodies."

As "Bo Diddley" rose on the chart, the singer was invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, but there was a hitch. The producers had originally wanted Tennessee Ernie Ford to appear, because his hit "Sixteen Tons" was the fastest-rising single on the charts. They asked Diddley to perform "Sixteen Tons," believing it was the song, as opposed to the performer, that really mattered. When he complained that he didn't know the song, the producers rehearsed it with him and wrote the words to the song in large letters on cue cards. When the time came for the live broadcast, Dr. Jive introduced the guitarist, who took the stage and promptly began to sing "Bo Diddley." As he exited, he was reported to have said: "Man, maybe that was 'Sixteen Tons' on those cards, but all I saw was 'Bo Diddley!'"

1950s' rock-n-rollers like Diddley fell on hard times during the 1960s. Even though Jimi Hendrix and others built their guitar techniques on the work of early innovators like Diddley, the earlier style was considered passé. This attitude made it difficult for old-school players to find steady, good paying work. During this time Diddley acquired a number of debts attempting to finance his children's education. In order to meet expenses, he sold the rights to a number of his songs. Despite these difficulties, he continued to score a number of minor hits in the United States and England. "You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover" rose to number 48 in the United States in 1962 and "Ooh Baby" entered the Hot Hundred; in the United Kingdom "Pretty Thing" reached the top forty in 1964 and "Hey Good Lookin'" followed in 1965.

Despite general public recognition of his contributions to rock-n-roll, and acknowledgements from high-profile players like the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, Diddley's innovative sound and string of hits have generated few financial rewards for the musician. "Like many early rock 'n' roll artists--especially African-American acts," noted Scheiber, "record producers, music publishers and booking agents pocketed most of the cash." Because he has received inadequate compensation for his work, Diddley has had to maintain an active touring schedule in order to support himself, despite health problems. "You gotta work," he told Anthony DellaFlora in the Albuquerque Journal. "If I ever got paid, maybe I wouldn't have to work. But I got ripped off very bad with the record companies and the publishing mess." Since 1980 Diddley has fought an ongoing legal battle seeking compensation for his music.

Diddley's legal and financial difficulties, however, have done little to slow the rock-n-roll innovator down. At the end of 2002, he had begun work on a rap song about Saddam Hussein ("Saddam Hussein, pick up your phone, if you do we might leave you alone"), and was planning to record his first album in four years at his home studio. He is one of the rare musicians to have performed at both Republican and Democratic presidential inaugurations. Diddley earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. "We may never know exactly who is the father of rock 'n' roll," wrote DellaFlora, "but if a paternity test is ever performed, Bo Diddley's musical DNA will surely have to be sampled."

Lifetime Achievement Award, Rhythm and Blues Foundation; Star, Hollywood Walk of Fame; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1987.

Selected discography
•Bo Diddley, Checker, 1957.
•Go Bo Diddley, Checker, 1959.
•Have Guitar, Will Travel, Checker, 1959.
•Bo Diddley's Beach Party, Checker, 1963.
•Golden Decade, Chess, 1973.
•The Chess Box, Chess, 1990.
•His Best (Chess 50th Anniversary Collection), Chess, 1997.

Further Reading
•Graff, Gary, ed., Music Hound Rock, Visible Ink, 1996, p. 202.
•Marsh, Dave and John Swenson, eds., New Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1983, p. 140.
•Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, Summit Books, 1986, p. 111.

•Albuquerque Journal, April 20, 2001, p. 3.
•Chicago Sun Times, December 5, 2002, p. 41.
•Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 21, 2000, p. 4.

