Monday, June 02, 2008

Legendobit: Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley has died from heart failure, it has been announced.

Otha Ellas Bates was born in Mississippi in 1928, and found his first taste of public performance - and his stage name - in the boxing ring rather than on a guitar stool. He had, however, performed in a high school band, The Hipsters, which had picked up paid gigs. Choosing music over pugilism, and with a healthy dose of influence drawn from Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, Diddley built a following in Chicago blues clubs before landing a recording deal with the Checkers label, which would see him amass a collection of songs - the self-titled Bo Diddley, Mona, Pretty Thing - which would play a role in shaping the future direction of not just R&B, but also rock, for decades to follow.

He didn't just shape music; he also designed instruments - his 1958 'cigar-box' style guitar was somehow created in a five year period in which he recorded eleven albums for Checkers. In 1964, he released the Two Great Guitars collaboration with Chubby Checker and - never one to hide his light under a falsely modest bushel - in 1966 his The Originator collection declared his belief that he was responsible for the creation of rock.

Although the industry might have squeezed him - he spoke often about his belief that he'd been ripped off - other artists showed their respect for his work; in 1979, The Clash invited him to open on their US tour, seven years after playing with the Grateful Dead. There aren't many musicians who could comfortably unite the punks and the hippies like that.

Perhaps surprisingly, he also spent a couple of years working as deputy sheriff of Valencia County Citizens' Patrol (no, really).

Just over a year ago, Diddley suffered a massive heart attack and stroke which effectively brought an end to his live performances. He did, however, play once more in public, at the unveiling of a Memphis National Blues Trail Plaque.

Diddley pretty much did a clean sweep of awards: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), Hollywood Walk Of Fame (1989), lifetime achievement at the Blues Awards (1996) and the Grammys lifetime achievement (1998). In 1989, he played at George Bush Senior's inauguration.

A 1994 court judgement helped ease some of his money worries, although not so much as to remove his sense of injustice at the way the suits treated him:

"I am owed. I've never got paid. A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun."

Bo is survived by a wife, Sylvia, and four children from his previous marriages.


eyetie said...

The BBC are claiming that Bo was, well, a bit onanistic.

The Grammy-winning singer-guitarist died of heart failure in Florida, his spokeswoman said.

He had suffered a heart attack in August 2007, three months after suffering a stroke which affected his ability to speak.

He rose to fame in 1955 when he topped the R&B charts with Bo Diddley. His other hits include Who Do You Love, Before You Accuse Me, and Mona.

I saw this five hours ago and no-one's corrected it yet so apologies for highlighting just where my licence money is going (or not).

Anonymous said...

eyetie - I don't get it.

(Yes, I am very slow - someone please explain)

maddox pax said...

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