Jun 032008

I saw that Bo Diddley died yesterday. Let’s take a few moments to reflect on The Power and Glory of Rock, as driven by a primal, essential beat, a fiercely strummed guitar, and in most cases more than a dash of style.




  33 Responses to “The Beat Lives On”

  1. I’m A Man was an answer song for Bo Diddley.

    I enjoyed the videos. Now that he’s passed and his catalog is being posted to hell and back, it hits me that the guy had amassed an amazing sized collection of one-of-a-kind classics.

  2. sammymaudlin

    Thanks for the vids Mod. I was just going to post that classic one but you BEAT me to it.

    I totally dig Bo Diddley. That classic clip is pure Rock and Roll. No baby laxative there.

    A couple of questions that I’ve always had about Bo Diddley:

    *Has anyone else ever had a beat named after them?

    *Do most people consider Bo Diddley Rock and Roll? I know some throw him into the Blues category which frankly just seems racist.

    *Am I alone in thinking that Buddy Holly is dickhead?

  3. Mr. Moderator

    You are probably alone in thinking Buddy Holly was a dickhead. WHY?

    Some seem to know the key beats of some established drummers by the drummer’s name, like a “Ringo fill,” but I can’t recall another artist – non-drummer – who’s got a beat named after him. James Brown’s sense of rhythm is distinctive and understood if you just say “James Brown beat,” but there’s not one James Brown beat. Hip-hop producers may have their own beats that are known by the producers’ names. I don’t know enough about that scene, but that may be the closest to what you’re looking for.

    I agree, re: Bo being categorized as a Blues artist. He’s rock ‘n roll.

  4. sammymaudlin

    I discovered Buddy Holly years before exploring Bo Diddley at which time I realized that Buddy’s sound and Look is more than just influenced by Bo. It is my impression that Buddy Holly saw an opportunity to be what Bo never could be because he was black.

    White musicians ripping off black ones is certainly very common, if not pervasive, in early rock and roll. But the extent to which Buddy Holly ripped off Bo Diddley is beyond pale. = dickhead

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Nah, there are great differences in what those artists did. Holly mined that beat now and then, but even when he did he put his own spin on it. Go back and watch The Buddy Holly Story.

  6. BigSteve

    I’m confused. It’s not like Holly’s entire oeuvre consisted of songs based on Bo Diddley’s beat. In fact, only a tiny percentage of his songs were. Am I missing some irony in sammy’s argument? Given the other threads this morning, I can’t tell anymore.

  7. sammymaudlin

    Mined the beat. Mined the look. Mined the man all the way to the bank.

  8. BigSteve

    Mined the Look? Are you kidding? Because he wore glasses? Please.

  9. sammymaudlin

    I’m not the only one. Apparently, according to the L.A. times “some” agree with me.

    Some have suggested that Holly’s horn-rimmed glasses were a nod to Diddley as well.

  10. James Brown’s sense of rhythm is distinctive and understood if you just say “James Brown beat,” but there’s not one James Brown beat.

    But there is a James Brown beat (technically a Clyde Stubblefield beat) that’s so distinctive it’s been sampled literally hundreds of times and is universally known by the name of the JB song it appeared in, even though — just like “Bo Diddley” and “Hambone” — it had been used by other artists before its canonical appearance. (Fun!: name the extremely white ’60s pop hit that uses the “Funky Drummer” beat but came out BEFORE “Funky Drummer.”)

    And thank everyone for not repeating the canard that the Smiths’ “How Soon is Now” uses the Bo Diddley beat. Because it doesn’t, but you have no idea how many people think it does. Ironically, there IS a song on MEAT IS MURDER that uses the “Marie’s the Name” variant of the Bo Diddley beat.

  11. Hey Sammy,

    How are songs like “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” “Words of Love” and “Everyday” Bo Diddley rip-offs? I’m no Bo expert, so this is a (half-)serious query.

    I look forward to your response.

  12. BigSteve

    I think “some” may think men in the 50s had a wider range of eyewear options than they really did.

