I’m cancelling my SiriusXM Radio subscription. They won’t play Bo Diddley! I’ve listened to the ’50s station for hours on end and fought my way though the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and the Dave Clark Five on the ’60s channel to no avail. It’s like he never existed!
If Bo Diddley wasn’t real…..there goes half of my teenage years right out the window.
You couldn’t swing into Frank’s Dairy Bar without hearing “Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley, have your heard?” and he’d hit that guitar riff like he was wringing telephone books in half. It’s not for certain he invented the background beat to “Rock and Roll” music but he sure incorporated the blues of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters into this new genre. And he played it so big, loud and driving that we all sat up and took notice.
Now, for sure, nobody would ever claim he was Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly. And maybe he couldn’t pack a concert hall like the Drifters or Del Shannon, but I’m telling you, Bo had a style and a rhythm all his own. And somehow you just understood, he didn’t care how Fats Domino did it or how record producers in New York City expected it to be…….He WAS Bo Diddley and it was HIS music!
For a teenager in 1962 working on his “rebel without a cause” persona, Bo was right there on the jukebox, car radio and Leon’s record player. That was a tad closer, and a bit more real, than Marlon Brando or James Dean.
I was at a sock hop at the American Legion Hall in Lexington, bored out of my mind, when “Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger” came blasting out of the loud speakers. He hadn’t even gotten through the first line—“I’ve got a story I really want to tell, About Bo Diddley at the O. K. Coral”—before Mary Hadley Hayden grabbed my hand and led me out on the dance floor.
Ole Bo could work magic at times.
I’ve been on lousy dates, thinking, “is this night ever going to end” when “You Can’t Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover” came over the airways. I immediately took a closer look at my date, thinking maybe I’ve overlooked something here. Could she be fixing to metamorphose into a Hayley Mills..... Only to discover that she was looking at me in the EXACT SAME WAY, hoping for Paul Newman of course….
Bo was on the jukebox at the City Café and out at the Skyway Grill. He had a section in the record store uptown. We talked about his songs, his music and his rebellious streak. He was a part of our life growing up in McKenzie in the early sixties.
Mother didn’t like Bo. She thought there was something “wrong” with his music. ’Course, Mom didn’t like Jerry Lee Lewis either. Or Elvis, except when he was singing, “Peace in the Valley”. She never gave a valid reason. I think it was mostly because these guys weren’t Frank Sinatra, Perry Como or Benny Goodman.
Mom allowed all Bo Diddley’s songs sounded exactly alike and the words didn’t make any sense. I tried to convince her otherwise by singing, “Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring, If that diamond ring don’t shine, He’s gonna take it to a private eye….”
In one of those, “you ain’t going to believe this” moments, Bo Diddley actually came to our little town. It was 1964, maybe ’65. He played for a dance in the old gym at Bethel College. I got there an hour early. Bo arrived an hour late. His whole band drove up in a 1957 Chevrolet hearse. Listen, you can’t make this stuff up!
I realized everything I’d appreciated in Bo Diddley was correct….and he hadn’t even sung yet!
He began with “Hey Bo Diddley” and it was hard, loud and fast—the famous beat of a legend unfolding right before our eyes. He rocked and rolled us right up until the fight broke out.
I might have forgotten to mention that sometimes the college boys and the high school punks didn’t get along. I’m sure they resented the fact that we had crashed their dance. I don’t know who started the pushing and shoving but as I ducked under a table I had a vision of Mom giving me her best “I told you so” look.
The last thing I heard before the lights went out was Bo holding forth, “I look like a farmer, but I’m a lover…..You can’t Judge a Book by looking at the Cover……”