RIP: Bo Diddley, musical pioneer

This week, there won’t be a LOUIE of the Week. Instead, we’ll pay tribute to a rock and roll pioneer that passed away this morning.

Bo Diddley, one of the great musical legends in the rock and roll universe, has left the land of the living. Here’s a little video of him at KHJ-TV’s 9th Street West dance show, Hollywood a Go Go.

On this video with the groovy looking go-go Girls, you may notice a woman playing guitar in Bo Diddley’s band. Unless I’m mistaken, I believe this was Lady Bo on guitar. When I got involved with this LOUIE project back in 1983, the Lady Bo Trio backed up Richard Berry (LOUIE songwriter) and Jack Ely (original Kingsmen vocalist) for a historic live performance that was broadcast over KFJC radio. I was the only person shooting footage of this once-in-a-lifetime event. (No, I haven’t put it up on YouTube yet) If you’re not familiar with Lady Bo, be sure to check out LadyBo.com for more information about her very interesting career.

Bo Diddley was truly an iconic figure in the world of rock and roll. The “Bo Diddley” beat was one of the definitive rhythms that helped shape the landscape of this thing called “rock and roll,” along with of course, the LOUIE LOUIE riff and a handful of other rhythms. He was called an “originator,” which was a funny term for those that were hip to the original sources. I interviewed Johnny Otis, who had a hit with the song “Willie and the Hand Jive,” and we talked about the similarities between that song and the Bo Diddley beat. Johnny told me that Bo once kidded him about stealing that riff from him, and Johnny replied by reminding him about they both stole from “hambone,” to which Bo responded with a little “shhhh…”

Hambone or the Juba dance, is a traditional African dance style involving hand slapping, foot stomping, and whatever else is available to make a percussive rhythm. It was used by African-American slaves who performed it during their gatherings when no rhythm instruments were allowed due to fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming.

There’s an old quote about originality I keep hearing again and again – “Lesser artists borrow, Great artists steal.” It’s been attributed to John Lennon, but was actually stated earlier by both Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinksy. I have no idea who actually said it first, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they both stole that phrase from someone else.

Either way, we should never forget Bo Diddley, even if he appropriated an old African drum beat and clamined it as “the Bo Diddley beat.” Nobody lives in a vacuum, and all power goes to whoever can claim something as their own if nobody else is paying attention to what happened in the past. Bo Diddley got folks excited about this rock and roll stuff, and for that he’s a pioneer in my book.

Here’s another video clip of the man himself, doing a killer version of “Road Runner.”

1 comment to RIP: Bo Diddley, musical pioneer

  • You’re right, Eric; it was Lady Bo who backed up Richard Berry and Jack Ely. As yo remember, The Wonders of Science came on right after them, and we met them before we started playing.
    Bo Diddley’s death is a great loss to both Rock and Roll.

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