    I’ve been interested in the way the print media has been onomatopoetically describing the Bo Diddley beat for readers who don’t know about it. Usually I’ve seen boom-boom-boom ba-boom-boom. I think of it as more CHUNKAH CHUNKAH CHUNK CHUNK (chunkah) CHUNK CHUNK.

  13. hrrundivbakshi

    Bullshit, BigSteve! The beat is CHUNK-ah CHUNK-ah CHUNK… ah-CHUNK-CHUNK!

    Repeat after me and shake maracas:


  14. hrrundivbakshi

    Re: the awesome illustration at the top of this post — where’s Gergley and his Holly-mania when we need him?

  15. I avoid onomatopoeia at all costs. It just looks stupid as hell.

    I saw more than one writer yesterday describe it as a “shave and a harcut, two bits” beat. Number One, that isn’t really right, though for writing in print about music it’s not as far off as it may seem. Number Two, how many people know what “shave and a haircut, two bits” is anymore?

  16. P.S.: I might have to marry the woman with the guitar in the very first clip.

  17. sammymaudlin

    Oats: Firstly I didn’t say that he xeroxed Bo but that he mined him thoroughly. I maintain that he mined Bo more than any other major white perfomer/band of the time mined any other black individual.

    That said, I say in response to those Buddy Holly songs:

    I’m Sorry
    Don’t Let It Go
    Crackin’ Up

  18. Mr. Moderator

    Is this what you mean?

    Now I see what Sammy’s talking about.
  19. BigSteve

    Yeah, “shave and a haircut, two bits” is usually used to describe the clave rhythm, which is different from the Diddley rhythm. I just read Ben Ratliff in the NY Times describe it as “three strokes/rest/two strokes,” which is also not right.

  20. Mr. Moderator

    The “shave and a haircut…” example will work MUCH better than anything else you guys are throwing out there when talking to a normal human being who doesn’t spend inordinate amount of time chewing over deep topics in the Halls of Rock. Please, Townspeople, step outside and breathe some fresh air once in a while.

  21. BigSteve

    Mr Mod, if I were talking to someone, I could easily demonstrate the rhythm orally. The problem is conveying it on the page without reference to near-extinct grooming practices and depression-era pricing.

  22. sammymaudlin

    That’s the worst pic I’ve ever seen of Bo Diddley. He looks kinda thin and wimpy there.

  23. general slocum

    It seems Mr. Maudlin either thinks Buddy Holly’s songs all sound like Not Fade Away, or has no ear, or I don’t know what. Bo Diddley is always underrated because people get hung up on that beat. He wrote amazing songs before, after, and aside from that beat, for which he seems only appreciated by very geeky officianados. Buddy Holly, if you ask me, is very nearly as unappreciated. He wrote stunning songs. In my opinion, he is using everything that was going on at the time, black, white, country, blues, the whole thing. But he was an innovator of sounds and styles. He never tried to “sound” black, nor any twangier than God and Texas created him. And that sweet voice is inimitable on those songs, Everyday, and Crying, Waiting, Hoping… and even the prime suspect “Not Fade Away?” How white an un-Bo-Diddley can you sound, for crying out loud?

  24. general slocum

    And before everyone piles on about Buddy Holly being unappreciated, let me clarify. He gets played out the wazoo in certain contexts, usually in between artists much more forgettable. He is as remembered for dying young and for his eyeglass frames than for creating surf music before that was a genre, or for defining a whole new territory of rock and roll combining twang without hick, and blues without faux-black-posturing. He doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves as a musician, IMO.

  25. sammymaudlin

    general sir: I respectfully point you to my previous comment where I listed four other Bo Diddley songs that Mr. Holly has mined. And these are just off the top of my head.

    I’m Sorry
    Don’t Let It Go
    Crackin’ Up

  26. general slocum

    Well, Mr. Maudlin, the top of your head may not prove to be the richest source of arguments for your point. In particular, I’m Sorry and Don’t Let It Go are mined from the same saccharine vein as some of Buddy Holly’s weaker efforts. You can’t credit Bo Diddley with inventing the forgettable fifties pop song with backing vocals and limited chord changes. Crackin’ Up is different, in my view, if only because it kicks so much ass. But in what song did Buddy Holly lift that one. And in Mona, I’m guessing you’re hearing Not Fade Away? My opinion is that even if Buddy were trying his best to steal Mona in Not Fade away, he failed to get much other than the minimalism of the chord idea and the beat. And though that rhythm haunted Bo Diddley and was forever linked with his name, it isn’t all that different from a rhumba, and had been used in pop, latin, and blues before him. He punched it up, for sure, and made it his. But he didn’t make it out of whole cloth. He mined it, just like everybody mines what came before.

