"Michael Philip Jagger regularly petitioned Pye to release more Bo Diddley records. The stuttering beat spoke of sex the instant it started a little dance in my heart" – Andrew Loog Oldham.
He was born Elias Bates McDaniels on a Delta farm. Brought up in Chicago, having been adopted by his Mother's cousin, his main interest was boxing, which is how he got his nickname. Like most black children of his era, he was well versed in gospel and church music; unlike most, he took violin lessons and studied classical music.
Diddley shifted gears after hearing John Lee Hooker. In the early '50s, he began playing with his longtime partner, maraca player Jerome Green, to get what Bo's called "that freight train sound." Billy Boy Arnold, a fine blues harmonica player and singer in his own right, was also playing with Diddley when the guitarist got a deal with Chess subsidiary Checker in the mid-'50s (after being turned down by rival Chicago label Vee-Jay). His very first single, 'Bo Diddley/I'm a Man' (1955) was a double-sided monster. The A-side was soaked with futuristic waves of tremolo guitar, set to an ageless nursery rhyme; the flip was a bump-and-grind, harmonica-driven shuffle, based around a devastating blues riff. But the result was not exactly blues, or even straight R&B, but a new kind of guitar-based rock & roll, soaked in the blues and R&B but owing allegiance to neither.
The single topped the R&B charts, establishing his reputation. Diddley stayed with Checker for the rest of the 50s and early 60s and had a string of R&B chart hits. He recorded other "classic" sides during this period including, 'Who Do You Love' (1956), 'Hey Bo Diddley' (1957) and 'Mona (I Need You Baby)' (1957). In 1958, 'Say Man' crossed over and got to No.20 in US Hot 100, in 1962, a version of Willie Dixon's 'You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover' made No.48 in the Hot 100.
By 1958, Diddley had moved to Washington and started touring with rock 'n' roll package tours. His records became blues influenced, but like Chuck Berry he was a potent mix of blues, rock and R&B. His appeal in America was on the wane after 1962, but in Britain he had a hit with 'Pretty Thing' (the inspiration for naming the South London band) in 1963 and 'Hey Good Lookin'' in 1965. The Rolling Stones played plenty of Bo Diddley in those early days including, 'Crawdaddy','Nursery Rhyme', 'Road Runner', 'Mona' and 'Bo Diddley'.
"Bo Diddley is my onstage character. I'm still Ellas, a laidback kind of guy to myself. If you're not crazy on stage, people say you're lazy" – Bo Diddley.
He may only have had a few hits, but as Bo Diddley sang 'You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover' - you can't judge an artist by his chart success either, and Diddley produced greater and more influential music than all but a handful of the best early rockers. The Bo Diddley beat (bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp) is one of rock & roll's bedrock rhythms, showing up in the work of Buddy Holly, The Rolling Stones, and even pop-garage knock-offs like the Strangeloves' 1965 hit 'I Want Candy'. Diddley's hypnotic rhythmic attack and declamatory, boasting vocals stretched back as far as Africa for their roots and looked as far into the future as rap. His trademark otherworldly vibrating, fuzzy guitar style did much to expand the instrument's power and range. But even more important, Bo's bounce was fun and irresistibly rocking, with a wisecracking, jiving tone, that epitomized rock & roll at its most humorously outlandish and freewheeling.
Diddley was never a top seller of the order of his Chess rival Chuck Berry, but over the next half-dozen or so years, he produced a catalog of classics that rival Berry's in quality. 'You Don't Love Me', 'Diddley Daddy', 'Pretty Thing', 'Diddy Wah Diddy', 'Who Do You Love?', 'Mona', 'Road Runner', 'You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover' - all are stone-cold standards of early, riff-driven rock & roll at its funkiest. Oddly enough, his only Top 20 pop hit was an atypical, absurd back-and-forth rap between him and Jerome Green, 'Say Man', that came about almost by accident as the pair were fooling around in the studio.
