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.