He signed his name "The Bo" and was referred to by The New York Times as "Mr. Diddley."
If bluesman Little Walter was the troubled genius of Chess Records, his labelmate, Bo Diddley, was just plain crazy. Bo clearly shared Walter's restless spirit and drive; a constant need to test the very limits of his equipment… and his audience. A true original, Bo recorded some of the most demented sides in rock 'n roll history.
Like the vast majority of people on this planet, I never had a chance to see Little Walter perform. But I did play with The Bo – me and about 10,000 other bar-band veterans around the world.
You see, it became standard practice for the original rock royalty like Chuck Berry and Bo to hire pick-up bands in various towns to back them up for their gigs. It went something like this: Bo’s manager would call a local promoter, who would recommend a local band, and said band would spend several hours (or days, depending on the band’s level of confidence) rehearsing Bo’s tunes – with no idea what Bo would unleash on them when he hit town.
Well, our band (The Warsaw Falcons) got the nod for several of his gigs in the Cincinnati area, and the first one was a custom car show at the old Cincinnati Gardens in 1983. We figured that Bo would show up early and spend about an hour with us going over the set list and running through a few tunes. No such luck. We met Bo about ten minutes before the gig, and the only direction he provided was telling our hapless drummer not to play the patented Bo Diddley beat (if you’re not familiar with it, please exit this site now)… “Only I play that beat, buddy!”
Things went better than expected, though, as Bo quickly whipped us into shape by barking out a few commands during the opener. And we hung on tight for the rest of the set, doing our best to follow his every move and not get in the way. It was an unsettling experience, looking out at an audience of classic cars on the floor of the Gardens (“I’d like to dedicate this one to that pretty little Chevy in the third row”)… but it was a huge thrill for me to play with the one and only Bo. He even brought me to the front of the stage and made me kneel down – the only time I’ve ever done that outside of church. I felt like I’d joined the sacred order of Bo sidemen… sort of the blues equivalent of the Masons.
Bo never had much to say to us. He was bitter about the small amount of money he made from his hits while the next generation of rockers made millions. And he would've rather been back home in Florida than feeding white folks’ hunger for nostalgia. But he snapped out of character long enough to make me the butt of a very elaborate joke involving a baby peeing itself (when the punch line came, he squeezed a wet paper towel hidden in his fist, and the water ran over my outstretched palm… many laughs at my expense).
The Bo left this world on June 2, 2008, but his beat goes on in hundreds of bars on any given Saturday night. I’ll leave you with this example of his power and glory… Amen!
It's a video clip of Bo in his prime, working out with the very sexy Duchess on second guitar (clearly he was ahead of his time by sharing the stage – back in the early Sixties, no less – with such a strong and capable woman!)… You Can't Judge a Book by it's Cover