Bo Diddley, R.I.P.

Some things are just more important than politics, and the death of Bo Diddley is one of them. Bo died today in Florida at age 79. Known as “The Originator,” he is arguably as important as Chuck Berry in transitioning the blues to rock’n’roll.

I saw Bo Diddley perform live on four different occasion, but none in the last 10 years or so. The first time was at Peabody’s in Cleveland during the summer of 1984. My friend Casey and I arrived early, which wasn’t really necessary because even a quarter century ago Bo was way past his career prime (although nowhere near past his performance prime). We were hanging out at the bar and it was empty except for one middle-aged black guy sitting at the other end, who turned out to be the man himself. It was one of only two times in my life I’ve asked a celebrity if I could pose for a picture with him. (Hunter Thompson was the other.)

Bo’s records are awesome, but he really excelled live. Even in his 50 and 60s, he was an energetic, dynamic entertainer, kicking his leg out while riffing on his square guitar. The really cool thing was Bo never traveled with a band. He would always just pick up a local bar band in whatever town he happened to be in to back him up. It wasn’t like Bo’s songs are particularly hard to learn, despite their brilliance. Still, I always got a kick out of watching Bo briefly stop a performance to teach the band a song they’d never heard before, and of course they’d all nail it less than a minute later.

Excuse me, I need to find a roadhouse.

3 comments for “Bo Diddley, R.I.P.

  1. June 2, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Bo diddley was truly a great guitar player. His Whoodoo you love song was very catchy, and I loved seeing him jump and dance around the stage. I will miss Bo Diddley, and I am deepley saddened to see such a great musician go.

  2. Andromeda International Records
    June 2, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Bo Diddley, like all great rock and roll legends, did not set out to be famous; unlike too many wannabes of today in an ill-fated American Idol period, Bo, an incredible musician and vocalist with an fantastic, no frills, ‘let’s get right down to business’ stage show, just made great records. The legendary Chess Records of Chicago knew this; label heads Leonard & Phil Chess captured Bo at what he did best, singing and playing his heart out. Bo’s early recordings for Chess Records on the Checker label had a distinctive sound, complimented by the musician’s unique playing style that simply could not be duplicated. You did not have to know the name of the song in order to tell that was THE Bo Diddley playing on the record—whether it be his, on the instrumental guitar battle duet lp with label mate Chuck Berry (Checker), or even the wonderful Latin-tinged, sweet guitar picking on the extremely rare 78 rpm “Billy’s Blues–Part One” (Argo) credited to another label mate, the immortal Billy Stewart—all of it was just Bo, just pure talent. As the music styles of the 50’s changed, so did Bo’s musicianship, which had never stopped growing. The 60’s found Bo still rocking but able to incorporate some R & B: check out his “Oh Baby (I Love You)” where he is joined with then future pop star, Minnie Riperton on background vocals. It is common folklore of how Bo Diddley influenced many guitar players, especially those coming from the British Invasion, which would all but kill classic artists of Bo’s era from TV, radio and records but, nonetheless, Bo pressed—and played—on, for decades, right up to the very end, Bo gave his audience everything he had in performance. Bo, as I gently lower the tone arm down right now on one of your great 78s, I know only your physical body left this plane. You will live on forever—-in our hearts. Play a little loud at that heavenly Bo Diddley concert so I can hear a little of it down here. My deepest love goes out to the Bo Diddley family—Mark Matlock/Andromeda International Records androintl@earthlink.net

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