You Don’t Know Diddley

Bo Diddley is dead of apparent complications from a stroke:

Bo Diddley, a founding father of rock ‘n’ roll whose distinctive “shave and a haircut, two bits” rhythm and innovative guitar effects inspired legions of other musicians, died Monday after months of ill health. He was 79.

Diddley died of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla., spokeswoman Susan Clary said. He had suffered a heart attack in August, three months after suffering a stroke while touring in Iowa. Doctors said the stroke affected his ability to speak, and he had returned to Florida to continue rehabilitation.

The legendary singer and performer, known for his homemade square guitar, dark glasses and black hat, was an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and received a lifetime achievement award in 1999 at the Grammy Awards. In recent years he also played for the elder President Bush and President Clinton.

The 1988 inauguration, indeed, featured the memorable lineup of Diddley, Sam and Dave, and Lee Atwater.

Diddley appreciated the honors he received, “but it didn’t put no figures in my checkbook.”

“If you ain’t got no money, ain’t nobody calls you honey,” he quipped.

Working in radio as a kid, I was aware of Diddley bright and early – but I didn’t really know Diddley until he toured with The Clash, around 1979-80.

His first single, “Bo Diddley,” introduced record buyers in 1955 to his signature rhythm: bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp, often summarized as “shave and a haircut, two bits.” The B side, “I’m a Man,” with its slightly humorous take on macho pride, also became a rock standard…Diddley’s influence was felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Buddy Holly borrowed the bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp rhythm for his song “Not Fade Away.”

The Rolling Stones‘ bluesy remake of that Holly song gave them their first chart single in the United States, in 1964. The following year, another British band, the Yardbirds, had a Top 20 hit in the U.S. with their version of “I’m a Man.”

Let’s not forget Warren Zevon’s “Bo Diddley’s a Gunslinger” and, best of all, Springsteen’s “She’s The One”.  The NYTimes has a list of songs that reference the signature beat.

Diddley was also one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, adding reverb and tremelo effects. He even rigged some of his guitars himself.

“He treats it like it was a drum, very rhythmic,” E. Michael Harrington, professor of music theory and composition at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., said in 2006.

Diddley’s influence was always very underrated.

One thought on “You Don’t Know Diddley

  1. Bought my first Bo Diddley album in high school (CD’s were out, but I didn’t have a CD player yet). A rerelease of his first one. Love it.
    Was all set to see him at Burbakers a while back, but the two friends I was going to go with backed out (a habit they still have). So never got to see him live.

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