In 2008, the world lost one of the innovators, if not one of the creators of rock ‘n’ roll. Bo Diddley. Diddley influenced everyone from Buddy Holly, to the Rolling Stones, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors.
Born December 30, 1928, as Ellas Otha Bates, he later recorded and wrote songs as Ellas McDaniel. Like many of the famous bluesmen he was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago as a child where, as a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, he learned to play the trombone and the violin. It wasn’t until he attended a local Pentecostal church that he learned to play the guitar and heard the throbbing beat that would become his trademark. After he saw John Lee Hooker playing, he was inspired to take up playing and by the time he was fifteen he had carved out a niche for himself playing on Maxwell street in Chicago. By the time he was twenty-three he had a regular spot at the 708 Club, and by the time he was twenty-five had started recording for Chess Records.
At Chess he took the name Bo Diddley. The name wasn’t meaningless, it could have been derived from a “Diddley bow” which was a stringed instrument of African origin, or more likely it came from the American slang “bo Diddley” meaning “absolutely nothing”. Could music and Bo Diddley been an early example of Jim Morrison’s “activities that seem to have no meaning?”
In 1955 Diddley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and instead of singing the Sullivan requested song Sixteen Tons, sang the song Bo Diddley drawing Sullivan’s ire. He was never asked to appear on the show again. Despite that, Diddley continued to record for Chess records, producing eleven albums between 1958 and 1963. As rock ‘n’ roll started to grow, Diddley was able to ‘crossover’ to white audiences and appeared in Alan Freed’s rock shows and started touring in England where the young Rolling Stones opened for him. He also encountered The Animals and they were moved to record The Story of Bo Diddley.
After rock ‘n’ roll became the dominant musical entertainment, Diddley appeared with the Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Sheryl Crow, and Robert Cray. He also appeared in the Blues Brothers movie as well as Trading Places.
The Doors covered many of their idols, including Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Diddley’s Who Do You Love? In fact, Who Do You Love? may be the first rock ‘n’ roll horror song with lyrics like “I walked forty-seven miles of barbed wire,” “used a cobra snake for a neck tie,” “got a brand new house on the roadside/made out of rattlesnake hide/I got a brand new chimney made on top/made of human skulls,” and a couple of lyrics that may have appealed to Jim Morrison: “I got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind/I’m twenty-two and I don’t mind dying.”
The Doors changed Who Do You Love? from the rollicking rocker that Diddley had made and turned it into a languid waltz through love. Diddley covered Love Her Madly for The Doors’ 2000 release Stoned Immaculate but it would have been more interesting if Diddley had covered The Doors’ cover of Who Do You Love?
Bo Diddley died of heart failure on June 2, 2008.
Note: This article was revised from last year’s and will appear in the forthcoming book “The Doors Examined” Coming in early 2013.
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