Hey Bo Diddley! Rest in Peace!
Ellas “Bo Diddley” McDaniel 1928-2008
Famous actors and politicians often get sandwiches named after them. Mayors and martyrs get city streets and boulevards named after them. Presidents and Prime Ministers get airports named after them (and no, Los Angeles Airport, LAX, isn’t named after Malcolm X – yet.)
Bo Diddley pioneered an actual beat and then had it named after himself.
The self-described “gunslinger” guitarist, who died yesterday at age 79 from heart failure, is best known for the eponymous African inspired chugging guitar rhythm he made famous in songs like “Who Do You Love”, “Roadrunner” and playfully self-aggrandizing titles such as “Hey, Bo Diddley” and “Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger” which pre-date hip-hop’s boastful nature by decades. In fairness, he was’t really singing his REAL name, Ellas Otha Bates McDaniel, but as the Bo Diddley “brand manager” he knew, years before the P. Diddy’s and Missy Elliott’s of the world, how to create a distinctive brand name and burn it into the brain through rhythmic insistence and sheer repetition.
I was just thinking about Bo Diddley’s influence last week, when I was in L.A., and I thought about the time when U2 did that rooftop video for “Where the Streets Have No Name” stopping traffic, Let It Be-atles style, as the omnipresent Heli-Cops hovered overhead and fanned the flames of faux controversy. Around this time U2 had a Hollywood themed hit, “Desire” in which The Edge and his boys openly dipped their Irish toes into the Bo Diddley-fied waters that had previously wet the feet of the Stones on “Not Fade Away” and George Thorogood on his cover of Bo’s “Who Do You Love”.
Whenever I hear that life-affirming “Chunk-chunk-chunk, Ah-chunk chunk” I feel like paraphrasing Baloo the Bear from The Jungle Book, who joyously bellowed, “Oooh that beat!”.
I was also impressed by Bo Diddley’s visual image, sort of like a funky-ass State Trooper (albeit with Peace signs on his guitar). Ah, yes, that box shaped guitar. Like a marshmellow broom on a six-string stick, and when he got to rockin it was sweeter still. And he designed other, even weirder shaped guitars as well. In fact, perhaps he’s to blame for all those oblong heavy metal guitars of the eighties.
I blog about music because I love. And I loved the Bo Diddley beat.
Stupid sidenote: Years ago, my wife Liza started singing “Hey Paul Myers” to get me out of bed when I used to sleep in all the time. To the Bo Diddley rhythm, she would sing “He-e-ey Paul Myers! Get outta bed, Get outta bed!” Then years after that, we staying over at her sister Susan’s house, and she taught Susan’s girls, Hayley and Maddie (who were probably no more than 5 or 6) to go in and sing it to me with her. So the Diddley beat is a part of my life in ways that even the late great Ellas McDaniel couldn’t have known.
Last night, Jack White and his fellow Raconteurs preambled their first song on Late Night with Conan O’Brien show with four bars of Diddley’s signature call out (to himself) “Hey Bo Diddley”. As we go forward with what UK writer Julie Burchill used to sarcastically call “Rock’s Rich Tapestry” we would do well to remember that the music we love was made by mortals, women and men, like Bo Diddley.
By keeping him in our hearts, minds, and feet, we can all make sure that Diddley’s music will “Not Fade Away”.