•"Bo Diddley," All Music Guide, (February 3, 2003).
•"Bo Diddley," Biography Resource Center,
— Ronnie D. Lankford Jr

Alongside Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley is recognized as one of the first and most influential rock guitarists. In a career that has spanned well over three decades, Diddley has remained true to his original style. As Jeff Hannusch wrote in Guitar Player in 1984, perhaps the greatest thing one can say about Diddley is that "he has never had to sound like anyone else but Bo Diddley." He was born Otha Ellas Bates in 1928 in Pike County, Mississippi. In 1934 his mother sent him to Chicago to live with her cousin, Gussie McDaniel. After the McDaniels adopted Otha, he dropped his first and last names and was known as Ellas McDaniel. However, he soon acquired his nickname and soon-to-be professional title, Bo Diddley, which Guitars, From the Renaissance to Rock refers to as a mischievous or bully boy. "That's how I got my name … from messin' 'round," stated Diddley in Rock 100.

Diddley studied violin under Professor O.W. Frederick for 12 years starting at age 7. He began teaching himself guitar in the early 1940s while attending Foster Vocational High School. At age 13 he was playing for change on Langley Avenue in Chicago with his friend Jerome Green. "I had a raggedy guitar, a washtub bass, a dude 'sanding' on a sheet of paper, and Jerome had maracas, shakin" "em, and man … it was lovely," Diddley told Guitar World. Besides violin and guitar, Diddley was also a trombonist with the Baptist Congress Band. By the time he was 20, Diddley had formed The Langley Avenue Jive Cats, with legendary slide guitarist Earl Hooker, playing at the 708 Club in Chicago.

After graduating from Foster's, Diddley got married and began working odd jobs outside of music in construction and semi-pro boxing. He was laid off from the construction job for a spell and decided to take another shot at music. Diddley went out and bought an electric guitar for its volume potential in the rowdy clubs and then recorded a single on a disc cutter owned by one of his neighbors. Diddley pedaled the songs—"I'm a Man" backed with "Bo Diddley"—to various labels before arriving at the Chess brothers' (Leonard and Phil) label in Chicago, home label to blues stalwarts like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, and the chart-climbing Chuck Berry.

Chess saw a market for Diddley's sound but they insisted that he change the lyrics to "Bo Diddley," which were rather obscene, and rerecord it. Diddley agreed and signed a contract with Chess in 1955. The single was released on a subsidiary label, Checker, and skyrocketed all the way to number 2 on the national R & B charts but didn't even crack the pop charts. The album fio Diddley was also released in 1955 and Diddley appeared on the Ed Sullivan television show before hooking up with Alan Freed's rock and roll package to tour the country.

The "Diddley beat" was a simple, yet extremely infectious, "shave and a haircut, two bits" (a.k.a. "hambone") pattern. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock calls it an "idiosyncratic syncopated rhythm." Perhaps it was in Diddley's early influences (his mother was Cajun), this hypnotic guitar sound with little or no chord progressions being propelled by Jerome Green's pounding congas, maracas and bass. Diddley's lyrics were equally strange and laced with his odd sense of humor, "a view of all life … particularly sex, as a profound cosmic joke, played out at the expense of everyone, but particularly the solemn and pompous," wrote Dave Marsh in the Rolling Stone Record Guide. On stage, Diddley was backed by his equally bizarre stepsister, the Duchess, and her counterparts, Cookie and Sleepy King. "[Diddley's] Bo-dacious caricatures are pure diddley daydreams out of a dada Disneyland," reported Rock 100.

As appealing as the sound was, Diddley did little to vary from it and it took another four years for him to break Billboard's Hot 100 with "Crackin' Up" in 1959. That same year, "Say Man" made the Top 20 pop charts but Diddley has never had another single make it past number 50 since. "I had this idea that everybody would like everything I recorded, which was totally wrong, and I had to learn that," he told Howard Mandel in Guitar World. During the ensuing lull in his career, Diddley was rediscovered by foreign rock and blues groups that comprised the British Invasion: the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Yardbirds. Their cover versions of Diddley tunes brought him somewhat back into the limelight. He continued to release a batch of albums during the sixties and seventies with jacket covers that portrayed him as everything from a gun-slinger to a black gladiator in Ben Hur garb.

