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BIOGRAPHY: BO DIDDLEY IS A LEGEND

Ellas “The Originator” Bates (later Ellas McDaniels) best known as Bo Diddley was born on December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi. At the age of 5, Diddley moved with his family to the South Side of Chicago where he would be an active member of Chicago’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, studying the trombone and the violin until the age of 18. Although he was invited to join the orchestra by the musical director, Bo instead took up an interest in the joyful, rhythmic music he would hear at a local Pentecostal Church- but with a twist. Even as a youth, Bo shirked convention in favor of innovation.



At the age of 12, he built his first guitar out of whatever materials he could find in true Bo Diddley fashion and set off playing on street corners, talent shows, and outside of clubs he and his band mates of The Langley Avenue Jive Cats were not old enough to enter. By the age of 15, Bo Diddley was already making his own sounds, combining his musical background with technical ingenuity to create makeshift instruments, new rhythms like the infamous “Bo Diddley beat,” and even entirely new effects like the tremolo.

By 1951, Bo Diddley was performing regularly at the 708 Club in Chicago, eventually teaming up with Billy Boy Arnold on harmonica, Clifton James on drum, and Roosevelt Jackson on bass. Bo Diddley started his tenure at the club by playing a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters before recording demos of the “I’m a Man” and “Bo Diddley.” The “Bo Diddley” record was recorded at Universal Recording Corp. for Chess Records with Otis Spann on piano, Lester Davenport on harmonica, Frank Kirkland on drums, and Jerome Green on maracas before being released in March of 1955 where it hit #1 on the R&B charts.




Bo Diddley would go on to perform the hit on The Ed Sullivan Show where he was berated by the host after playing his own hit “Bo Diddley” instead of Tennessee Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Bo Diddley explains in his biography Living Legend, “Chess tol’ me that if I’da did ‘Sixteen Tons’ and not ‘Bo Diddley,’ that would have been the end of my career right there- which they were right, ‘cause they were pushin,’ tryin’ to sell my record.” Ed Sullivan went off on a racist tirade on the young Bo Diddley saying, “You’re the first Black boy that ever double crossed me!” and vowed that he would see to it that Bo Diddley “would never work in show business again.” But as we all know, you can’t keep a good thing down, and Bo’s music was good.



Bo Diddley would rack up hits throughout the 50’s and 60’s with "Pretty Thing" (1956), "Say Man" (1959), and "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover" (1962). Between 1958 and 1963 Bo Diddley would release 11 full-length albums under Chess Records, even crossing over to white audiences and being one of the few artists of this generation to successfully capitalize on the mid-1960’s beach party and surfing craze with the albums Surfin’ with Bo and Bo Diddley’s Beach Party giving the normally polished, clean sound of the genre a twist using bended notes and minor keys. In 1963, Diddley would go on a UK tour with the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and the Rolling Stones.



Helping others was as important to Bo Diddley both in his personal life and his music career as he would go on to serve two years as deputy sheriff in New Mexico and serving as a visionary of producer, songwriter, recorder, and teacher other talented artists. One of the premiere groups he recorded after moving from Chicago to D.C. was the Marquees, featuring a young Marvin Gaye circa 1957. He even had women in his band, an uncommon practice during his time including Norma-Jean “The Duchess” Wofford, Gloria Jolivet, Cornelia “Cookie V” Redmond, and Peggy “Lady Bo” Jones, a lead guitarist. Bo Diddley would also go on to play many benefit concerts like the “Florida Keys for Katrina Relief” which recovered money to help the hard-hit community of Ocean Springs in 2006 and speak against racism in the music industry, which deprived him of the royalties from the most successful part of his career.



Diddley continued playing large stadiums and intimate clubs opening for The Grateful Dead, The Clash in their US tour, and making several cameo appearances in television and film. He was one of 1991’s Legends of Guitar playing with B.B. King, Les Paul, Albert Collins, and George Benson. In 1994 he joined the Rolling Stones on their 1994 broadcast of Voodoo Lounge. In 1996, he released A Man Amongst Men, his first major-label album and final studio album which earned him a Grammy Award nomination in 1997 for the Best Contemporary Blues Album Category. Bo never had a slow moment throughout his life. In May 2007, after an energetic performance in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Bo Diddley suffered a stroke followed by a heart attack a few months later. He died in Archer, Florida at the age of 79. The Rock ‘n’ Roll founder’s last words stating he was going to heaven.




