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Bo Diddley (1928-2008)

He invented his name, his guitar and a beat that changed music forever. The Stones, the Dead, Robbie Robertson and others remember one of the founders of rock & roll

Rolling Stone Jul 11, 2008
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We toured together as the Gunslingers in the Eighties. One night in San Francisco, John Lee Hooker joined us onstage. Ego and noise collided, and I spent the whole gig laughing, watching two of my inspirations battle for control. Everybody knows about the Bo beat, but he also had an incredible ability to jive-talk ”“ once you got him going, you couldn’t shut the legend up. He was a natural musician who was just so inventive with his instrument. His guitar was handmade, and it gave him a sound that rhythm guitarists dream of. He’d lay down a monstrous locomotive beat ”“ someone said it was like “the devil moving the furniture” ”“ and it would become the core ingredient in the song. Combine all that with Bo’s knowledge of the Deep South and Chicago blues, and it’s clear why we all wanted to play like him.


I played with Bo a number of times. The last time, about 10 years ago, was the most fun. We were sharing a dressing room, and this friend of mine fired up a joint. Bo walked over and pulled out his badge and said, “I’m a US marshal, and I don’t want to see that!” My friend put away that joint real quick. I got a lot from Bo. He was such a colourful writer, and the guy was just electric: so energetic, so in the moment. I don’t mourn him so much as celebrate what he left us with.

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Without waxing too philosophically on how to rip rock & roll, there is a primal thing that happens if you listen to Bo Diddley ”“ you can play it for three-year-olds and they start gyrating. We must be wired to respond to that sound, and he delivered it in a masterful way. When ZZ Top was starting out, we were hired to play as the backup band for Chuck Berry and Bo. And at the end of our stint together, he gave me one of his guitars. I was 22, and I just flipped. He said, “Here, take this. Go beat on it. Make it do something.” I talked to him a few days before he passed. He said, “Call me up anytime, I’ll always be around.” And I said, “Yes, you will, whether you know it or not.”


When Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and them came out in the Fifties, everybody was an R&B player ”“ I didn’t see any difference between them. Until the Sixties, we didn’t have all this separation ”“ this is blues, this is not. When Bo made ”˜I’m a Man’ and ”˜Who Do You Love’ and all that stuff, those were R&B records. I’m a very religious man, and I think we were all put here for a reason. And when Bo came along and came up with that beat, he was in the right place in the right time.

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