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Topic: Nice article on Bo Diddley (nsc) Return to archive
04-22-02 09:32 AM
Jaxx He was there at the start of rock

By Jim Abbott | Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted April 21, 2002

Bo Diddley knows what you're thinking.

That he's merely creator of the Bo Diddley beat, the insistent tribal rhythm that defined early rock 'n' roll before it was copied by Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones and virtually every garage band in history.

Well, he did that.

But Bo knows more than the historic rock 'n' roll he will play tonight at Orlando's Heritage Park. He's no relic.

"I refuse to be locked into 1955 and 1956," he says, poking his muscular forearms for emphasis. "My talent goes further than that. You'd be surprised at what I know."

You might be skeptical, until you amble the grounds of Diddley's secluded 76-acre spread in rural Archer, down a dusty unpaved road 10 miles outside of Gainesville.

Here, on property he cleared himself 15 years ago, the lord of the manor is more than a musician. He's an artist, chef, inventor, mechanic, philosopher and businessman. Like in a song, the "beat" is just part of the background.

"People think that I'm locked into one place," Diddley says. "No way."

No more of the 'city thing'

His given name is Ellas McDaniel and that's what's on the mailbox at the end of his long gravel driveway. It's only when you approach the modest, well-kept manufactured home that the familiar stage name is visible, in hand-painted black letters on a barn in the distance.

Bo Diddley has nothing to prove to anybody including himself. He plays with a band of locals known as the Gainesville Stompers and still rises at 4 a.m. to write songs.

The owner doesn't look too kindly on strangers who might arrive at his property to peek at the lifestyle of a rock pioneer.

Not that many carloads of tourists are bouncing along these isolated country roads, where there are miles of oaks, pines and hanging moss between neighbors. Even with invited guests, Diddley is used to jumping into his monstrous diesel-powered Ford F-350 to rescue a stranded city slicker from the treacherous sand that rewards a wrong turn.

He came from New Mexico for the quiet, the fishing and the prospect of enough land for his daughter to raise horses. Although born in Mississippi, the child who would become Bo Diddley was raised on Langley Avenue on the south side of Chicago.

"I played the city game," he explains. "Most people are just making it week to week, day to day. They never have anything like that old American dream.

"Listen. What do you hear? You haven't heard no police cars out here. This is tranquillity. The only thing I fear out here is a rattler and I've only seen one since I've been here."

At 73, Diddley's experiences with cities and record companies have inspired a healthy distrust at odds with his gentle nature and religious upbringing.

"I'm not gonna lie about it, I've had money problems. I've gotten behind on payments. I'm learning how not to depend [on other people]. How not to speculate. How not to say a damn thing until I see it.

"I'm beginning to learn some damn sense. If there's something that you want done, you've got to get it done."

So that's what he does, awakening at 4 a.m. most days to write music, which he records at a studio housed in one of the several double-wide trailers in his backyard. He still performs regularly, jetting across the country to do shows by himself or playing in a band of local musicians he sometimes calls the Gainesville Stompers.

"I gotta live. I'm not running a business, but this is what I do, sitting out here trying to get something going. I've been very lucky. I learned all this stuff myself."

Handiwork of a creator

That stuff includes automotive repair, which is practiced on a row of hearses and vintage limos parked in a neat row in the trimmed grass out back.

The cars are painted in bright purples and greens, adorned with more hand-painted Bo Diddley signs, song titles and other admonitions.

"Ain't Dead Yet!" is scrawled on the back of one hearse, which stretches at least 25 feet from hood to tail.

"You ever seen a Mercury that long?" Diddley exclaims. "I gave a guy $800 for it. The lights in the back were rotted off.

"I've got video of me working on it. I did all the body work on it. If I sell it, I sell the video with it. That makes it valuable."

He worked on the car with his grandson Mark, who is in the garage welding something for yet another project. Other relatives come and go, chatting with each other and greeting the six dogs that range from a rottweiler to Chihuahuas.

Often, there are family barbecues, with slabs of meat cooked "Bo-becue" style in smokers as big as utility sheds. "That thing is dangerous," he says. "Ribs come out of there and make you smack your mama."

The close-knit environment reflects the vision of its owner.

"I just watch everything," Diddley says. "I don't bother nobody. I don't go nowhere."

Before he talks music, he makes a point to speak his mind on political issues such as what he considers the nation's woeful treatment of its elderly and a misguided value system that has made it harder to raise children.

