1979, Cleveland — Bo Diddley opened for The Clash on their US tour — Image by © Bob Gruen. In 1979, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of the Clash asked that Diddley open for them on the band’s first American tour. “I can’t look at him without my mouth falling open,” Strummer, starstruck, told a journalist during the tour. For his part, Diddley had no misgivings about facing a skeptical audience. “You cannot say what people are gonna like or not gonna like,” he explained later to the biographer George White. “You have to stick it out there and find out! If they taste it, and they like the way it tastes, you can bet they’ll eat some of it!” via
The Clash where huge fans of Bo Diddley, as many of the formative British bands (and American too) of the ’60s and ’70s were– The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, and many more. Bo Diddley joined The Clash as their opening act on their 1979 US Tour– opening up a radical, young, new crowd to the sound of the man many consider to be one of the most important pioneers of American Rock & Roll music. Bo Diddley himself made no bones about stating that HE was THE beginning of Rock & Roll. Bo Diddley not only influenced sound– he also influenced the attitude, energy, and look of Rock & Roll for decades to come. Look at the pics here, I see the bold plaids that Diddley and other Rockers of the ’50s wore (Plaid was for hipsters, not squares, in the ’50s..), that emerged again strongly in the ’70s through the Sex Pistols (great credit due to Vivienne Westwood), The Clash and others. You can also see and hear where Jack Black got the lion’s share of his game from– no doubt Bo Diddley. The man is a legend and has never gotten his due, and the due that came, came too late. He had a well-earned chip on his shoulder, and even insisted The Clash pay him upfront, as he’d been screwed over so many times before.
“I was the cat that went and opened the door, and everyone else ran through it. And I said– what the heck, you know? …I was left holding the doorknob” –Bo Diddley
ca. 1950s — Norma Jean “The Duchess” Wofford in white blouse, Jerome Green squatting in front with maracas, and Bo Diddley with his signature rectangular Gretsch guitar. Bo and his crew were the badasses of their generation, just as The Clash were in theirs. — Image by © Michael Ochs
“If you can play– all you need is one amp, your axe, and you. “ –Bo Diddley explaining his feelings about The Clash’s monstrous wall of sound during their 1979 US tour.
1979, Cleveland — Bo Diddley opened for The Clash on their 1979 US tour. I love seeing Mick Jones in his red tartan plaid shirt, and then looking down at the photo of Bo Diddley and crew rocking them back in the ’50s, and looking extremely badass. — Image by © Bob Gruen
ca. 1950s, New York — Bo Diddley, Jerome Green on left playing maracas. — Image by © Michael Ochs. Back in the 1950s, plaids like this may have been accepted among the Hipsters, but it was a different story in Middle America where it was still thought of it as the fabric of a counter culture movement– outlaw fashion. via
“This group the Sex Pistols pukes onstage? I don’t necessarily like that. That’s not showmanship… They gotta get themselves an act.” –Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley opened for The Clash in 1979 on their US tour, here on their bus. — Image by © Bob Gruen
So how did Bo reflect back upon his 1979 US tour with The Clash? I think he summed it up pretty well when he stated that, “Every generation has its own little bag of tricks…” Watch the video below–
No mention of Bo Diddley would be complete with a nod to The Duchess—
Born Norma-Jean Wofford in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she began her career in 1962. After the departure of his first female guitarist, Peggy “Lady Bo” Jones, wherever Bo Diddley played, he would hear discontented whispers in the audience– “Where’s the girl? Where’s the girl? That’s when I got The Duchess,” he told his biographer. “I taught her how to play guitar, and then I taught her how to play my thing, you know. Then, after I hired her in the group, I named her The Duchess, and I says, ‘I’m gonna tell everybody we’re sister and brother.’ Part of the reason I decided to go with that little lie was that it put me in a better position to protect her when we were on the road.” via
Lending her inimitable style to the grooves (and sleeves) of 1962’s “Bo Diddley & Company” and 1963’s “Bo Diddley’s Beach Party” albums, she accompanied him on his first tour of England that same year, where her guitar prowess created a stir equalled only by that of her skin-tight gold lamé cat suit. Asked by one dauntless investigator how she managed to get into it, Norma-Jean responded by pulling out an over-sized shoehorn. Eric Burdon later immortalised her in the Animals’ “Story Of Bo Diddley”. via
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Superb post. Bo had a sound and style like no one else. I’m not a big Clash fan but must give them props for hiring Bo to open. And also New Orleans r&b legend Lee Dorsey – got any shots of Lee for a future post?
I saw Bo Diddley the second time I went to the Fillmore Auditorium in 1967. My friends dragged me: I had no interest in anything but British pop and West Coast acid rock, for lack of a better term. He was opening for Quicksilver. We got right up to the front of the stage. His band was so tight, unbelievable. The bass player had a pompadour, the female backup singers were wearing stylish dresses and moved in unison. It was the first time I ever heard a wah-wah pedal. He was playing his square guitar.
But what I remember the most was a point at mid-set where the band went into an instrumental break and hit a monster groove that seemed to go on forever, no singing, just groove. Every hippie in the place was swept away in an incredible communion, dancing with absolute and complete abandon. After a time, I have no idea how long, Bo Diddley stepped up to his microphone and , looking out over the ecstatic crowd, exclaimed, in that amazing baritone of his,”Yeah!”
The hall erupted with deafening cheering and screaming. Pandemonium of the best kind. And the band kept playing and everyone kept dancing. I wish I could describe it better.
Needless to say, that moment is seared in my memory.
Bill Graham may have been a combative SOB, but he brought many kids to music they would never had paid to see were it not for the shared billing. Some of the combinations were truly bizarre – Weather Report and ZZ Top or Ten Years After and Frank Zappa. I can say that my music collection is much more eclectic 45 years later because he exposed me to genres that never occurred to me. I would guess that this adventurousness inspired the Clash to get Bo. We’re all better for it, too. Thanks again, JP.
I grew up in the ” Clash Era” 80’s and always was an avid Bo Diddley fan. Hollow resonating guitar, maracas and a hypnotic tom tom drums was the background music score of my life at that time.
Great post. It seems like The Clash was always pushing its audience to listening to sounds and artists that they wouldn’t normally come across; covering Police and Thieves, touring with Bo Diddley, and introducing Grand Master Flash to an (unreceptive) new audience during their Sandanista run in NYC.
Bo rocks. I think he’s plenty underrated.