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RIP Bo Diddley -- Rock and Roll Pioneer Goes Home

Black America Web.com, News Report, Monica Lewis Posted: Jun 03, 2008

Bo Diddley, the pioneering guitarist credited as a founding father of rock and roll music, died of heart failure Monday at his home in Archer, Florida. Diddley, who had suffered a series of health setbacks in recent months, was 79.

Last August, Diddley had a heart attack. Three months later, while on tour in Iowa, he had a stroke, which affected his ability to speak. A spokeswoman said he had returned to Florida for rehabilitation.

Diddleys career spanned six decades and produced more than 30 albums. Always seen with his trademark rectangle cigar box guitar, black hat and black sunglasses, Diddley even created the Bo Diddley beat, a rumba-like sound similar to the famed hambone, a style used by performers playing beats by slapping their arms legs and chests.

Ive always felt that Bo Diddley was a groundbreaker and an innovator, music critic Lonzo Williams told BlackAmericaWeb.com Monday. Williams is founder of the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame and Edutainment Center, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles created to educate and groom youth aspiring for careers in the entertainment industry.

It was guys like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Johnny Otis that did things in their eras that will never be matched, Williams added. Here we are 50 and 60 years later, and people are still appreciating what a man like Bo Diddley did.

A 1987 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Diddleys career was celebrated by people from all walks of life. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, in 1999 he received the Lifetime Achievement honor at the Grammy Awards. He also performed for heads of state, playing his classic sound for Presidents Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush.

Diddleys most notable songs include Say Man, Pretty Thing, Road Runner, and You Dont Love Me.

Mark Clague, Ph.D., an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, said Diddleys impact can be felt in a variety of musical genres, including Rock & Roll, blues, folk and jazz.

He really cant be boxed into one type of music, Clague told BlackAmericaWeb.com. He is definitely an icon who had his own sort of sound.

Clague added that Diddleys sound could be considered a forerunner to rap, with his catchy wordplay.

Diddleys songs tended to be a series of clever phrases, Clague said, pointing to a song like Who Do You Love? as an example of a rap-like song. In a lot of rap, theres a sense of masculinity, male power and sexual prowess that can also be found in Diddleys music.

Born Ellas Bates on Dec. 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, Diddley was eventually adopted by his mothers cousin and took the name Ellis McDaniel. By the time, he was five, his family had moved to Chicago where Diddley learned to play the violin at Ebenezer Baptist Church. By age 10, he was playing the guitar and entertaining passers-by on street corners. As a teen, Diddley was playing sets at Chicagos famed Maxwell Street.

In grammar school, fellow classmates gave the future music genius the nickname Bo Diddley, which stuck. Despite the longtime name, Diddleys family always referred to him as Ellis.

"I don't know where the kids got it, but the kids in grammar school gave me that name," he said, adding that he liked it so it became his stage name, Diddley said in a 1999 interview. Other times, he gave somewhat differing stories on where he got the name. Some experts believe a possible source for the name is a one-string instrument used in traditional blues music called a diddley bow.

His first single, "Bo Diddley," introduced record buyers in 1955 to his signature rhythm: bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp, often summarized as "shave and a haircut, two bits." The B side, "I'm a Man," with its slightly humorous take on macho pride, also became a rock standard.

The company that issued his early songs was Chess-Checkers records, the storied Chicago-based labels that also recorded Chuck Berry and other stars.

Howard Kramer, assistant curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, said in 2006 that Diddley's Chess recordings "stand among the best singular recordings of the 20th century."

Diddley's influence was felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Buddy Holly borrowed the bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp rhythm for his song "Not Fade Away."

The Rolling Stones' bluesy remake of that Holly song gave them their first chart single in the United States, in 1964. The following year, another British band, the Yardbirds, had a Top 20 hit in the U.S. with their version of "I'm a Man."

Diddley was also one of the pioneers of the electric guitar, adding reverb and tremelo effects. He even rigged some of his guitars himself.

In the early 1950s, Diddley said, disc jockeys called his type of music "jungle music." It was Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who is credited with inventing the term "rock 'n' roll." Diddley said Freed was talking about him, when he introduced him, saying, "Here is a man with an original sound, who is going to rock and roll you right out of your seat."

While Diddleys sound may have been an inspiration to white musicians like Elvis Costello, the Who, U2 and Bruce Springsteen, his music should be appreciated by black Americans and lovers of music ranging from R&B to hip hop.

While we may not overall be fans of rock and roll, we should understand that it is the foundation of what our music is today, Williams told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "There would not be hip hop, doo wop and R&B if not for rock.

Unfortunately, its hard for todays generation to appreciate the nostalgia that Bo Diddley brings, Williams continued. He may be considered rock and roll, but we also know that we invented the genre. Rock and roll belongs to us; we just gave it away.

Despite his success, Diddley claimed he only received a small portion of the money he made during his career. Partly as a result, he continued to tour and record music until his stroke. Between tours, he made his home near Gainesville in north Florida.

Like other artists of his generations, Diddley was paid a flat fee for his recordings and said he received no royalty payments on record sales. He also said he was never paid for many of his performances.

Diddley won attention from a new generation in 1989 when he took part in the "Bo Knows" ad campaign for Nike, built around football and baseball star Bo Jackson. Commenting on Jackson's guitar skills, Diddley turned to the camera and said, "He don't know Diddley."

"I never could figure out what it had to do with shoes, but it worked," Diddley said. "I got into a lot of new front rooms on the tube."

Clague hopes people will now take time to learn more about Diddley and gain a better appreciation of the impact he had in the world of music.

He really did saturate the music world. Its hard to know a lot of what he did because his style was so pervasive, Clague told BlackAmericaWeb.com. But going out, getting his music and learning more about him that really is the best way to honor a musician.

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