Vol. 3, Issue #10 June 6th - June 19th, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

The Legend of Bo Diddley

“I walked 47 miles on barb wire / Use a cobra-snake for a necktie / I got a brand new house on the roadside / Made from rattlesnake hide / I got a brand new chimney made on top / Made out of a human skull / Now come on, take a little walk with me Arlene, and tell me who do you love?” - Bo Diddley, 1956

I get that feeling every time I hear “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths. Yes, Morrissey is a pretentious asshole, and the band might be a bunch of queers, to use a junior high term, but the whole thing is held together by Johnny Marr’s hallucinatory Bo Diddley beat on the guitar. Admittedly, the beat is mixed with a touch of Yaqui Shamanism out on the desert highway, but even in such an exotic location constructed by such fancy gentlemen, there it is; shave and a haircut, two bits.

I remember fist stumbling on across my mother’s original single of “Bo Diddley” b/w “I’m a Man” when I was in the seventh grade. As soon as I put the needle down I realized I was listening not only to Eric Clapton’s “Willie & The Hand Jive” - attributed to Johnny Otis - but also Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” I was listening to a lot of other songs at that moment that I would learn over the years. The problem was that they wouldn’t let Bo Diddley copyright a beat, so got ripped off by everyone. “Marie’s The Name (Of His Latest Flame)” by Elvis? Yes, it’s that same beat.

Then there was the British Invasion where, according to the evidence, Bo Diddley seemed to have been worshiped like a god; The Strangelove’s “I Want Candy,” The Who’s “Magic Bus,” The Animals recorded “The Story of Bo Diddley, and no less than three of the giants, The Who, The Yardbirds, and The Remains, recorded “I’m a Man.”

The first image I ever saw of the man was from Guy Peellaert’s surrealistic painting of him in the book “Rock Dreams,” where Bo Diddley was indeed a gun slinger, bursting into a bar with his crew, the tall and statuesque Duchess and his right hand man, Jerome.

The legend of Bo Diddley has always been more important than the real person, who died this week surrounded by his family while singing gospel songs. This is a far cry from the man who claimed he was discovered by Leonard Chess, of Chess Records, because he was breaking bottles in an Alleyway behind the Chess studios. According to legend, Chess was in a session and came out because Bo’s bottle breaking was bring picked up on their tapes. Bo explained that he was a musician, so Chess asked him in and Bo played him his songs. That never happened.

However, it is true that, along with The Doors, he was one of the few people banned from “The Ed Sullivan Show” because he was supposed to perform a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons,” but instead he performed “Bo Diddley.” Sullivan was furious because none of the other “colored boys” he had on the show ever screwed him over. Bo was apparently so angry that he was planning to “whoop” Ed Sullivan.

The first time I saw Bo Diddley perform was on “The Midnight Special”; this man was not born to be a rock star, but as he wrote himself “I may look like a farmer but I’m a lover / You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.” His hands were the size of Christmas hams. Instead of the anorexic look of Robert Plant, Bo was fat and sassy, and his lyrics were somewhere between playing the dozens in the street mixed with his own form of American Dadaism. His classic recordings “Say Man” and “Say Man, Again” of him and Jerome horsing around and trading insults in the recording studio were direct views of African-American humor that got slipped into white homes all across America in the early 1960s. This was years before Redd Foxx or Dolemite records found their way into suburbia.

When I was in my early twenties, and I went back to the roots of rock’n’roll and Bo Diddley was my guiding light. While I had nice double disc sets of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and Chuck Berry, I ended up with every recording Bo Diddley made from the beginning of his career through 1964; it was an overwhelming experience. As a young Dom in the BDSM scene I discovered “Who Do You Love?” - which is a wordplay on “Hoodoo” - was something of an anthem in certain circles. It just added to the legend.

The first major controversy the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had on their hands was the first year inductees. That year they got it right, except they left out Bo Diddley. There was an uprising across the rock world. They made sure his was the first name on the list of inductees for the second year.

Rock’n’roll will never be the same without its chief of the underground sound standing guard. We are getting down to the last man standing; Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Wanda Jackson are all that’s left of that original class of ‘56. Bo Diddley might be dead, but there’s little doubt that his legend and influence will continue well beyond all of us.

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