Bo Diddley was so important and influential to early rock ‘n’ roll music that The Animals covered his song ~ “The Story of Bo Diddley!”

Bo Diddley was a singer and guitarist who invented his own name, his own guitars, his own beat and, and with a handful of other musical pioneers, rock ’n’ roll itself. In the 1950s, as a founder of rock ’n’ roll, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and a few others reshaped the sound of popular music worldwide, building on the template of blues, Southern gospel, R&B and postwar American vernacular culture.

Bo Diddley included women in his band: Norma-Jean Wofford, also known as The Duchess; Gloria Jolivet; Peggy Jones, also known as Lady Bo, a lead guitarist (rare for a woman at that time); and Cornelia Redmond, also known as Cookie V.

His original style of rhythm and blues influenced generations of musicians. And his Bo Diddley syncopated beat three strokes / rest / two strokes became a stock rhythm of rock ’n’ roll. It can be found in Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” Johnny Otis’s “Willie and the Hand Jive,” the Who’s “Magic Bus,” Bruce Springsteen’s “She’s the One” among hundreds of other songs.

Yet the rhythm was only one element of his best records. In songs like “Bo Diddley,” “Who Do You Love,” “Mona,” “Crackin’ Up,” “Say, Man,” “Ride On Josephine” and “Road Runner,” his booming voice was loaded up with echo and his guitar work came with distortion and a novel bubbling tremolo. The songs were knowing, wisecracking and full of slang, mother wit and sexual cockiness. They were both playful and radical.

So were his live performances: trancelike ruckuses instigated by a large man with a strange-looking guitar. It was square and he designed it himself, long before custom guitar shapes became commonplace in rock. Mr. Diddley was a wild performer~ jumping, lurching, balancing on his toes and shaking his knees as he wrestled with his instrument, sometimes playing it above his head. Elvis Presley, it has long been supposed, borrowed from Mr. Diddley’s stage moves; Jimi Hendrix, too.

Still, for all his fame, Mr. Diddley felt that his standing as a father of rock ’n’ roll was never properly acknowledged. It frustrated him that he could never earn royalties from the songs of others who had borrowed his beat. 

Joe Strummer of The Clash, holding a picture of his rock ‘n’ roll idol, Bo Diddley.

“I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob,” he told The New York Times in 2003.

He was a hero to those who had learned from him, including the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. A generation later, he became a model of originality to punk or post-punk bands like the Clash and the Fall.

(L-R) Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon of The Clash with Bo Diddley in Cleveland, OH. 1979 © Bob Gruen

In 1979 Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of the Clash asked that Mr. Diddley open for them on the band’s first American tour. “I can’t look at him without my mouth falling open,” Mr. Strummer, star-struck, said during the tour.

For his part Mr. 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 R. 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!”

SOURCE: Bo Diddley, Who Gave Rock His Beat, The New York Times

Don’t miss this epic video of Bo Diddley on The David Letterman Show, 1986.

Bo Diddley playing guitar at his home in Archer, FL. March 1980. © Bob Gruen