Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Passing of a Legend

Once in a blue moon an artist emerges and becomes a dot on the time line of their chosen medium. Today one of those innovators, Bo Diddley, passed away....

From the Houston Chronicle:

Bo Diddley was a musical innovator who helped forge the sound and contributed to the style of rock 'n' roll. He sported a trademark fedora, played an iconic square-shaped guitar and from it he extracted a deep, rusty reverb and a peculiar playing style that influenced generations of players.

Diddley died Monday of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla.; he was 79. He'd been in ill health for much of the past year, having suffered a stroke and a heart attack in 2007.


"He was by far the most underrated of any '50s star,'' says producer Phil Spector. "You listen to those (reissued box sets) and the rhythmic invention, the consistent high quality of imagination and performance, the excellence of the writing, the power of the vocals - nobody else ever did it better or had a deeper, more penetrating influence.''
Who Do You Love? is among his most covered songs, a touchstone for an entire generation of '60s rockers looking to put their own spin in the blues. It has been covered on live and studio recordings by the Rolling Stones, the Band, the Doors, Townes Van Zandt, the Jesus and Mary Chain, George Thorogood and Cross Canadian Ragweed.

He was born Ellas Otha Bates on Dec. 30, 1928, in McComb, Miss. He was raised in Chicago by his mother's cousin and took her last name, going by Ellas McDaniel. In Chicago he played music in church and on street corners. His handle was either the handiwork of childhood classmates, as he once stated in an interview, or flipped from the diddley bow, a homemade instrument of African descent shaped roughly like a guitar with a single string and played with some implement in a slide style.

Just like the name, he was known for making up his own way of playing the guitar, and also for creating his own instruments.

His first single was the Bo Diddley/I'm a Man, released in 1955. His music during the late-'50s and '60s - on the Chess and Checkers labels - defied easy categorization. There existed obvious elements of blues and gospel, but it's resistance to easy categorization made it something other.

He made a handful of landmark albums in that same era including Bo Diddley, Go Bo Diddley and Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger. Toward the end of the '60s, he also made some fiery blues recordings with Muddy Waters and Little Walter.

By the 1970s, performers were influenced by those influenced by Diddley, rather than by the guitarist himself.

He enjoyed a late-career rediscovery through a novelty appearance in Nike's Bo Knows campaign featuring athlete Bo Jackson.

It created a fresh awareness of Diddley, who was victim to poor management during his hot years. While he made his most influential recordings, Diddley was paid flat fees and didn't see royalties for his most important work.

His last recording was the A Man Amongst Men, released in 1997 and later nominated for a Grammy. He earned a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 1998.

Diddley was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

If you don't understand what all of the fuss is about the long and short of it is this; He brought rhythm to the forefront making Rock and Roll and we know possible. Additionally his rhythms became one of the cornerstones upon which Rock was built. So while by todays standards his early music may seem quaint previously there had been nothing like it under the sun. I hope that Bo Diddley receives in the afterlife the rewards he was so long denied in this life.

P.S. Mr Diddley while you're there could you put in a good word for Skip James?

From YouTube: