Bo Diddley, 1928-2008

by Carl Dyke

I must have been under a rock because I missed the recent death of Bo Diddley, one of the greats of the generation that turned blues, r&b, gospel, jazz, country, worksong, hollers, and street music into rock & roll. Thanks to Lumpenprofessoriat here’s a video of Bo and the band at the top of their game:

Rachel and I were just watching a John Lennon documentary, and so one striking thing to me about this vid is all the white girls going all beatlemania for big black Bo. It can be easy to forget that this hysterical and racially goodwilled fanitude was a general cultural style at the time, of course with gendered variants. Even earlier. My dad has reminisced about the virtual mosh pit up at the front of the stage at a Charlie Parker concert (at that point, must have been the early ’50s, Dad was the only white guy there).

In his heyday Bo had a great band, as you can see. It’s all about the rhythm. The girls had moves, and it’s interesting and unique for the time to see one of them, Lady Bo, doubling on guitar and taking a lead turn. In Bo’s music there’s very little of the predatory misogyny that catches at contemporary sensibilities about much of the popular music of that time, and maybe here is more evidence of Bo’s good nature in that respect. He wasn’t a guy who drew the line; everyone was invited.

I saw Bo about 22 years ago at J.C. Dobbs on South Street in Philadelphia. It was one of those cash-maximizing affairs where he was touring without a band and played with whatever locals he could pick up. Like many artists of his era, black and white, he signed bad contracts, managed what money he did make poorly, and had little to show for his glory years. The venue was small and noisy, the band was a bunch of clueless young guys, and Bo was disinterested; but even so, there were flashes of the charisma, wit, and style you can see in the video, and it’s a cherished memory.

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