I may not know diddley, but I do know a little Bo Diddley. And he could jam.
How much influence did Bo Diddley have on Rock and Roll? Well, he was part of the Chess Records artists back in the day– the Chicago blues hub– along with Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Their sound had a major influence on the Rolling Stones. Before that, Buddy Holly took his cue from Diddley. And, if you know the Grateful Dead song Not Fade Away, then you’re listening to their take on Buddy Holly and Buddy Holly’s riff on Bo Diddley. Take a listen to this progression (and regression) of songs:
Buddy Holly was more buttoned up and less bluesly than Diddley, for sure– but he did his best to infuse a little blues into the WASPy crowd.
And Jerry Garcia’s ragtag band mashed it up further, and went bluesy with their counterculture riffs.
And then Bo’s beat even influenced the Clash and pop-punk group Bow Wow Wow. (To see a fun mash up of Bo’s beat mixed up with another early Rock and Roll band, with Bow Wow Wow, and with a Life Savers ad, click here.)
At the end of the day, you can’t take the bo out of diddley. He’s still there clear as a bell, or tight as a twang. What was it that Bo called his guitar? The Twang Machine? Well, take one more listen to that guitar, and then let’s talk about where he got HIS sound from, because even the people that we call originals . . . you know, they have their own influences.
Bo Diddley made his own cigar box guitars when he started out. (He later helped the Gretsch guitar company design these square guitars and make them for him. ) They could be made of salvaged parts on the cheap, and they had a fabulous bluesy sound. But Bo wasn’t the original in making them. Box instruments date back to the early 1800’s, gained lots of popularity around the time of the Civil War, and then saw a resurgence during the Great Depression.
The instruments could be made by anyone, anywhere, with just a little know-how. In fact, magazines published plans for building cigar box instruments (guitars, banjos, violins) in the late 1800’s. These instruments showed up on battlefields, in trenches, and on boxcars. With a sound built for the blues and in the places where blues resonated. No wonder they became so popular.
They put instruments in the hands of anyone industrious enough to make their own. And the sound was twangy and bluesy. . . and fabulous.
I’ll leave you with a little Bo Diddley jam: Diddly, The Rolling Stones, and a cigar box style guitar.