As a live performer, Diddley was galvanizing, using his trademark square guitars and distorted amplification to produce new sounds which anticipated the innovations of '60s guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. In Great Britain, he was revered as a giant on the order of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. The Rolling Stones in particular, borrowed a lot from Bo's rhythms and attitude in their early days, although they only officially covered a couple of his tunes, 'Mona' and 'I'm Alright'. Other British R&B groups like The Yardbirds, The Animals, and Pretty Things also covered Diddley standards in their early days. Buddy Holly covered 'Bo Diddley' and used a modified Bo Diddley beat on 'Not Fade Away'; when the Stones gave the song the full-on Bo treatment (complete with shaking maracas), the result was their first big British hit.
The British Invasion helped increase the public's awareness of Diddley's importance and ever since then he's been a popular live act. Sadly though, his career as a recording artist, in commercial and artistic terms was over by the time the Beatles and Stones hit America. He would record with ongoing and declining frequency, but after 1963 he never wrote or recorded original material on par with his early classics. Whether he'd spent his muse, or just felt he could coast on his laurels is hard to say. But he remains a vital part of the collective rock & roll consciousness and occasionally reached wider visibility; via a 1979 tour with the Clash, a cameo role in the film Trading Places, a late-'80s tour with Ronnie Wood, and a 1989 television commercial for sports shoes with star athlete Bo Jackson.
For those who can't get enough of the now famous beat. There's plenty here and maybe for those who want to draw the direct link from some of Bo's guitar duels w/ fellow gunslinger Peggy Jones (see "Mumblin' Guitar" from v.2 "Roadrunner..." comp. and you'll swear you were listening to the Velvet Underground live in 69). What's surprising here is the number of good pop songs (not to mention the straight blues songs: "Look at My Baby"), including doo wop--Bo could sing and was correct in voicing his opinion that he never received his due. I count 21 great tracks in this the first volume, "I'm a Man: The Chess Masters....However, I count 20 great cuts from the third volume, "Ride On: The Chess Masters..., and a mere 13 from the second volume, "Roadrunner: The Chess Masters....The percussive, rhythmic influence are astounding. Here is a list of tunes not to miss from the 3 volumes(and note, I did not include the more obvious hits): Spanish Guitar, Bring It to Jerome, Hush Your Mouth, I Love You So, Crackin' Up, Scuttle Bug, Gun Slinger, Hey, Hey (What Are You Going To Do?), All Together, Mess Around, Doodlin', Is A Lover, Congo, Mama Mia, Mumblin' Guitar, I Love You So, Gonna Tell It Like It Is, Cadillac, Limbo, Let Me In, Little Girl, You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care), She's Fine, She's Mine, I'm Looking for a Woman, I'm Bad, Say Boss Man, Bo's Guitar, Willie and Lillie, Live My Life, Walkin' And Talkin', Mule Train, Say You Will, Somewhere , Huckleberry Bush, Shank, Love Is A Secret, Come On Baby, Nursery Rhyme, The Story Of Bo Diddley, Spend My Life With You, Willie Fell In Love, Look At My Baby, I Love You So, Crackin' Up, Willie Fell In Love, Look At My Baby.
Words: Tiny tunes
Back in the late '80s, when the CD boom was on and people were busy feeding their new machines like the discs would disappear, MCA Records lavished some attention on the Bo Diddley catalog, putting out a few reissues of his earliest albums, a couple of hits compilations, and one flawed if well-intended box set -- and that was it. Across the nearly two decades since, labels have seemingly assumed that Bo Diddley doesn't sell, apparently unwilling to test the hypothesis that if they would stop merely reissuing the same 14 songs and dug a little deeper, he might sell. That's exactly what the European division of MCA has finally done with this 54-song collection, which manages to overlap the Diddley Chess Box volume and still deliver a brace of previously unanthologized songs by the rock & roll legend. The Chess Box still has more rarities and outtakes, but this set does finally throw the biggest no-brainer of Bo Diddley's entire catalog into the mix -- "Here 'Tis," which was never a hit for him but, thanks to its being covered by the Yardbirds on Five Live Yardbirds, is probably known by about a million Eric Clapton fans. That, plus pieces like "Willie and Lillie," the "I'm a Man" follow-up "I'm Bad" and other usually ignored '50s-era tracks, and recordings as late as 1970's "Elephant Man," helps to make this one of the most comprehensive looks at his career, as well as lots of fun -- and for just plain fun, it's hard to beat the rapping 1963-vintage "Bo Diddley's a Lumber Jack" or the girl group-accompanied "We're Gonna Get Married" from three years later. There's also a good biographical essay in the accompanying booklet by producer/compiler Peter Doggett, who has done a generally excellent job here -- even the sound is state of the art by 2006 standards, something that one can't say at all about the Chess Box or other 1980s/1990s releases from this library. The only complaint one might reasonably have is the scattershot nature of the programming -- the tracks aren't remotely in chronological order and freely jump across 15 years of musical styles and history from one to another. But it's still the most ambitious legitimate release on Bo Diddley in at least 15 years, and a prime addition to his library, even if it had to come out of Europe in order to get produced.
