“Bo Diddley” is a rhythm and blues and rock and roll song first recorded and sung by Bo Diddley at the Universal Recording Studio in Chicago and released on the Chess Records subsidiary, Checker Records in 1955. It became an immediate hit single that stayed on the R&B charts for a total of 18 weeks, 2 of those weeks at #1, and seven more weeks than its flipside (the B-side, “I’m a Man”). It was the first recording to introduce African rhythms into rock and roll directly by using the patted juba beat. It was Bo Diddley’s first recording and his first hit single.
The song is 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 combination of rock and roll, African rhythms and sanctified guitar chord shouts was a true innovation and is often called a Bo Diddley Beat.
The lyrics were based on the American Folk song “Mockingbird.” Originally called “Uncle John,” the song was rejected by Chess Records because the original lyrics were “too dirty” for the white American record-buying public. Diddley re-wrote the lyrics and named the song after himself. 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.