As corny as his album covers and outlandish clothes may have seemed, when Diddley plugged in his axe, guitarists took note. His wild collection of instruments, custom-built for him alone by the Gretsch company, were years ahead of their time with their oblong, triangle, and star shapes sometimes covered in carpet or fur. They were as much a part of the show as the man himself. "Bo Diddley used the guitar as a part of a flashy strutting performance of flamboyance and obvious sexual suggestion," as stated in Guitars, From the Renaissance to Rock. Diddley tunes to an open D(D, A, D, F#, A, D), which accounts for part of his signature sound, but his use of tremolo, volume, pick-scraping, and various electronics are what make him one of the true innovators of rock guitar. "Bo Diddley on acid … I always just wanted to be wilder than Bo Diddley—which hasn't happened yet, and probably is impossible," said Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan in Guitar Player.

Living Blues quotes Diddley as having called his former boss and label head, Leonard Chess, a "thief." Writer Pete Golkin explained: "When Diddley, who during a difficult period years later sold the rights to his hit songs of the '50s, complains about not receiving money owed him, it is done with a certain air of confusion about the times in which he and other artists quickly rose to stardom." Having experienced the financial plight that so many musicians have fallen into, Diddley decided to take career matters into his own hands and can now be found distributing his records on his own through Bokay Productions. "I've really been ripped off so much in the past, I don't trust any of them anymore… I just got tired of beating my head against the wall. I don't know what these companies are looking for, but I'll tell you one thing: I'm going to sound like Bo Diddley until the day I die," he told Guitar Player.

Although his last charted single was "Ooh Baby" in 1967 (which only reached number 88), Diddley remains active by playing one-nighters with pickup bands and touring with his daughter's band, Offspring. In 1979, English punk rockers, the Clash, paid tribute to Diddley by having him open a series of shows for them and he toured with Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood on a double bill called The Gunslinger's Tour in 1988. "That term—rock and roll—has been misused," Diddley said in Guitar World. "A guy in the audience the other night, he kept buggin' me: 'Play some rock and roll!' But I looked at him, pulled him off to the side, and said 'Can I explain something' to you?' I had to school him. Because I was playin' the only thing I knew how, my type of rock and roll—which is where it came from, because I was the beginning."

He only had a few hits in the 1950s and early '60s, but as Bo Diddley sang, "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." You can't judge an artist by his chart success, either, and Diddley produced greater and more influential music than all but a handful of the best early rockers. The Bo Diddley beat -- bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp -- is one of rock & roll's bedrock rhythms, showing up in the work of Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, and even pop-garage knock-offs like the Strangeloves' 1965 hit "I Want Candy." Diddley's hypnotic rhythmic attack and declamatory, boasting vocals stretched back as far as Africa for their roots, and looked as far into the future as rap. His trademark otherworldly vibrating, fuzzy guitar style did much to expand the instrument's power and range. But even more important, Bo's bounce was fun and irresistibly rocking, with a wisecracking, jiving tone that epitomized rock & roll at its most humorously outlandish and freewheeling.

Before taking up blues and R&B, Diddley had actually studied classical violin, but shifted gears after hearing John Lee Hooker. In the early '50s, he began playing with his longtime partner, maraca player Jerome Green, to get what Bo's called "that freight train sound." Billy Boy Arnold, a fine blues harmonica player and singer in his own right, was also playing with Diddley when the guitarist got a deal with Chess in the mid-'50s (after being turned down by rival Chicago label Vee-Jay). His very first single, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" (1955), was a double-sided monster. The A-side was soaked with futuristic waves of tremolo guitar, set to an ageless nursery rhyme; the flip was a bump-and-grind, harmonica-driven shuffle, based around a devastating blues riff. But the result was not exactly blues, or even straight R&B, but a new kind of guitar-based rock & roll, soaked in the blues and R&B, but owing allegiance to neither.

Diddley was never a top seller on the order of his Chess rival Chuck Berry, but over the next half-dozen or so years, he'd produce a catalog of classics that rival Berry's in quality. "You Don't Love Me," "Diddley Daddy," "Pretty Thing," "Diddy Wah Diddy," "Who Do You Love?," "Mona," "Road Runner," "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover" -- all are stone-cold standards of early, riff-driven rock & roll at its funkiest. Oddly enough, his only Top 20 pop hit was an atypical, absurd back-and-forth rap between him and Jerome Green, "Say Man," that came about almost by accident as the pair were fooling around in the studio.

