The influential guitarist inspired artists from Buddy Hollly to the New York Dolls
The extraordinary Bo Diddley was born on this day
Born Ellas Otha Bates on December 30th, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, U.S, Bo Diddley created a signature guitar playing style that keeps influencing Rock music to this day. At a young age, inspired by a performance by John Lee Hooker, he supplemented his income as a carpenter and mechanic by playing on street corners with friends. In 1951, he landed a regular spot at the 708 Club, on Chicago’s South Side, with a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. In late 1954, he teamed up with the harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold, the drummer Clifton James and the bass player Roosevelt Jackson. His first hit single was “Bo Diddley” released in 1955 that became a number one R&B hit. Diddley’s hit singles continued in the 1950s and 1960s: “Who Do You Love?” (1956), “Pretty Thing” (1956), “Say Man” (1959), and “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (1962). With his unique signature sound, the “Bo Diddley beat”, which is essentially the clave rhythm, one of the most common bell patterns found in sub-Saharan African music traditions, he influenced several artists, including Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Clash and among many other popular Rock songs, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” (1957) and Them’s “Mystic Eyes” (1965) used the beat. His trademark instrument was his self-designed, one-of-a-kind, rectangular-bodied “Twang Machine” (referred to as “cigar-box shaped” by music promoter Dick Clark). He also wrote many songs for himself and also for others. In 1956 he and guitarist Jody Williams co-wrote the pop song “Love Is Strange”, a hit for Mickey & Sylvia in 1957. He also wrote “Mama (Can I Go Out)”, which was a minor hit for the pioneering rockabilly singer Jo Ann Campbell, who performed the song in the 1959 rock and roll film “Go Johnny Go”. His final guitar performance on a studio album was with the New York Dolls on their 2006 album “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This”. He contributed guitar work to the song “Seventeen”, which was included as a bonus track on the limited-edition version of the disc. Bo Diddley died on June 2, 2008, of heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida. In the days following his death, tributes were paid by then-President George W. Bush, the United States House of Representatives, and many musicians and performers, including B. B. King, Ronnie Hawkins, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, George Thorogood, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Eric Burdon. Bo Diddley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Watch Bo Diddley performing “Bo Diddley” in 1965
Listen to one of Bo Diddley’s most famous and covered song “Who Do You Love?”
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