Photo by F. Scott SchaferIt was a filthy job, but someone had to do it. Yes, dear readers, 'twas I, your humble servant, who first informed the mighty Bo Diddley—full grown lover's man, M-A-N!—that his name was omitted from Life magazine's recently published list of the "Top 100 Rock & Rollers of All Time." And that . . . ummm . . . Madonna came in at No. 6, heh, heh, heh. Bo Diddley, of course, was something less than pleased.
"Madonna shouldn't even be on it," he fumed, most likely shifting and adjusting his massive man-snake in the humid confines of his shorts. "I've been overlooked and a whole lotta shit, man, and I was the first one—me and Chuck Berry. I don't have nothing against Madonna, but you don't define Madonna before me in rock & roll. The people that are doing this don't know their ass from a hole in the ground. I hate to say shit like that, but when something like this happens, it just triggers me."
And Bo had indeed been triggered. What followed was a 60-minute litany of personal, political and financial slights that have marked the career of one of the truly great undisputed (except by Life magazine) founding fathers of rock & roll: the man—M-A-N!—who brought the world such titanic testosterone-laced tuneage as "Bo Diddley," "Who Do You Love," "Before You Accuse Me," "Mona," "Say Man," "Road Runner," "Ride on, Josephine" and about a zillion other man anthems, including, of course, "I'm a Man." Whew!
"Let's tell it like it is: it's a black and white thing," says Bo, who is—let it be stated right here—not Caucasian. "I didn't get the recognition my white brothers like Elvis did. We should stop all this black-and-white shit and just get along. I have no animosity in my heart. I don't see color when I look at someone. But you can't tell me this black-and-white shit hasn't been happening all along. I didn't used to talk about it because I thought it would go away, but it never did, man. I'm still living it, and it's sickening. I'm 73 years old and still making people jump out of their clothes, you dig? A lotta cats like me that came along can't even get a telephone call now. I don't get the recognition, and I'm a little sick about it after 47 goddamned years."
Let us now pause to recognize Bo Diddley, for this is the right thing to do. Of all the founding rockers in rock & roll, it's all but unquestionable that his sound was the most unique. The Bo Diddley beat—chunka-chunka-chunka, CHUNK-CHUNK!—was like a signature, and his lyrics were almost always bursting with wonderful braggadocio about his prowess as a man—M-A-N! Everyone from Johnny Otis to Buddy Holly to Smokey Robinson to the Rolling Stones to George Thorogood to Bow Wow Wow subsequently appropriated that formula to score hits of their own, but none of them were nearly as mannish as Bo about it all in the process.
"I changed the whole doggone thing," thundered Bo, most likely scratching his sticky, purple fur potatoes. "I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I just did it—that was me. Now everybody's taking the beat that I created—television commercials and the whole thing—and using it. I didn't copy nobody, but everybody done ripped me off. I was trying to play Gene Autry's 'I Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle' with that beat on the guitar. That's how it happened, honest to God. I said, 'Damn, I like that!' And that's how Bo Diddley was born."
So Bo was born, and according to him, 50 years later, rock & roll has died. The stuff one hears on the radio today is . . . well, it's something, but it's not rock & roll.
"I hate it when I hear disc jockeys say, 'We're gonna rock & roll you, blah, blah, blah.' Ain't no rock & roll no more," he says, getting himself rather worked-up. "It's just a bunch of screaming guitars and hip-hop. I don't like that dirty rap stuff. The guys that are writing that stuff could write good, clean lyrics because it's sending our kids the wrong message, doing that."
Bo had one final message he insisted I send out to you lucky readers on his behalf, and who am I to deny the mighty Bo Diddley the right to vent his spleen?
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"I want kids to listen to Bo Diddley and do like I say: stay in school and get that piece of paper and obey your parents and stay away from the drugs. I been out here for 47 years, and I never even fooled with none of that crap. You don't need it—leave it alone!
"And I hope that the United States and all the other countries that is having problems will get together and start loving one another and stop killing one another. Love your brother! Let's stop this mess! God bless America, and I'll see you later!"
Amen, brother Bo.
Bo Diddley headlines Blues Unplugged VII along with Johnnie Johnson, Jimmie Vaughan and Jody Williams at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach, (562) 985-7000. Sat., 8 p.m. $30-$35.