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Guide Profile: Bo Diddley


Bo Diddley in the Fifties

Bo Diddley in the Fifties


Ellas Otha Bates, December 30th, 1928, McComb, MS; d. June 2, 2007, Archer, FL


Rock and Roll, Chicago Blues, R&B


Vocals, Guitar, Violin

Contributions to music:

  • Created the "freight train" stomp known as the "Bo Diddley beat"
  • Helped bring Latin and Caribbean rhythms into rock
  • His use of tremelo and other effects, in addition to his stage antics, had a profound effect on a generation of guitarists
  • Was the first major act to hire a female lead guitarist
  • Was one of the first to create custom guitars for himself
  • Was a major influence on the British Invasion's bluesier bands

Early life:

Ellas took the surname McDaniel after being adopted by his mother's cousin; the family moved to Chicago in the Thirties. Originally, he trained to be a classical violinist, but after receiving a guitar for Christmas, he began to play the blues, being heavily influenced by John Lee Hooker and developing a tribal rhythmic sound on guitar. He was given his famous nickname by fellow schoolchildren (no one can say exactly why). He formed several R&B groups during the early Fifties.


Bo's unique style of R&B had been rejected by several Chicago labels over the course of a decade, but when he met Leonard and Phil Chess of Chess Records, they liked a demo he'd made called "Uncle John." Encouraged by the brothers, he changed the song title to his own name, creating a trend of self-reference he'd follow for his entire career. His first Chess single, "Bo Diddley" b/w "I'm A Man," was an instant hit, and Bo was swept up in the burgeoning rock and roll movement.

Later years:

Like many early rockers, Bo's career was cut short by the success of the British Invasion groups, though they also embraced him as a major influence. Although Bo remains a popular live act to this day, his record sales never truly recovered from the changing musical tastes of the Sixties; business practices of the time also ensured that he was not properly paid for his songwriting and recording efforts. At this writing, he lives in Archer, Florida and records in his own nearby studio.

Other Facts:

  • Bo's signature beat can be heard on recordings by other artists, including "I Want Candy" by the Strangeloves and "Willie and the Hand Jive" by Johnny Otis
  • Was an amateur boxer for a time
  • Famously angered Ed Sullivan by refusing to play Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" on his show
  • Played at the Kennedy White House
  • Was the subject of an early Pink Floyd tribute record
  • Opened for the Clash on their first US tour
  • Is the pool player George Thorogood goes up against in his video for "Bad To The Bone"


  • Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame (1986)
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
  • Hollywood RockWalk (1989)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Guitar Player Magazine (1990)
  • Rhythm'n'Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award (1996)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (1998)
  • Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1998)

Important Songs:

#1 hits:
  • "Bo Diddley" (1955)
Top 10 hits:
  • "Pretty Thing" (1956)
  • "Say Man" (1959)
Top 10 albums:
  • A Man Amongst Men (1996)
Other important recordings: "Before You Accuse Me," "Bring It To Jerome," "Crackin' Up," "Diddley Daddy," "Hey! Bo Diddley," "Mona," "Who Do You Love," "You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover"
Wrote or co-wrote: "Love Is Strange," Mickey and Sylvia; "Fat Boy," Billy Stewart; "Mama (Can I Go Out Tonight)," Jo-Ann Campbell
Plays on: "Billy's Blues (Parts 1 & 2)," Billy Stewart
Covered by: The Animals, Jeff Beck, Canned Heat, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, The Kinks, Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, George Thorogood, The Troggs, The Who, The Yardbirds
Appears in the movies: "Trading Places" (1983), "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998), "Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!" (1989), "Rockula" (1990), "Crush Proof" (1972)
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