Selected by Dan Grunebaum
|"I opened the
door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me
holding the knob..."
Blue Note Tokyo
Few artists are lucky enough to have a time signature named after them, but then few are as unique as rhythm & blues pioneer Bo Diddley. In the first week of August, Bo Diddley will bring his "Bo Diddley Beat" to Tokyo for a landmark first-ever visit to the Blue Note Tokyo.
Like many of the Chicago bluesmen, Bo Diddley (b. Ellas Bates) was a transplant from the Mississippi Delta, relocating to Chicago in the mid-1930s. But unlike his peers, Diddley took a circuitous route to the blues, switching to the guitar only after studying the violin for 12 years.
A frustrated drummer, Diddley attempted to mimic percussion techniques using his guitar pick. "I play guitar as if I' playing the drums... I play drum licks on the guitar," he is quoted as saying on his official website. Putting together his first group, The Hipsters, later known as the Langley Avenue Jive Cats, Diddley spent the better part of the late '40s and early '50s jamming on the street corners and in the clubs of Chicago before scoring his first contract.
After repeated rejections from various labels, he brought some tracks to the Chess brothers, owners of the storied Chess Records label. They suggested he make some changes, re-recorded the tracks and released them in 1955 as a double A-side, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" on Chess subsidiary Checkers Records. The disc went straight to the top of the R&B charts, launching Bo Diddley on a career that would profoundly influence the genesis of rock'n'roll.
With his pounding Bo Diddley Beat, custom built, fur-covered guitars, innovative use of effects, distinctive all-black outfit and habit of playing his guitar between his legs, with his teeth, and every which way, Diddley's legacy can be seen in everyone from Jimi Hendrix to George Thorogood. To get a true sense of his reach, consider the following: Diddley was invited by UK punk group The Clash to open for them on their first major US tour in 1978. And in 1987, pop star George Michael scored an international smash hit with "Faith," a song driven by the Bo Diddley Beat.
In recent years, with the bluesman celebrating his 70th birthday in 1998, Diddley has begun to receive the respect he deserves. He was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, joined the Hollywood RockWalk in 1989, appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 1992, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1998 Grammys.
Bo Diddley plays the Blue Note Tokyo from Aug 4-9. See listings for details.