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Bo Diddley

Second only, in order of importance and influence, to his great rival CHUCK BERRY, 50s rhythm & blues guitarist/singer BO DIDDLEY plugged in and amplified a distinctive sound – a sound that would resonate with movers and shakers from the British Invasion, garage-rock and beyond; The ROLLING STONES, MANFRED MANN, YARDBIRDS, The ANIMALS, The PRETTY THINGS, The DOORS, QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, WILKO JOHNSON, STRAY CATS et al, owe him a massive debt. Others too, would uncoil from the hypnotic rhythms on a string of genre-defining classics: `Bo Diddley’, `I’m A Man’, `Pretty Thing’, `Bring It To Jerome’, `Diddy Wah Diddy’, `Who Do You Love?’ and `Road Runner’ – none of them major hits!
Born Ellas Otha Bates, December 30, 1928, McComb, Mississippi, as a toddler he was given the surname, McDaniel, after he was adopted by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel. Inspired himself by Chicago/Delta blues exponents, MUDDY WATERS, WILLIE DIXON, JOHN LEE HOOKER, ELMORE JAMES, the young Bo put together his first backing band, which comprised tartan-clad BILLY BOY ARNOLD (a harmonica-player in his own right), bassist Jerome Green, drummer Frank Kirkland and guest pianist OTIS SPANN.
In the early 50s, BO DIDDLEY – nicknamed after a one-stringed African guitar – gave up a promising boxing career, relocating in 1955 from Chicago street busking to sign for Chess subsidiary Checker Records. His aforementioned debut recording, the eponymous `Bo Diddley’ (twinned with `I’m A Man’), sold well enough in R&B circles to give him his first break later in the year on the Ed Sullivan Show. Its flip side also became a standard for many 60s beat combos (see prior list), and although DIDDLEY initially failed to seal a Billboard Hot 100 hit, the bulk of his output was later embraced by countless rock acts. Note that the man’s debut LP, BO DIDDLEY (1958) {*9} was a compendium of his best bits up to that point: the previously-mentioned debut, the derivative `Diddley Daddy’, the double-A `Pretty Thing’ & `Bring It To Jerome’, `Diddy Wah Diddy’ (later covered by CAPTAIN BEEFHEART), `Who Do You Love?’, `Say! (Boss Man)’ and his un-PC, `Hush Your Mouth’.
Bo’s umpteenth attempts at commercial success (on the back of `I’m Sorry’ and `Willie And Lillie’) was finally rewarded with a belated minor hit 45, `Crackin’ Up’, in the summer of ‘59. This underplayed platter was almost immediately traced by an even bigger hit (Top 20), `Say Man’ (another from GO BO DIDDLEY (1959) {*7}), that saw the star flaunt his quick-witted humour in a taunting, trade-off match with maracas man, Jerome. DIDDLEY daddy continued in the same fashion throughout the early 60s, securing further low-key gems by way of `Road Runner’ and the Top 50, `You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’; the momentum of the British beat boom saw off a run of BD long-players (HAVE GUITAR, WILL TRAVEL (1961) {*7}, IN THE SPOTLIGHT (1960) {*7}, BO DIDDLEY is a GUNSLINGER (1961) {*7}, BO DIDDLEY IS A… LOVER (1961) {*7}, BO DIDDLEY’S A TWISTER (1962) {*5}, another but different BO DIDDLEY (1962) {*6}, the shared SURFIN’ WITH BO DIDDLEY (1963) {*3} and BO DIDDLEY & COMPANY (1963) {*7}.