As a live performer, Diddley was galvanizing, using his trademark square guitars and distorted amplification to produce new sounds that anticipated the innovations of '60s guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. In Great Britain, he was revered as a giant on the order of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. The Rolling Stones in particular borrowed a lot from Bo's rhythms and attitude in their early days, although they only officially covered a couple of his tunes, "Mona" and "I'm Alright." Other British R&B groups like the Yardbirds, Animals, and Pretty Things also covered Diddley standards in their early days. Buddy Holly covered "Bo Diddley" and used a modified Bo Diddley beat on "Not Fade Away"; when the Stones gave the song the full-on Bo treatment (complete with shaking maracas), the result was their first big British hit.

The British Invasion helped increase the public's awareness of Diddley's importance, and ever since then he's been a popular live act. Sadly, though, his career as a recording artist -- in commercial and artistic terms -- was over by the time the Beatles and Stones hit America. He'd record with ongoing and declining frequency, but after 1963, he'd never write or record any original material on par with his early classics. Whether he'd spent his muse, or just felt he could coast on his laurels, is hard to say. But he remains a vital part of the collective rock & roll consciousness, occasionally reaching wider visibility via a 1979 tour with the Clash, a cameo role in the film Trading Places, a late-'80s tour with Ronnie Wood, and a 1989 television commercial for sports shoes with star athlete Bo Jackson. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi

ArtistBo Diddley

Referenced from

Music Style:Rock n Roll

Bo Diddley (December 30, 1928 - June 2, 2008) "The Originator," was an influential American rock and roll singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He is often cited as a key figure in the transition of blues into rock and roll, by introducing more insistent, driving rhythms and a harder-edged guitar sound.

He was born Otha Ellas Bates in McComb, Mississippi and later took the name Ellas McDaniel, after his adoptive mother, Gussie McDaniel. He adopted the stage name Bo Diddley, which is probably a southern black slang phrase meaning "nothing at all," as in "he ain't bo diddley." Another source says it was his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxer. The nickname is also linked to the diddley bow, a one stringed instrument used in the south by mainly black musicians in the fields.

He is best known for the "Bo Diddley beat," a rhumba-based beat (see clave) also influenced by what is known as "hambone," a style used by street performers who play out the beat by slapping and patting their arms, legs, chest, and cheeks while chanting rhymes. The Bo Diddley beat is often illustrated with the phrase: "shave 'n' a haircut - two bits."

The beat has been used by many other artists, notably Johnny Otis on "Willie and the Hand Jive," which is more about hambone than it is a direct copy of Bo Diddley, Bruce Springsteen's "She's the One," U2's "Desire," Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and Rolling Stones' "Mona" as well as more obscure numbers such as "Callin' All Cows" by The Blues Rockers.

Bo Diddley died on June 2, 2008 at the age of 79 of heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida. Garry Mitchell, a grandson of Diddley and one of more than 35 family members at the musician's home when he died at about 1:45 a.m., said his death was not unexpected. "There was a gospel song that was sung and he said 'wow' with a thumbs up," Mitchell told Reuters, when asked to describe the scene at Diddley's deathbed. "The song was 'Walk Around Heaven' and in his last words he said that he was going to heaven."

Artist Bo Diddley

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Ellas Otha Bates
Profile:(December 30, 1928, McComb, MS, United States - June 2, 2008, Archer, Florida, United States.) An influential singer & guitarist who recorded his best known material for the Checker and Chess labels. In 1955,

Music Style:Rock n Roll

Profile: Bo Diddley


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Music Style:Rock n Roll


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References: The Sound of the City ( The Rise of Rock and Roll ) by Charlie Gillett, A Brief history of Rock n Roll by Nick Johnstone, web links copyright david crowfoot 2009, 2010.