Friday, June 6, 2008
So Long Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley, the rock 'n' roll originator with the rectangular guitar whose signature beat influenced musicians from Buddy Holly to the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen, has died. He was 79.
He died at his home in Archer, Fla., early Monday, according to his publicist, Susan Clary. The cause was heart failure.
In May 2007, he suffered a stroke during a performance in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Diddley scored only a few hits in more than 40 years of recording, yet his impact on the development of rock 'n' roll places him in a pantheon with Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The maracas-fuelled sound he introduced in 1955 on the song Bo Diddley evolved into what Rolling Stone magazine called "the most plagiarized rhythm of the 20th century."
According to reports, Diddley died June 2, 2008 of heart failure in his Archer, Florida home.
The beat - bomp a-bomp a-bomp bomp bomp - became the driving force on songs such as Holly's Not Fade Away (1957), which the Stones recorded and the Dead used in live shows for years; Johnny Otis's Willie and the Hand Jive (1958); the Strangeloves' I Want Candy (1965); The Who's Magic Bus (1968); the Stooges' 1969; Springsteen's She's the One (1975); and U2's Desire (1988).
The Stones' version of Not Fade Away in 1964 became their first top-10 hit in the United Kingdom and their first U.S. release. In its early days, the band often opened its shows with the number.
The distorted tremolo sound Diddley achieved on his guitar, which was souped up with electronic gadgets, expanded the instrument's range and influenced a generation of musicians such as Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds (which made Diddley's I'm a Man one of its show-stoppers), Keith Richards of the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and a legion of 1960s fuzz-tone garage rockers.
The man who would become Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates on Dec. 30, 1928 in McComb, Miss. His mother, who was about 15, asked her first cousin, Gussie McDaniel, to raise the child. Diddley never knew his father.
After Gussie McDaniel moved her family to Chicago in 1935, she changed the child's last name to Bates McDaniel. Ellas McDaniel attended public school, where he learned how to box. At one point, he dreamed of becoming a prizefighter.
He formed a band called the Hipsters, which played on street corners before landing a regular spot at a South Side juke joint called the 708 Club. He electrified his guitar using old radio parts and other gadgets, which created the famous vibrating tone.
He gave bandmate Jerome Green maracas he had jerry-built from the floating rubber balls found inside toilet tanks, filled with black-eyed peas.
In 1955, Diddley signed with Checkers, a subsidiary of Chess, the label that featured Chuck Berry. His debut single was the Bo Diddley, backed with I'm a Man.
The record, which topped the R&B charts for two weeks, is considered one of the cornerstones of rock music. It's one of the most influential two-sided singles ever.
After the Beatles led the British invasion, Diddley's popularity waned, though he continued to tour relentlessly for the next four decades. In 1966, he released the album The Originator.
In 1967, after moving to California, he made his debut at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, bringing his electrifying sound to the Summer of Love crowd.
Even though rock music changed, his influence never subsided. The Clash, the seminal British punk band, asked him to open for the group on its first major U.S. tour in 1979.
In 1982, Diddley was introduced to the MTV generation through the video of Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood and the Destroyers. He and Thorogood play a game of pool while billiards legend Willie Mosconi looks on.
In 1987, Diddley was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Two years later he appeared in a Nike commercial, telling baseball and football star Bo Jackson, "Bo, you don't know Diddley."
He was married four times, most recently in 1992 to Sylvia Paiz, according to the Internet Movie Database Web site. Three earlier marriages ended in divorce. He had four children.
He received a lifetime achievement award at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards in Los Angeles in 1996. He was also honored with a lifetime Grammy Award.