There are few artists who truly merit “legendary” status. Without a doubt, Bo Diddley is one of them. His crucial role in the birth of Rock & Roll and his impact on the direction of popular music ever since have proven that he indeed embodies the tittle of his latest recording “A Man Amongst Men” (Code Blue/Atlantic, 1996).
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Bo’s first major label release in twenty years, “A Man Amongst Men” --- which exemplifies his decades –long impact on music through the wide verity of guest that joined him on the album, ranging from Rolling Stones members Keith Richards and Ron Wood, to Jimmie Vaughn and Bob Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, to Billy Boy Arnold, Chuck Berry pianist, Johnnie Johnson and the Shirells --- was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1997.
The following year, Bo was recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences by receiving the Grammy’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award (1998), an acknowledgment by his peers of the importance of that revolutionary sound known as the “Bo Diddley Beat.” It is a rhythm that evolved on the streets of Chicago, where Bo arrived in 1936.
He’d been born Ellas Bates McDaniel on December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, close to the Louisiana state line. When the family moved to Chicago, he took up boxing (where he acquired the nickname, “Bo Diddley”), carpentry and mechanics, in dulging in the music only as a hobby. First performing in the streets, Bo’s band moved indoors in the early 50’s to play places like the 708 club, alternating with Memphis Minnie and Piano Red. In 1955, Bo went looking for a recording contrast with a demo of “Uncle John,” a raunchy songs in the “Dirty Dozens” tradition. The owner of Vee Jay Records rejected it as “jungle music,” but across the street at Chess Records, brothers Leonard and Phil Chess thought it had potential. Bo revised the Lyrics – naming the song after himself – and used maracas to emphasize the beat and the sound he was trying to create. It took 35 takes, but they got the sound they wanted, and “Bo Diddley”/ “I’m A Man” became a double-sided hit.
As Bo’s fame grew, his impact was felt immediately. Muddy Waters soon had a hit with “Mannish Boy,” an adoption of “I’m A Man.” By the end of 1955, Bo had another hit with “Diddley Daddy,” and he hit the road for package tours assembled by deejays Alan “Moondog” Freed and Tommy “Dr. Jive” Smalls. The “Bo Diddley Beat” was driving audiences wild, and the excitement Bo generated onstage was noted by a young Elvis Presley. When visiting the shores of Britain in the early sixties, Bo found his influence had spread overseas where bands like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds were covering his songs, and the Animals lionized him in “The Story of Bo Diddley.”
A string of rhythmic masterpieces followed: “Pretty Thing,” “Diddy Wah Diddy,” “Who Do You Love,” “Hey Bo Diddley,” and “Hush Your Mouth.” During this time, Bo also played on several classic Chuck Berry recordings, including “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Sweet Little Rock N’ Roller.” In 1959, Bo burned up the charts with two doo-wop ballads, “I’m Sorry” and “Crackin’ Up,” and then laid the foundations of rap with “Say Man,” a jive dialogue between him and Jerome Green. During the 60’s, he brought his show to Europe, where albums like “HAVE GUITAR WILL TRAVEL,” “IN THE SPOTLIGHT,” “BO DIDDLEY IS A GUNSLINGER,” and “BO DIDDLEY IS A LOVER” had long been avidly sought-after imports.
In 1972, Bo went to England to record “THE LONDON BO DIDDLEY SESSIONS,” and as the decade ended, punk champions the Clash asked Bo to open their British and American tours. During the 70’s, he also took part in series of rock ‘n’ roll revival shows, including Richard Nader’s 1972 “Rock N’ Roll spectacular” at New York’s Madison Square Garden --- released on film as LET THE GOOD THE GOOD TIMES ROLL --- and another event the same year at London’s Wembley Stadium, filmed as THE LONDON ROCK & ROLL SHOW. During the 70’s, Bo also served as a sheriff in Los Lunas, New Mexico.
During the 80’s, both Bo and his music were featured in a number of successful films: he appeared as a pawnbroker in Trading Places (1983) with Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd, re-recorded “Who Do You Love” with Santana for the soundtrack of La Bamba (1987), while “Love Is Strange,” written and his first wife’s name, was featured in Dirty Dancing(1987). He also appeared in Chuck Berry tribute film, Hail! Hail! Rock N’ Roll (1987). In the 90’s, Bo appeared as “Axeman” in the teenage vampire movie Rockula (1990), and can currently be seen in the Blues Brothers sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 (1998).
In 1987, Bo was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Texas blues rockers ZZ top. Later in the year, he and the Rolling Stone Ron wood got together and toured the US, Europe, and Japan as The Gunslingers.
In the span of his over 40-year-old career, Bo has never left limelight. Along with his various film appearances, he also starred alongside athlete Bo Jackson in the famous “ Bo Knows” Nike commercials. Bo was invited to perform at the Presidential Inaugurations of both George Bush and Bill Clinton, while John F. Kennedy requested a private performance at the White House. Bo has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame in 1987 by ZZ Top, who credited Bo with teaching them “to put the fur” on their guitars. In February 1996, Bo Diddley received the lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
After 40 years of performing, Bo’s vitality is ever present. He has no intention of slowing down; it is apparent that his star will continue to shine for years to come.
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