Rhythm and Blues
Among the great artists of our doo wop era is Bo Diddley. He is known for his innovations with rhythm and blues, blues, and rock and roll compositions. Some of his songs are among the best golden oldies.
One of the popular baby boomer trivia questions is “Who wrote the song ‘Bo Diddley’? Well, it’s credited to Ellas McDaniel. That was the name Ella Otha Bates took when he was adopted and raised by his mother’s cousin before he took the professional name of Bo Diddley. So, basically, Bo Diddley wrote “Bo Diddley.” That name came from the diddley bow, a one-stringed instrument. (It’s often a home-made instrument of a wire held onto a board between two nails over a glass bottle. The bottle is used as a bridge and amplifies the sound.) How that got to be a nickname for him is up for conjecture, as there are numerous stories. Bo Diddley often used his name in the titles of his albums and songs.
In 1955, “Bo Diddley” was a huge hit on the R&B chart, going to #1. (The B-Side of the record, “I’m a Man” went to #1 as well. ) The song “Bo Diddley” is based on the American folk song “Hush, Little Baby.” It was initially called “Uncle John” but the song was rejected by the owners of Chess Records because the original lyrics were considered too sexual. In response, Diddley re-wrote the lyrics and named the song after himself. The song introduced an African rhythm to rock and roll, which is the patted juba beat (similar to the hambone). With Bo Diddley on the electric guitar and backup musicians on maracas fed through an echo chamber and drums, a new sound emerged and became known as the “Bo Diddley beat.” This his been used in many rock and roll songs, including “Not Fade Away” by Buddy Holly, “Willie and the Hand Jive” by Johnny Otis Show, “Cannonball” by Duane Eddy, “Hey Little Girl by Dee Dee Clark, “I Want Candy” by Strangeloves, “Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka, and many more. The song Bo Diddley is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that shaped Rock and Roll” and Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Both “Bo Diddley” and “I’m a Man” are part of the Library of Congress’s National Record Registry of important recordings. Bo Diddley himself received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998.
In 1955, Bo Diddley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan wanted him to perform “Sixteen Tons,” but Bo Diddley sang “Bo Diddley” instead. Sullivan never asked him back.