Bo Diddley, 1928-2008

Rock music lost one of its most original showmen and a pioneer of the electric guitar when Bo Diddley passed away today at age 79. Actually named Ellas McDaniel, Diddley was born in McComb, Mississippi in 1928 and went up to Chicago to join the emergent blues scene there in the early fifties. He quickly made a name for himself for his energetic stage shows, his odd rectangular-shaped guitar, and the signature rhythm to which he played most of his songs. The "Bo Diddley beat," as it was called, propelled hits like "Bo Diddley" and "Who Do You Love?" and inspired many imitators over the years, from The Rolling Stones ("Not Fade Away") to U2 ("Desire") to even George Michael ("Faith"). While the hits dried up after the early sixties, he remained a revered guitarist and live performer. He did leave a mark on the early years of MTV, though, providing a memorable cameo as a contestant in an epic pool match with George Thorogood in Thorogood's video for "Bad to the Bone." Diddley also appeared in a legendary Nike commercial featuring the athlete Bo Jackson trying his hand at every sport conceivable.

Bo Diddley's primarily musical legacy comes from his live performances rather than his recorded output. I had the pleasure of seeing Bo Diddley perform on three separate occasions. He may not have been in his prime physically, but he still could put on quite a show. While I'd still recommend a greatest hits collection of his to anybody curious about early rock and roll, the records don't really do his live shows justice.

Bo Diddley's influence on the generations of performers and guitarists who have followed him is incalculable; just for starters, any performer who'd count The Rollling Stones as an influence owes something to Bo Diddley as well.

"Bo Diddley"

"Road Runner"

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