One chord and an incredible rhythm. Born in Mississippi, Otha Ellas McDaniel moved with his family to Chicago at age eight. He got his first guitar from his sister. He found his way to the Blues when he heard John Lee Hooker in a Chi-Town club. Bo Diddley was a nickname given him when he was a Golden Glove boxer. And that was the thing about Diddley. He looked like a man you didn't want to mess with. He was tough, thrashing away on his cigar box guitar. And while most of the era's songs were fun, upbeat Rockers, Diddley's lyrics were dark and ominous. And it was all powered by that chunka-chunka rhythm that echoed inside your skull.
During the '50s Diddley's music scored on the R&B charts. It wasn't until '59 when he cut the novelty record "Hey Man" did he crack the pop Top 20. And then, just barely. In '63 Diddley toured England with the Rolling Stones. In England he was revered. His influence registered with the Animals ("The Story of Bo Diddley"), Yardbirds ("I'm A Man") and Rolling Stones. And by the late-60's Diddley's "Who Do You Love" found its way into the Doors concert repertoire. While getting songs covered was nice recognition, the originals Rock. "Bo Diddley" (great lyrics) was his signature song. Another R&B/Rock classic was "Road Runner." It too was covered numerous times.
The British connection continued for nearly two decades as Diddley was tapped to open for The Clash. They appreciated his raw, authentic sound (a foundation of Punk). In '89, appeared in the "Bo Knows" Nike ads with football/baseball star Bo Jackson. That last piece of work made him a headliner again.
Diddley died of heart failure at his home in Archer, FL, on June 2nd, '08. He was '79. "An entire rhythm is owed to just one guy and that's pretty rare," said guitarist Slash, adding that the classic "Bo Diddley beat" inspired the Guns N' Roses track "Mr. Brownstone." "This royal shape shifter continues to influence four generations of musicians on a daily basis," added Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. "He was a wonderful, original musician who was an enormous force in music and was a big influence on the Rolling Stones," wrote Mick Jagger.
Diddley was elected to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in '87.
Bo Diddley is probably best known by his songs others have covered: "Bo Diddley" (The Animals), "Who Do You Love" (George Thorogood and the Doors, to name a couple), "I'm A Man" (Yardbirds). Obviously, Diddley's R&B/Rock 'n' Roll had a tremendous influence on '60s Rockers, especially the British ones.
"Bo Diddley" and "Go Bo Diddley" has his best work and are great Rockin' albums. "His Best" is a potent compilation. "The Chess Box" has it all including a steep price. "Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger" is a strong effort but "Bo Diddley Is A Surfer" is one of those "keeping up with the latest trend" productions that should be avoided. In the '60s Diddley did a decent album ("Two Guitar Greats") with Chess label mate Chuck Berry. He also got the Super Session treatment (famous and semi-known Rockers back a legendary performer) in London with OK results.
Diddley continued recording into the 80s on Triple X Records. These CDs tend to muddy Diddley's legacy.