When I was a teenager, I was completely stuck on anything labeled “punk.” To me, if it wasn’t angry, loud and fast, it didn’t matter. I had virtually no respect at that time for the artists that spawned rock ‘n’ roll, even though I had a somewhat vast knowledge of them.
Bo Diddley was one of those overlooked pioneers.
Often dubbed, “The Originator,” it’s well-known that Diddley’s impressive guitar skill and catching beats spawned an innumerable amount of artists that followed. (George Thorogood is best-known for covering Diddley’s incinerating, “Who Do You Love“)
Utilizing the African Bo Diddley beat, a fast-paced, repetitive 4/4 chug, he influenced not only blues and rock musicians, but modern pop. A perfect example of its effect can be found in “Not Fade Away,” by Buddy Holly.
Diddley played violin before he ever picked a guitar. John Lee Hooker inspired him to try a new instrument, and music was forever changed. A mix of his backgrounds in both the deep South and Chicago, Diddley was no stranger to emotional, infectious sounds.
“Pretty Thing” is an example of an earlier Diddley song. He still had the stilted guitar-playing style that he pulled from his time playing church violin. However, “Pretty Thing” also has a tinge of funk to it, which came from Diddley’s desire to make listeners perk up and dance.
Perhaps that’s why I became excited when it played on my streaming radio station. Good work, Diddley.
In it, Bo’s soul-infused vocals are laid over a searing harmonica wail. He implores an unnamed woman to marry him. Surely when the song hit the airwaves, there were flocks of women hoping to do just that.
While Diddley lost some popularity in the 60’s due to changes in musical tastes, The Clash took Diddley on tour in 1979, opening him up to a whole new audience.
Diddley later complained about the amount of equipment and speakers, he never spoke ill of The Clash. He even went on to say, “But every generation has got it’s own little bag of tricks.”
That’s one of the things that continues to endear Diddley and forerunners like him: he understands that newer trends might not be relevant to him, but that they need to be given room to breathe.