Bo Diddley was a rock and roll pioneer. Called, by some, The Originator, he brought an aggression and raw earthiness to rock, building the bridge between blues and rock, and creating a sound so unique to him that it will forever be known as the Bo Diddley beat. He wasn’t singing about cars and school like Chuck Berry and he wasn’t singing New Orleans standards like Fats Domino, he was paving a different path and bringing a grittier, more adult, sound to rock and roll.
People that listen to the Rolling Stones may dig deeper to discover Bo Diddley and then dig deeper to find Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker. Bo Diddley is an access point to the early blues legends whose scratchy records and simple production value are far from mainstream in today’s over-condensed, over-polished music scene and he’s also an access point for those fans of Muddy Waters to get into the Stones or Led Zeppelin. Very few artists can so effortlessly straddle the line of two genres like Bo Diddley could.
The Bo Diddley beat, as it is credited now, was nothing new when he began recording in the 1950’s. There are several blues records that predate his use but feature that signature beat and it features heavily in Latin music where it is known as a 3-2 Clave pattern and in New Orleans as a second-line groove but what Bo Diddley did that made it unique was the frenetic, muted strumming between the accents. Constantly subdividing the beat between the bom —bom—bom—bombom pattern adds to the urgency and forward motion of the music. If you were playing Latin music, there would be no subdividing of this nature between the clave pattern and, thus, the Bo Diddley sound is born.
More from Stairway to 11
That sound and groove can still be heard today in countless hip hop songs, Latin crossovers, rock and roll and blues and was made, possibly, most famous by a heavily Bo Diddley influenced guitar player by the name of George Thoroughgood.
Bo Diddley was not only a pioneer in rock rhythm guitar playing but also in gender integration. Diddley almost always had a female guitarist in his band, often covering backup singing duties as well, which was all but unheard of in the 1960’s. Eventually the female guitarist would take a larger role within the band when “Lady Bo”, Peggy Jones, was hired as a lead guitarist, still rare for the time. With Lady Bo, Bo Diddley toured the world and enjoyed the fruits of his earlier success by playing to adoring crowds throughout the world.
Ever the bad boy, and often one to write the narrative of his own legend, Bo Diddley was banned from the Ed Sullivan show when, in 1955, he played two songs on stage, neither of which were the one single song he was requested to play. And, here’s a bit of trivia for your next cocktail party; the song Love Is Strange, which features prominently in the classic chick flick Dirty Dancing, was written by Bo Diddley and his guitarist Jody Williams.
Had there never been a Bo Diddley, rock would have still gone on but it certainly wouldn’t have been as much fun. Enjoy this concert footage, filmed for television, of Bo Diddley with Lady Bo and an incredibly gifted and handsome bass player. If you can’t hear how Bo Diddley shaped rock music from this concert, you don’t understand rock music.