Biography

Bo Diddley was born Ellas Bates (December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008) . 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. He was also known as The Originator because of his key role in the transition from the blues to rock, influencing a host of acts, including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, among others. He introduced more insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged electric guitar sound on a wide-ranging catalog of songs, along with African rhythms and a signature beat (a simple five-accent clave rhythm) that remains a cornerstone of rock and pop. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was known for his technical innovations, including his trademark rectangular guitar.

bodiddleyMcDaniel gave himself the stage name Bo Diddley. The origin of the name is somewhat unclear, as several differing stories and claims exist. Diddley claims that his peers gave him the nickname, which he first suspected to be an insult. Bo Diddley himself said that the name first belonged to a singer his adoptive mother was familiar with, while harmonicist Billy Boy Arnold once said in an interview that it was originally the name of a local comedian that Leonard Chess borrowed for the song title and artist name for Bo Diddley’s first single, and guitar craftsman Ed Roman reported that another (unspecified) source says it was his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxer.

A “diddley bow” is a typically homemade American string instrument of African origin, probably influenced by instruments found on the coast of west Africa. The American slang phrase bo diddly meaning “absolutely nothing” goes back possibly to the early 20th century or earlier.

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. His songs are rhythmically similar to hambone, a technique of dancing and slapping various parts of the body to create a rhythm and song. It is lyrically similar to the traditional lullaby “Hush Little Baby”. When Bo Diddley started playing with it, his electric guitar amplified the patted juba with his backup musicians on maracas and drums unifying the rhythm. This combo of rock and roll, African rhythms and sanctified guitar chord shouts was a true innovation and is often called a Bo Diddley Beat.