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Remembering Bo Diddley

A tribute to the swaggering bluesman who inspired so many to rock

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A founding father of rock & roll, Bo Diddley, who died on June 2 of heart failure, will best be remembered for the herky-jerky lick from his breakout hit, ”Bo Diddley.” That visceral sound went on to influence countless artists such as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton — and can be heard in everything from Elvis Presley’s ”(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” to George Michael’s ”Faith” to U2’s ”Desire.” Said Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood in a statement, ”From childhood, we all wanted to play like him.”

Born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Miss., to a sharecropping mother, Diddley clung to music — first a violin, then a guitar — amid poverty. Stumbling upon his signature beat while learning to play Gene Autry’s ”(I’ve Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” he soon wrote ”Uncle John.” In ’55, Diddley took that demo to legendary R&B producers the Chess Brothers, who urged him to clean up the lyrics…and adopt an oomphier stage name. The provenance of his moniker is shrouded in mythology — Diddley offered different explanations — but it suited him, and the song (which also received a name change, to ”Bo Diddley”) launched his career.

In the years that followed, he recorded multiple classics, including 1956’s ”Who Do You Love” and 1959’s ”Say Man” (read a rundown of his best tracks here), received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1998, and even appeared in 1989-90 Nike ads with sports phenom Bo Jackson. And though he made substantially less money than those he influenced, his impact on rock remains priceless. Said Ron Wood: ”Bo set the standards…. Bo didn’t follow; we followed him.”

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