"When I was growing up there wasn't any 'time out' stuff," he says. "You didn't even look funny at Gussie. It was 'time out so I can get my stick.' "

Compositions in clay

When he isn't working on cars or talking politics, Bo Diddley likes to make pottery in a studio on his patio.

"I want you to see this," he says, searching for the right key on a massive ring that holds maybe 75 possibilities. "When I lose a key or forget which one works, I just get another one made."

Inside the ceramics studio are wooden shelves with unfinished vases. Several have been customized with tiny sculpted models of his signature square guitar.

"I'm going to have a mold made of this one," he says. "I just hope it doesn't blow up in the kiln."

In another trailer, there's an original painting characterized by psychedelic geometric swirls of color. On the floor are a pair of prototype electric guitars that appear more as surrealistic art than a practical creation.

"That's not a guitar, that's what I call a noisemaker," Diddley says, pointing to an ornamental wooden table leg attached to a square body by a hinge.

Pulling back on the table leg, the contraption's one string bends to emit a mournful moan. The creator smiles broadly.

In various corners, there are boxes with reel-to-reel tapes of old Bo Diddley songs that no one has ever heard. There's an old tube-powered 1960s tape recorder that he has fixed with a vacuum cleaner belt.

But when Bo plays nowadays, he favors new material.

"I gotta show this off," he says, adjusting the settings on a beautiful blonde-finish custom guitar made by a Gainesville music store. It has enough buttons, switches and knobs to land a small airplane.

He brushes the back of his thick fingers against the strings, conjuring sound that is filtered through a 15-year-old effects box and a smaller rhythm machine that hooks to the guitar. The bass line is as mean and funky as anything you'll ever hear from a garage-band kid.

Other buttons yield the clank of metal pipes, futuristic buzzing, majestic chimes and finally an orchestral string section. Smiling, Diddley grabs a pick, licks his fingers and slips it over a meaty thumb.

The sound is grave and deep, in a classically steeped minor mode. There is no way anyone would confuse this with "Bo Diddley" or "Who Do You Love."

"I call it the 'Bo Diddley Concerto,' " he says, pointing his fingers to add: "Wait till you hear this!"

The guitar becomes a pipe organ, then a gospel piano, a human voice, a brassy horn section. At last, after 15 minutes of anticipation, the signature Bo Diddley beat emerges. The beaming spotlights in the garage are gleaming off a star-shaped hat-pin on his black western hat.

"I'm fixing to pull something out of the woodwork that people won't understand," Diddley says after playing for 45 minutes. "I've got the hammer in the woodshed."

And he's ready to use it on a new generation.

"These kids that are just getting connected to rock 'n' roll think all this rap music is the only thing going. They don't understand where it came from, and it's up to Bo Diddley to school 'em. So I have to be a teacher again. It's cool."

[Edited by Jaxx]
04-22-02 09:40 AM
VoodooChileInWOnderl I want to add this, I received it from David Blakey

BO DIDDLEY, Chuck Berry and Little Richard are the first 3 recipients of the Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) Icon Award, to be presented to them at the BMI 50th Annual Pop Awards dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday May 14th 2002.

The performing rights organization is honoring them with this prestigious new award in recognition of their many contributions to contemporary music.

We send our warmest congratulations to BO DIDDLEY, Chuck Berry and Little Richard on the awarding of these richly-deserved honors.

Remember, you can keep up to date with all the very latest BO DIDDLEY news and information by visiting the Hot News page of the BO DIDDLEY-The Originator website at the most detailed and accurate source of information about BO DIDDLEY on the web.

David Blakey, Webmaster,
Lynn Cameron, Technical Support,
BO DIDDLEY-The Originator
A Celebration of his unique contribution to Popular Music.
04-22-02 10:19 AM
jb It's aeat article and you notice they don't refer to him as a wrinkly blues legend;to bad the Stones weren't black.
04-22-02 10:57 AM
jb wrote:
It's aeat article and you notice they don't refer to him as a wrinkly blues legend;to bad the Stones weren't black.

that is G R E A T. thanks for the much needed laugh you just gave me this morning.
04-22-02 07:34 PM
Honky Tonker It's a shame Bo hasn't gotten the recognition and financial success he deserves. Among many other, including the Stones (see Allen Klein), he's been screwed by ruthless managers and agents. Don't forget the screwing Col. Parker gave Elvis.

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