His fourth album to grace the UK Top 20 in only a matter of a few months, the live BO DIDDLEY’S BEACH PARTY (1963) {*7}, surfaced as the dying embers of rock’n’roll had been towel-dried for a new craze. This period, a period that also saw his work with CHUCK BERRY on TWO GREAT GUITARS (1964) {*6}, represented the pinnacle of his career as the British Invasion bands took the limelight. As a result, DIDDLEY and his ilk were consigned to the margins. Save for a lone UK Top 40 excursion with `Hey Good Lookin’’ (from the album HEY! GOOD LOOKIN’ (1965) {*4}, DIDDLEY had to settle for limited airplay on the likes of 500% MORE MAN (1965) {*6} – UK title LET ME PASS, and the retro-collaborative SUPER BLUES (1967) {*6} – alongside heroes MUDDY WATERS and LITTLE WALTER – and THE SUPER SUPER BLUES BAND (1968) {*6} with WATERS again and HOWLIN’ WOLF.
1970’s solo THE BLACK GLADIATOR {*6} was bluesy Bo’s first tentative steps into heavy funk and, aged 41, the psychedelic beast that had awoken an “electric” MUDDY WATERS and HOWLIN’ WOLF seemed to fit the groove machine for the Bobby Alexis/Kay McDaniel & Cornelia Redmond-penned cuts `Elephant Man’, `Funky Fly’ and the “I’m A Man”-cloned `Power House’ and `Shut Up, Woman’.
In ANOTHER DIMENSION (1971) {*6} and WHERE IT ALL BEGAN (1972) {*5}, DIDDLEY made a valiant effort to push out the envelope, although the first of these was swamped by no less than three CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL cuts in `Bad Moon Rising’, `Down On The Corner’ and `Lodi’, plus an AL KOOPER number `I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ and The BAND’s `The Shape I’m In’. With soul in heart and R&B just a backdrop, the latter set was presented by producers JOHNNY OTIS and Pete Welding.
Once again, trailing in the shadows of WATERS, WOLF and BERRY, Chess Records sent Bo from downtown Chicago to England, where the finishing touches were applied to THE LONDON BO DIDDLEY SESSIONS (1973) {*5}; ROY WOOD, Phil Upchurch, Eddie Hardin, Ray Fenwick and others were on hand to smooth out the rough patches.
The tempered, post-Blaxploitation of the bluesy jazz-fuelled BIG BAD BO (1974) {*5}, was DIDDLEY’s final bow to Chess, but with only 7 cues clocking in at just over half-an-hour (highlights from ODETTA’s `Hit Or Miss’ and VAN MORRISON’s `I’ve Been Workin’’), his revival was a long way off. Surely this was the paramount aim of RCA Victor, who released his live all-star LP, THE 20th ANNIVERSARY OF ROCK’N’ROLL (1976) {*6}. Featuring acolytes ALVIN LEE, JOE COCKER, BILLY JOEL, KEITH MOON, LESLIE WEST, ROGER McGUINN, Tim Bogert, Carmine Appice and many more, he applied himself to turn over a version of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Not Fade Away’ (a platter inspired by the song `Bo Diddley’) and a 17-minute “hits” medley `Bo Diddley Jam’.
The guitar legend was then a support-slot guest of The CLASH on their 1979 “London Calling” tour, while a cameo role as a pawnbroker in 1983’s Trading Places movie sparked a second look and a little curiosity for the retro-fied AIN’T IT GOOD TO BE FREE (1983) {*4}. Following on from his collaborative part in The Gunslingers (alongside RONNIE WOOD); they released the `Live At The Ritz’ (1988), Triple X Records gave the veteran multiple chances to get back on track with BREAKIN’ THROUGH THE B.S. (1989) {*4}, THIS SHOULD NOT BE (1992) {*3}, LIVE (1994) {*3} and the mini-set PROMISES (1994) {*3}. Thankfully, a career-enhancing farewell of sorts for Atlantic Records, A MAN AMONGST MEN (1996) {*6}, was just what the doctor ordered; fans such as RICHIE SAMBORA, JOHNNY “GUITAR” WATSON, Jimmie Vaughan, KEITH RICHARDS and the aforesaid RON WOOD (The SHIRELLES as backing group), melding with one of the blues and rock’n’roll’s giants. Bo died on June 2, 2008.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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