Bo Diddley: 12/30/28-6/02/08

The guitar community lost a true hero today when Ellas Otha Bates McDaniel, better known as Bo Diddley, died of heart failure in Archer, Florida. From his humble beginnings playing on street corners, Diddley would become an architect of rock and roll and a hugely influential guitarist and performer, informing the styles of artists such as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, John Fogerty, Billy Gibbons, Aerosmith, the Clash, and George Thorogood (who scored the biggest hit of his career with Diddley’s signature tune, “Who Do You Love”).

Diddley’s greatest contribution to the rock lexicon is undeniably the infectious beat that will forever bear his name. In Guitar Player’s April, 2005 cover story, “The 101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History,” Diddley’s introduction of that timeless rhythm easily made the list: “On his eponymous 1957 debut album, Bo Diddley gave rock and roll its most-identifiable pulse—as well as a primal thump that exploded with all the sex, sweat, and swagger rock had to offer. What would come to be known as the ‘Bo Diddley Beat’ was a standard African rhythm, but when Bo first used it to propel tunes such as ‘I’m a Man’ and ‘Who Do You Love,’ America’s parents were treated to a groove that scared the holy hell out of them.” 

Diddley worked his magic on Gretsch guitars, the most famous of which being his iconic rectangular model with two Filter ’Tron pickups. His catalog includes classic albums such as Bo Diddley, Have Guitar Will Travel, and Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger. The answer to his enduring musical question is patently obvious: We love you, Bo. Rest in peace.
Look for a full tribute to the man in the September 2008 issue of GP.