BO DIDDLEY


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 Bo (December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008), was born Ellas Otha Bates, was an American rock & roll singer, guitarist, and songwriter. He was known as "The Originator" because of his key role in the transition from blues music to rock & roll, influencing a host of legendary acts including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He introduced more insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged guitar sound on a wide-ranging catalog of songs. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation "and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammy). He was also known for his technical innovations, including his trademark rectangular guitar.

Early life and career Born in McComb, Mississippi, as Ellas Otha Bates, he was adopted and raised by his mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel, whose surname he assumed, becoming Ellas McDaniel. In 1934, the McDaniel family moved to the largely black South Side area of Chicago, where the boy dropped the name Otha and became known as Ellas McDaniel, until his musical ambitions demanded that he take on a more catchy identity. In Chicago he was an active member of his local Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he studied the trombone and the violin, becoming proficient enough on the latter for the musical director to invite him to join the orchestra, with which he performed until the age of 18. He was more impressed, however, by the pulsating, rhythmic music he heard at a local Pentecostal Church. Also, he became interested in the guitar.

Further inspired musically after seeing John Lee Hooker, he developed a career playing on street corners with friends, including Jerome Green in a band called The Hipsters. By 1951 he was playing on the street with backing from Roosevelt Jackson (on washtub bass) and Jody Williams (whom he taught to play guitar. Jody Williams later played lead guitar on "Who Do You Love?" (1956). 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 harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold, drummer Clifton James and bass player Roosevelt Jackson, and recorded demos of "I'm A Man" and "Bo Diddley". They re-recorded the songs at Chess Studios with a backing ensemble comprising Otis Spann (piano), Lester Davenport (harmonica), Frank Kirkland (drums) and Jerome Green (maracas). The record was released in March 1955, and the A-side, "Bo Diddley", became a #1 R&B hit.

Bo Diddley was well known for the "Bo Diddley beat," a rumba-like beat similar to "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.  His songs (for example, "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love?") often have no chord changes; that is, the musicians play the same chord throughout the piece, so that the rhythms create the excitement, rather than having the excitement generated by harmonic tension and release. In his other recordings, Bo Diddley used a variety of rhythms, from straight back beat to pop ballad style to doo-wop, frequently with maracas by Jerome Green.

An influential guitar player, he developed many special effects and other innovations in tone and attack. Bo Diddley's trademark instrument was the rectangular-bodied Gretsch nicknamed "The Twang Machine" (referred to as "cigar-box shaped" by music promoter Dick Clark).  Diddley fashioned the square guitar himself and wielded it in thousands of concerts over the years.

He often created lyrics as witty and humorous adaptations of folk music themes. The song "Bo Diddley" was based on the lullaby "Hush Little Baby." Likewise, "Hey Bo Diddley" is based on the folk song "Old MacDonald". The rap-style boasting of "Who Do You Love", a wordplay on hoodoo, used many striking lyrics from the African-American tradition of toasts and boasts. His "Say Man" and "Say Man, Back Again," were both later cited as progenerators of rap music.

Diddley continued to have hits through the late 1950s and the 1960s, including "Pretty Thing" (1956), "Say Man" (1959), and "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover" (1962). He released a string of albums whose titles—including Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger and Have Guitar, Will Travel—bolstered his self-invented legend. Between 1958 and 1963, Checker Records released 11 full-length albums by Bo Diddley. Although he broke through as a crossover artist with white audiences (appearing at the Alan Freed concerts, for example), he rarely tailored his compositions to teenage concerns.

He was one of the first American male musicians to include women in his band, including Peggy Jones (aka Lady Bo), Norma-Jean Wofford (aka The Duchess), Cornelia Redmond (aka Cookie) and Debby Hastings, who led his band for the final 25 years of his performing career. He also set up one of the first home recording studios.

Diddley achieved numerous accolades in recognition of his significant role as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.  In 2003, U.S. Representative John Conyers paid tribute to him describing him as "one of the true pioneers of rock and roll, who has influenced generations.  In 2005, Diddley celebrated his 50th anniversary in music with successful tours of Australia and Europe and coast-to-coast shows across North America. He performed his song "Bo Diddley" at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 20th annual induction ceremony.

He spent many years in New Mexico, living in Los Lunas from 1971 to 1978 while continuing his musical career. In the late 70s, Diddley left Los Lunas and moved to Hawthorne, FL where he lived on a large estate in a custom made log-cabin type home, which he helped to build. For the remainder of his life he spent time between New Mexico and Florida, living the last 13 years of his life in Archer, Florida, a small farming town near Gainesville

Bo Diddley passed in 2008, but his music and impact on the evolution of rock’n roll is unforgettable.

Cat Cohen first met Bo Diddley in 1970 when they both lived in the San Fernando Valley.  Cat was hired to teach Bo’s two daughters piano while Diddley was on the road.  Instead of teaching the girls typical children’s pieces like “Swans On The Lake”, Cat showed them how to play 12-bar blues.  When Bo returned home, he was so amazed to hear his daughters jamming, he started working with Cat on music.  The two men wrote and recorded several songs together at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood and released two singles “You Got 11:04 AMWrong Girl” and “Queen of Fools”, on Chess Records with Cookie Vee (Cornelia Redmond), one of his background singers, as the lead vocalist.  After the Sylmar earthquake in 1971, Diddley was so shaken up by it, he moved out of the LA area to New Mexico.

You can find out more about this famous and influential rock ‘n roll innovator at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bo_Diddley.

 


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