“Bo Diddley (December 30, 1928-June 2, 2008), born Elias Otha Bates, was an original and influential American rock & roll singer, guitarist and songwriter. He was known as “The Originator” because of the key role in the transition from blues music to rock & roll, influencing a host of legendary acts including Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones to name a few.” – www.bodiddley.com/
I knew about Bo Diddley from the time I was a student at Hudtloff and Mann Junior High Schools in the late fifties. He’s probably best known for the Bo Diddley rhythm that he didn’t create. It’s basically one chord repeating and banging out the beat: “chunka-chunka-chunk . . . chunk-chunk.” He first recorded the riff in his song Bo Diddley in 1955.
Like other black artists of the mid-fifties, Bo Diddley felt ripped off. In 1955 he was invited to perform his version of the popular Tennessee Ernie Ford hit Sixteen Tons hit on The Ed Sullivan Show. When he saw the cue card “Bo Diddley” he thought it was an instruction to play both Sixteen Tons and his own song Bo Diddley. Ed Sullivan had a fit. In 1957, Bo Diddley, who always used the name Elias McDaniel co-wrote the pop song Love Is Strange, a hit for Mickey & Sylvia. I always liked the song because it used humor. He recorded Say Man in 1959, and You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover in 1962. Say Man was an introduction to black “Yo Mamma” jokes. Again, the beat and then humor won me over.
I met Elias McDaniel at Factoria Square almost twenty-five years later. My wife, Peg and I were producing a pseudo comedy/talk show, The Spud Goodman Show at our studio in downtown Tacoma. The co-hosts were Spud Goodman (Bruce Walkup) and his buddy Chick Hunter (Tim Hoban). We used a combination of real guests and fake guests to entertain our audience. For a special segment on the program, Spud, Peg, and I traveled to Bellevue to interview the legend of Rock and Roll Hall in person. We had been warned not to record any music. McDaniel was always concerned about being ripped off. After a short performance, we went backstage where I set up my tripod, a hand-held microphone, my JVC 3-tube broadcast camera, my SONY recording deck, and my battery pack. As I set-up, McDaniel was confiscating a portable tape recorder from a fan who had been recording the songs of Bo Diddley live without permission. When he finished with the fan, he eyeballed me.
As we shot the interview, McDaniel kept looking at me and the equipment. I was thinking, “Oh, lord . . . what’s the problem?” As soon as the interview was over he walked over to me. He pointed to the case sitting on the floor, which was connected to the recording deck, and asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a motorcycle battery.” “And it’s powering your equipment? I wanted to do that, and I was advised that it couldn’t be done. Can I see it?” I responded, “Sure.” It turned out he had the same camera and portable deck back in his studio. I showed him all the connections and alterations. We left friends. The next year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.