BO DIDDLEY / “Bo Diddley Mixtape”

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When Rock and Roll was born Bo Diddley was the baby. This stuff might sound rough and even rudimentary in spots but all births are bloody and the baby is always covered in bodily fluids, gots to be spruced up and wrapped in swaddling before presenting the child to the general public. Well, this is what this music baby’s first wailing sounded like.

You see unlike say Chuck Berry who was smooth as refined moonshine, Bo Diddley was some liquor straight out the back country still, rough as cypress tree stumps and more potent than a mule kick.

Elias Otha Bates was born December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi. He went by Bo Diddley but also published under the name Elias McDaniel. Early on he was adopted by Gussie McDaniel, who was his mother’s cousin. Somewhere around 1934 the family moved up to “North Mississippi,” i.e. the South Side of Chicago.
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Legends and outright lies swirl around the origin of the Bo Diddley moniker. Once it was hung on Elias, the name and the man became synonymous with a raucous, jive talking, jump blues kind of sound that included heavy syncopation and maracas percussion (aka “shakers”).

This was dance music of the uninhibited sort. If you ever heard of “shake dancers” (this was long before the “pole” was popular), you can imagine the hip swivels and gyrations that might have accompanied this music.

While his contemporaries emphasized the moaning blues side of the equation, Bo was after the beat. Rather than mournful (like Muddy Waters) or menacing (like Howling Wolf), Bo was full of humor—sometimes droll, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes bawdy and generally just shy of buffoonery. But the funny presentations masked a deep seriousness and understanding of the various strands that were synthesized into the popular music we know today as rock and roll.
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Bo wrote a number of hit songs in addition to his famous “Say Man” song that popularized the ghetto game of the dozens, i.e. witty one-line deprecations of an opponent’s person, personality and their intimate acquaintances, especially their mother and/or lover. Two Bo Diddley songs that were popularized by other artists are “I’m A Man,” which became a signature Muddy Waters song, and the big Mickey and Sylvia hit “Love Is Strange,” which Bo co-wrote with Jody Williams. During the late fifties and early sixties, Bo Diddley was a major artist for Chess Records.

Although he was respected among fellow entertainers and popular in the black communities, he was not a major hit-maker on the Billboard charts. Too often Bo Diddley is overlooked or underestimated as an early creator of Rock and Roll. The absence of massive cross-over popularity notwithstanding, Bo Diddley contribution is critical in the formative years of contemporary pop music.

Bo Diddley participated in a Chess Records jam session blues album with Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf on which Bo surprisingly holds his own. Decades ago when I first heard the album I was totally surprised by Bo’s contributions because I never thought of him as a serious blues artist.

In addition to his stinging guitar fills with their wide, wobbly vibrato, and his joshing and competitive banter with his two Chess recording mates, Bo also had his female chorus adding a feminine flavor to music that was usually totally dominated by males.
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Because of the funny lyrics and the odd, rectangular-shaped guitar that he favored, Bo Diddley is too often erroneously under-rated as a musician and as a contributor to the development of popular music. But in truth Bo Diddley made a major contribution in melding different strands of music into an ecstatic, guitar-driven music form that heavily drew on the blues but was not restricted to Mississippi delta blues antecedents.

Many music critics point to the distinctive Bo Diddley beat linking it to Cuban claves as if Cuba were the origin. The deeper truth is that Mississippi and Cuba both have African rhythms in common. A major link is the drum and fife music of Othar Turner and family from Madison County, Mississippi. Moreover the Diddley-bow, an African derived, one-string instrument, that is common in rural Mississippi was virtually absent in most other parts of the United States.

Sometimes the influences and antecedents are right in our face, spelled out plain as day and yet we don’t make the connections. Bo Diddley is a major link in the development of contemporary pop music who deserves far more recognition than he has thus far received.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Bo Diddley Mixtape Playlist

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The Chess Box
01 “Bo Diddley”
02 “The Story Of Bo Diddley”
03 “Don't Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)”
04 “I'm A Man”
05 “Aztec”
06 “Dearest Darling”
07 “I'm Looking For A Woman”
08 “Ride On Josephine”
09 “Who Do You Love”
10 “You Know I Love You”
11 “You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover”
12 “500% More Man”
13 “You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)”
14 “Ooh Baby”
15 “Diddley Daddy”
16 “Diddy Wah Diddy”
17 “Down Home Special”
18 “Bring It To Jerome”
19 “Mumblin' Guitar”
20 “Say Man”
21 “Say Boss Man”

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The Super, Super Blues Band
22 “Ooh, Baby / Wrecking My Love Life”
23 “Goin' Down Slow”

This entry was posted on Monday, February 28th, 2011 at 6:59 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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