Bo Diddley

Album: Bo Diddley Box Set (1955)

Songfacts®:

  • The lyrics were based on the American folk song "Mockingbird." It has virtually the same lyrics as the "Mockingbird" adaptation by Charlie and Inez Foxx in 1963, which was later recorded by James Taylor and Carly Simon.
  • Bo Diddley was born Ellas Bates. He had his name changed to Ellas McDaniels when he was adopted. He took his stage name from a one-stringed Deep South instrument, the Diddley Bow.
  • Originally titled "Uncle John," the song was rejected by the owners of Chess Records because the original lyrics were "too dirty" for the white American record-buying public. In response, Diddley re-wrote the lyrics and named the song after himself. From this point forward, Diddley often put his name in his songs.
  • Diddley was trained on the violin as a child, but switched to guitar (to emulate John Lee Hooker) when his sister gave him one for a Christmas present.
  • Diddley took his longtime partner Jerome Green to play the maracas on the recording. Green's efforts were fed through an echo chamber to get the desired effect.
  • The Bo Diddley riff was incorporated into many rock'n'roll songs. Examples include "Not Fade Away" (Buddy Holly), "Willie and the Hand Jive" (Johnny Otis Show), "Cannonball" (Duane Eddy), "Hey Little Girl" (Dee Clark), "I Want Candy" (Strangeloves), "Bad Blood" (Neil Sedaka), and "Faith" (George Michael).
  • Although the riff used in this is ascribed to Bo Diddley (the "Bo Diddley Beat), it didn't originate with him. It goes back to West Africa -- American slaves patted the rhythms on their bodies as they were denied access to their traditional drums (many pre-Civil War slaveholders were afraid of them being used for communication). "Hambone" became part of the African-American musical tradition. Chicago youngster Sammy McGrier did a hambone on a radio talent show in the early '50s; bandleader Red Saunders recorded McGrier, Dee Clark, and Ronny Strong as the Hambone Kids and called the song "Hambone." "Hambone" became a novelty hit despite covers by Tennessee Ernie Ford and the duo of Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford. It was the only chart record for Red Saunders.
  • Contrary to popular belief, this did not make the Billboard Top Singles chart, but it did hit #1 on the Rhythm and Blues chart.
  • Diddley's sole Top 40 his was recorded four years later - "Say Man" - a tape of Diddley and Green swapping insults in a bar. Instruments were added in the studio, and a #20 hit was born.
  • Bo Diddley performed this on his Ed Sullivan Show appearance November 20, 1955. Sullivan wanted Diddley to sing "Sixteen Tons," but Diddley played this song anyway, which didn't go over well with the host. Diddley was never asked back.

Comments: 16

  • Patrick Spencer from Eastwood, Nottinghamthis was one of the first records I ever bought in 1963 . I thought it was marvelous then and i still do at the age of 72 .
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 29th 1963, a package tour with headliners the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, & Bo Diddley began a 36 day U.K. tour at the New Victoria Theatre in London, England...
    The opening act was five lads going by the name, The Rolling Stones, and this was their debut nationwide tour...
    At the time Bo Diddley's self-titled album was at #17 on the U.K. Top Albums chart; and fifteen days later on October 13th his single "Pretty Thing" would peak at #34 on the U.K. Singles chart...
    Earlier in 1963 on July 7th Buddy Holly's covered version of "Bo Diddley" would peak at #4 {for 1 week} on the U.K. Singles chart.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 16th 1975, Bo Diddley performed "Bo Diddley" on the NBC-TV program 'The Midnight Special'*...
    Exactly twenty years earlier on May 16th, 1955 the song was at #3 on Billboard's R&B Best Sellers in Stores chart; the following week it would peak at #2 {for 1 week}, the week it was at #2 the #1 record was "Unchained Melody" by Roy Hamilton...
    On the same 'TMS' show he also performed "Crackin' Up"; in 1959 it would peak at #62 on the Top 100 and stay on the chart for 5 weeks...
    Bo Diddley, born Ellas Otha Bates, passed away on June 2nd, 2008 at the age of 79...
    May he R.I.P.
    * The show's theme for this episode was a 'retro tribute' to pop acts of the late 1950s and early 1960s; but Mr. Diddley was certainly no pop act.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyAs stated above, Mr. Diddley was supposed to perform "Sixteen Tons"; as a result an angered Mr. Sullivan banned him from future appearances on the show...
    On the same Sullivan show, LaVern Baker performed "Tweedlee Dee" {it reached #14 on the Top 100}, and the Five Keys did "Ling Ting Tong" {which peaked at #5 on the R&B chart}.
  • Mark from Los Angeles, Ca"Let's Take A Walk" (1960) by the Crescendos of "Oh Julie" fame also utilized a Bo Diddley beat along with chorus singing a la the Crickets' "Not Fade Away". It got some regional airplay in New York that year.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyBruce Springsteen performed the song in concert on 9-2-1995 in Cleveland, Ohio...
  • Glenn from Mentor, OhThe 1960's british R&B band The Pretty Things used this riff on many songs, most notably "Get Yourself Home". They named themselves after the tune "Pretty Thing", composed by Willie Dixon but popularized by Bo Diddley.
  • Ralph from Newton, MaI shook his hand once as he was returning to the stage for his encore. It was some time in the early 90's at "House of Blues" in Boston. I ran to the head after he left the stage for the first time. He was coming in the back door, band and entourage following, and I stuck out my hand and said "great show." He kept his head down and didn't say anything but shook my hand and kept walking. Great show. Great rocker.

    Bo is the balls.
  • Irishcougar from Chicago , IlJust as a side note about this awesome man, Bo Diddley has a small appearance in the movie "Trading Places", which starred Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackrowyd. There's a scene where after they've been switched, Dan's character, the rich white guy, gets desperate and goes into a pawn shop to sell his very pricey watch. He gets $50 bucks for it and ends up also buying a gun.....and the highly suspcious pawn shop owner is none other than Bo Diddley! Check out the credits! He's actually pretty funny. He says more with his raised eyebrows than 2 pages of dialogue.
  • Don from Newmarket, CanadaThe Who's Magic Bus also uses the Bo Beat.
  • Rick from San Juan, United StatesEllie Greenwich and Jeff Barry used the Bo Diddley beat in the instrumental bridge of The Raindrops' 1963 hit "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget".
  • Rick from San Juan, United StatesPaul Simon also used the Bo Diddley beat for his 1962 Tico & The Triumphs single "Wild Flower" on Amy 835.
  • Kevin from Canada, CanadaTo name a song after yourself and invent a beat to use is amazing. Bo Diddly was the first scary Balck man that parents feared would corrupt their children.
  • Jude from Thomasville, GaI knew that Brian May built his own guitar, but I didn't know Bo Diddley did. I think that's awesome, to care that much about the music. I also know Brian's guitar is electric, because his dad is an electrical engineer and he helped build it. Is Bo Diddley's guitar acoustic or electric? I'd really like to know.
  • Tommy from Balen, BelgiumU2's Desire and The Stooges' 1969 are also based on the Bo Diddley Riff
  • Roddy from Southampton, EnglandBo Diddley, as well as Brian May from Queen, used guitars that they'd made themselves.
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