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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Eulogy for Bo Diddley

For the last 10 years or so I have had two posters in my office, one obviously a full theater bill of John Astin as Edgar Allen Poe the other a pullout from a box set my wife bought me of Bo Diddley. Bo Diddley born as Ellas Otha Bates in McComb Missisippi, raised as Ellas McDaniel, in Chicago (attending Foster Vocational School), was a violinist who took up with a square guitar (a Gretsch named "the twang machine"), square glasses, no chord changes, a female bassist named the Duchess, and a formative rock beat borrowed from big bands, Gene Autry, and a freight train with an extra wheel.

I had listened to Bo Diddley since discovering the Oldies Station KXOK in St. Louis in 1978 or so (when Bo Diddley was touring with The Clash), and noticed that most songs kind of sounded alike. Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Beach Boys all derived a good portion (in the Rolling Stones case, the best portion) of their music from Bo Diddley. Never getting as much airplay as his Chess labelmate Chuck Berry, or a following among the hipsters as Howling Wolf or Muddy Waters, Bo settled on showmanship and touring, giving the audience some song and footwork unexpected from a man built more like a linebacker than a ballet dancer.

I purchased Bo Diddley's Greatest Hits on Chess in 1983 which was short, to the point, and full of rock-and-roll. It was after hearing the punk anthem "Pills" on the B-Side of the album that I put it all together. The New York Dolls and David Johannsen had been singing "Pills" in concert for years, and it sounded about like the rest of the anti-Journey repertoire, except that it was good natured rather than snarling. Figuring out that this was a Bo Diddley composition, and not some punk, I was sold. Bo Diddley was timeless.

Bo played the hambone guitar 55 different ways on the Chess Box set, which my wife purchased for me as a Christmas gift in 1999 or so. It is a really good album, fairly close to comprehensive, and I challenge you to not to dance while listening to You Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover. The album also explains the mysterious name Jerome, which has been assigned to many comedy bits over the years by Bo Diddley (and myself).

Stil working till he was nearly 80 years old, doing a famous Nike commercial with Bo Jackson from pro-sports, and touring with Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, covered by everyone from Paul McCartney to Tom Petty to the Jesus and Mary Chain, Bo was also one of the most tributed (i.e. ripped off) artists in rock history, with a brief summary here

Including Elvis Presley ("His Latest Flame"); Bruce Springsteen ("She's The One"); U2 ("Desire"); The Smiths ("How Soon Is Now?"); Roxette ("Harleys And Indians (Riders In The Sky)"); Dee Clark, a former member of the Hambone Kids (see above) ("Hey Little Girl"); Johnny Otis ("Willie and the Hand Jive"); George Michael ("Faith"); Normaal ("Kearl van stoahl"); The Strangeloves ("I Want Candy"); Ace Frehley ("New York Groove"); Primal Scream ("Movin' on up"); David Bowie ("Panic in Detroit"); The Pretenders ("Cuban Slide"); The Police ("Deathwish"); Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders ("The Game of Love"); The Supremes ("When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes"); Jefferson Airplane ("She Has Funny Cars"); The White Stripes ("Screwdriver"); The Byrds ("Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe"); Tiny Letters ("Song For Jerome Green") and The Stooges ("1969"). The early Rolling Stones sound was strongly associated with their versions of "Not Fade Away" and "I Need You Baby (Mona)". Especially, The Who's "Magic Bus"

all based upon the distinctive "Bo Diddley Beat".

Bo Diddley has died at age 79 after a short illness. Here's a 1972 bust up with Bo Diddley doing the greatest hit "RoadRunner"

Go Bo Diddley!


Anonymous said...

Help us out here Mr. Mod; why is it obviuos that you have a John Astin poster in your office? Does it help you with your naps?



JBP said...


Perhaps you missed Metropolitan Homes special issue on "Home Office Shrines to John Astin" which featured my lair.


Anonymous said...

Better question - what is the business need for the Mod's "office?"

Is there an upstart Rummage Sale business that I'm unaware of?

JBP said...

I need the office to display my John Astin and Bo Diddley memorabilia.


Anonymous said...

Men of power need an office.

I checked out the WOF. Kind of interesting.


Anonymous said...

Good one EEP!!

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