Monday, June 02, 2008

Bo Diddley "The Originator"

I just received the news that the great Bo Diddley passed away today.
I had the distinct honor of performing with him once in my life.
It was a moment of musical ecstasy!

I can remember hearing his famous song ("Hey, Bo Diddley") on the radio when I was a child.
I easily connected to his trademark "Bo Diddley" beat. After all, it sounded exactly like the same West African beat that we Caribbean people sing and dance to. His guitar sound was like a thick wall of rhythm and it had this lush tremolo sound that reverberated through your brain long after the song ended. This Mississippi delta sound was straight forward and simple, energetic and authentic. When he played you knew it was him. His sound was BLACK! Unadulterated African roots.

I never expected that I would ever be on stage with him playing that same song with that famously infectious beat in 1989. I can remember how I programmed my old Roland synthesizer to sound exactly like the vibrato-rich Wurlitzer piano on his recordings. He looked over to me and smiled when he realized that I had done my homework. Because of the difference in our ages, he probably never would have suspected that I knew him for the true legend that he was.

Once he hit the stage with his square guitar (nicknamed the 'Twang Machine') and his ever-present black cowboy hat (with the medallions on it), he took the rhythm section into the stratosphere. I was in musical heaven that night. I'm sure that Bo Diddley will spend the rest of his days in Musical Heaven.

FYI: The song "Bo Diddley" was released in March 1955 and it became a #1 R&B hit.

In November of the same year, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. He was supposed to sing a cover song by a country artist (Tennessee Ernie Ford) but when he appeared on stage he sang his hit "Bo Diddley" followed by the Ford hit "Sixteen Tons"!
Infuriated, Ed Sullivan banned him from future appearances. Bo later recalled;"Ed Sullivan said that I was one of the first colored boys to ever double-cross him. Said that I wouldn't last six months".

Bo Diddley was one of the first American musicians to have women in his band, in fact his daughter sat in on drums the night I played with him.

He also set up one of the first home recording studios! Musicians like me are grateful for that innovation.