Bo Diddley was a class act who left us with music to groove to and accolades to admire for years to come.


Discography, Movie Credits, and Accolades

Discography

- Bo Diddley (Checker, 1958)

- Go Bo Diddley (Checker, 1959)

- Have Guitar Will Travel (Checker, 1960)

- Bo Diddley in the Spotlight (Checker, 1960)

- Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger (Checker, 1960)

- Bo Diddley is a Lover (Checker, 1961)

- Bo Diddley’s a Twister (Checker, 1962)

- Bo Diddley (Checker, 1962)

- Bo Diddley & Company (Checker, 1963)

- Surfin’ with Bo Diddley (Checker, 1963)

- Hey! Good Lookin’ (Checker, 1965)

- 500% More Man (Checker, 1965)

- The Originator (Checker, 1966)

- The Black Gladiator (Checker, 1970)

- Another Dimension (Chess, 1971)

- Where It All Began (Chess, 1972)

- The London Bo Diddley Sessions (Chess, 1973)

- Big Bad Bo (Chess, 1974)

- 20th Anniversary of Rock ‘n’ Roll (RCA Victor, 1976)

- Ain’t It Good to Be Free (New Rose, 1983)

- Living Legend (New Rose, 1989)

- Breakin’ Through the B.S. (Triple X, 1989)

- This Should Not Be (Triple X, 1992)

- A Man Amongst Men (Atlantic, 1996)

Collaborations

- Chuck Berry Is on Top, with Chuck Berry (Chess, 1959)

- Two Great Guitars, with Chuck Berry (Checker, 1964)

- Super Blues, with Muddy Waters and Little Walter (Checker, 1967)

- The Super Super Blues Band, with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf (Checker, 1968)

Chart Singles

- “Bo Diddley” / “I’m a Man” (#1 on US R&B Chart, 1955)

- “Diddley Daddy” (#11 on US R&B Chart, 1955)

- “Pretty Thing” (#4 on US R&B; #34 UK, 1956 and 1963 respectively)

- “I’m Sorry” (#17 on US R&B, 1959)

- “Crackin Up” (#62 on US Pop, #14 on US R&B, 1959)

- “Say Man” (#20 on US Pop, #3 on US R&B, 1959)

- “Say Man, Back Again” (#23 on US R&B, 1959)

- “Road Runner” (#75 on US Pop; #20 on US R&B, 1960)

- “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (#48 on US Pop; #21 on US R&B, 1962)

- “Hey Good Lookin” (#39 on UK, 1965)

- “Ooh Baby” (#88 on US Pop, #17 on US R&B, 1967)

Filmography

- UtopiaLand (voice) (2011)

- According to Jim (TV Series) as Bo Diddley (2003)

- So Weird (TV Series) as Frank (2000)

- Blues Brothers 2000 as The Louisiana Gator Boys (1998)

- Rockula as Axman (1990)

- Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! as Legendary Guitarist (1989)

- Trading Places as Pawnbroker (1983)

- Crush Proof as Bo Diddley (1972)

- And over 195 soundtrack credits

Accolades

- 1986: Inducted into the Washington Area Music Association’s Hall of Fame

- 1987: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

- 1987: Inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame

- 1990: Lifetime Achievement Award from Guitar Player magazine

- 1996: Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation

- 1998: Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

- 1999: His 1955 recording of his song “Bo Diddley” inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame

- 2000: Inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame

- 2000: Inducted into the North Florida Music Association’s Hall of Fame

- 2002: Pioneer in Entertainment Award from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters

- 2002: Honored as one of the first BMI Icons at the 50th annual BMI Pop Awards

- 2003: Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame

- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by the University of Florida

- 2010: Induction into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame

- 2017: Inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame

- 2020: Induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame

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