And I'm Steve Ember with People in America in VOA Special
English. Bo Diddley was one of
America's greatest rock and roll guitarists.
His influence was so widespread that it is hard to imagine what rock and
roll would have sounded like without him.
Today, we explore the life and music of Bo Diddley.
(MUSIC: "Bo Diddley")
That was the song "Bo Diddley," released in nineteen
fifty-five. It was his first hit. It established what became known as
"the Bo Diddley beat." It is
linked to a children's hand clapping game, "hambone." Bo Diddley said he first heard the beat in a church. But it is also a rhythm found in African-Caribbean
music. And it has a southern blues base
This hit song from the same year is another good example
of the Bo Diddley beat. It is called "Pretty Thing."
Bo Diddley died
of heart failure in two thousand eight at his home in Florida. He was
Music had been a part of his life since his early
years. He was born Otha Ellas Bates in
nineteen twenty-eight in McComb, Mississippi. His mother, Esther Wilson, was an
unmarried teenager. She and her son
went to live with her cousin, Gussie McDaniel.
Bo Diddley later said Gussie McDaniel raised both him and his mother.
Otha was re-named Ellas McDaniel. The
family moved to Chicago, Illinois.
When Ellas was seven, he began learning classical violin
from a church music teacher. He
continued to study violin until he was fifteen. He did not even pick up a guitar until he was twelve and received
one as a gift from his sister. But it
was the guitar that captured his imagination forever. Here he explains how he
developed his guitar sound.
BO DIDDLEY: "I took it home and learned how to play on one string, 'When the Saints
Go Marching In.' The other strings didn't make a difference. Then I accidentally tuned it the way I'm
tuning it now. I say I'm playing it
backwards. I don't play like the
average guitar player, the cats who move their fingers all around like this. I do it in chords, and basically, do almost
the same thing."
When he was in his twenties, Ellas McDaniel formed a band
called the Langley Avenue Jive Cats. He
was not able to make enough money to support himself, however. So he found other work. He worked in a food
store and a picture frame factory. He worked as an elevator operator and a meat
packer. He even fought as a boxer. Finally, in nineteen fifty-four, the band
got the break it was hoping for. The
Jive Cats made a recording of their music to present to Chess Records.
Leonard and Phil
Chess were happy with what they heard and agreed to sign the band to a
(MUSIC: "The Story of Bo Diddley")
There are many stories about how Bo Diddley got his
name. Some reports say one of the band
members suggested the new name shortly after they were signed by Chess
Records. Other reports say Bo Diddley
took the name when he became a boxer.
Still others say the name came from a homemade one-string instrument
called a diddley bow. Apparently Bo
Diddley did not clear up the mystery.
He told several versions of the source of his name.
Many bands sang this next Bo Diddley
song for many years. From nineteen
fifty-seven, here is "Mona (I Need You Baby)."
Bo Diddley's success continued through the nineteen
fifties. He appeared on television and
on stage. He performed in a national
concert series, sometimes with another rock and roll guitar great, Chuck Berry.
However, his love life was never as smooth as his
music. Diddley was first married at age
eighteen and three times after that.
All of his marriages ended in divorce.
However, Bo Diddley did have good relationships with
female musicians. He was one of the
first rock and rollers to have a female guitarist. Peggy Jones joined his band in the late nineteen fifties as
"Lady Bo." Later, she was
replaced by Norma-Jean Wofford, whose stage name was "the Duchess."
(MUSIC: "I'm A Man")
That was the Yardbirds performing Bo Diddley's song "I'm
A Man." The so-called British Invasion
by that band, the Rolling Stones and others in the nineteen sixties helped
renew interest in Bo Diddley's music.
Now, others were recording his songs or performing his style. In fact, American musician Buddy Holly
admitted his hit "Not Fade Away" borrowed much of Diddley's sound. At first, Bo
Diddley said he was not happy about other musicians copying him. But then he said he realized he "must be
doing something right."
In the early
nineteen seventies, Bo Diddley moved to the state of New Mexico and became a
law official in the town of Los Lunas.
However, he continued to make records for Chess until nineteen
Later Bo Diddley
appeared in the popular movie, "Trading Places." He also appeared in a
well-known television advertising campaign for the Nike sportswear
company. He was admitted into the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio in nineteen eighty-seven. He won a
Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in nineteen ninety-eight.
Bo Diddley lived
his final years on more than thirty hectares of land near Gainesville,
Florida. He liked to fish. He also still performed at shows around the
country. His last recording was "A Man
Amongst Men," released in nineteen ninety-six.
Here is the title song from that album.
This program was
written by Caty Weaver and produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Barbara
Klein. You can learn about other
interesting Americans on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. We leave you now with Bo Diddley performing
"Bo Diddley Nineteen Sixty-Nine."