Words: Bruce Eder
This cd has the essential Bo Diddley Chess sides such as Bo Diddley, I'm a Roadrunner, Who Do You Love, and You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover. For half the price if the other MCA compilation and only 8 songs less, this is the better value. Excellent Bo Diddley Chess set.
With Bo Diddley's various hits and anthology packages all out of print and the multi-disc deluxe box set out of pocketbook reach for most casual consumers, MCA finally comes up with a 20-track compilation that hits the bull's-eye and makes this rock pioneer's best and most influential work available to everyone. The song list reads like a primer for '60s British R&B and '90s blues bands: "Bo Diddley," "I'm a Man," "Diddley Daddy," "Pretty Thing," "Before You Accuse Me," "Hey! Bo Diddley," "Who Do You Love," "Mona," and "Roadrunner" are the tracks that made the legend and put his sound on the map worldwide. The transfers used on this set are exemplary, the majority of them utilizing masters that have a few extra seconds (or more) appended to the fades, which will cause even hardliners to hear these old standards with fresh ears; especially revelatory are the "long versions" of "I Can Tell" and "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." If the box set is too big a trigger to pull and you want all of Bo's influential sides in one package, this one should be first-stop shopping of the highest priority.
Words: Cub Koda
Cut by Bo Diddley and company at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on July 5 and 6, 1963. This album contains 30-plus minutes of the best live rock & roll ever issued on record: Diddley and company are "on" from the get-go, a killer instrumental erroneously credited as Chuck Berry's "Memphis" (which it ain't) that's a showcase for Diddley's attack on his instrument and a crunching assault by the rest of the band (all in that shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits beat), cymbals on top of an overloaded bass, and what sounds like every rhythm guitar in the world grinding away. And even that instrumental seems to "talk" to the audience, telling a story; once Diddley's voice comes in on "Gunslinger," the picture is complete, and perfection is achieved on the frantic, gyrating "Hey, Bo Diddley." The crowd is driven to an audible frenzy as the thundering band crunches in time to Diddley's sometimes shrieking punctuation around his rhymes. Some repertory here may elude modern listeners; this was a dance, and any tune that could be turned into one was fair game, even "On Top of Old Smokey" as a slow number, which leads into the frenetic "Bo Diddley's Dog." Diddley does even better adapting the Larry Verne novelty tune "Mr. Custer," making it his own, and has some fun on "Bo Waltz" before switching gears to the softer, ballad-like "What's Buggin' You," all of that leading to a roaring finale on "Road Runner." Diddley and the band show off most of their bag of tricks amid the man's joyous, buoyant laughter. Apparently, the shows weren't entirely a laughing matter: the police threatened to arrest the band when Jerome Green leaped into the audience with his maracas waving and the female members surrounded him; this all happening in the still-segregated south of 1963 (and wouldn't a film of the whole show be a treasure today?) Mishaps, provocations, and non-musical spontaneity aside, this is some of the loudest, raunchiest, guitar-based rock & roll ever preserved for public consumption, and it captures some priceless moments: "I'm All Right," which was the original side two opener, was lifted wholesale by the Rolling Stones for their live sets, from 1964 until as late as the end of 1966; but the whole approach to music-making here lay at the core of practically every note of music that the Stones recorded or performed for the first three years of their history; indeed, no Stones collection is truly complete without this record attached to it. This album was a rare listening treat until Hip-O Select reissued it. Finding the LP usually required visits to lots of record shops, and copies in mono, and in good condition, were even tougher to come by. The CD finally came into print in 2011, and is a lot easier to share, even if it isn't as cool as the LP.
Words: Bruce Eder