    In the end, I get something hugely different from Bo and Buddy every time I hear their voices. If Buddy listened to him a lot, and he most surely did, why doesn’t he sound more like him?

    A side note, sort of: I think people get very hung up on this kind of thing. There are people who lift things from people, or steal their songs outright. There was a time when, as soon as a song started getting popular, everybody and his uncle crammed out an almost identical song in record time, and it wasn’t even hidden, or seen as anything *to* hide. And old blues guys, for some reason I’ve read about it in reference only to a couple of harmonica players, but when somebody well-known would die, people would take their name, and never even let on they weren’t them! This is something that used to happen in boxing a lot. Like Jack Dempsey, who took his name from a guy he knew, who, it turns out, had taken it on from a fighter *he* had known. And the third one turned out to be much more successful than either of the others. I’m not saying what is or isn’t ok or ethical. I’m just saying, if you hear Bo Diddley in Buddy Holly’s songs and guitar style (some of the time,) so do I. But if you suggest he didn’t make something else out of it, and make it all his own to the point where not many people would confuse the two for a second, I just don’t think you’re giving a listen to Buddy Holly.

  27. sammymaudlin

    If Buddy listened to him a lot, and he most surely did, why doesn’t he sound more like him?

    Because he’s being the white-man’s Bo Diddley. Like the SNL skit where The Young Caucasians are doing Ray Charles.

    Buddy Holly was great and did a great job of whitening-up what he borrowed. But instead of borrowing a bit here and a bit there he borrowed almost exclusively from Bo Diddley and that = dickhead in my book.

  28. But instead of borrowing a bit here and a bit there he borrowed almost exclusively from Bo Diddley

    And that’s a big ol’ BULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLSHEEEEEEEEEEIT! right there.

    Buddy borrowed “almost exclusively” from Bo Diddley? Tell me, how do you get your iPod earbuds in your ears with your head wedged so far up your ass?

    I am not denying that Buddy Holly copped some things from Bo Diddley. He did, no question. But EXCLUSIVELY? Fucking bullshit.

    What’s Buddy Holly’s A-number-one, first-thing-you-think-of hook after the glasses? The hiccup. Show me where in Bo Diddley’s catalogue Buddy Holly stole the hiccup from.

    So if not from Diddley, where did Buddy get the hiccup? Same place Elvis got it: vintage country singers like Eddy Arnold. But it was Buddy who turned it into his signature vocal tic.

    Almost exclusively. Give me a fucking break.

  29. BigSteve

    Buddy Holly was great and did a great job of whitening-up what he borrowed. But instead of borrowing a bit here and a bit there he borrowed almost exclusively from Bo Diddley and that = dickhead in my book.

    This is silly, and I, and others, will just have call bullshit on you, sammy. You either haven’t heard enough of Holly’s music, or you’ve heard it through some weird distorting filter. The idea that Holly “borrowed almost exclusively from Diddley” is just ignorant.

    Answer Oats’ question.

  30. Mr. Moderator

    Sammy’s begging for rock wedgie. Maybe even a rock swirlie.

  31. dbuskirk

    I’ll leave the issue of whether Buddy Holly is a Bo imitator up to the gods of decide, but I just wanted to make a plug for Bo’s late 60’s Chess records and early seventies sides he cut at GRT, which are my very favorite. Raven has a great comp. of the GRT years, DRIVE BY BO DIDDLEY: TALES FROM THE FUNK DIMENSION 1970-’73 which captures some of the cool funk instrumentals he cut like “Bad Trip” and “Funky Fly”. The 50’s stuff is fine as well but I feel a deeper connection to his 70’s stuff these days. BO DIDDLEY’S BEACH PARTY, recorded live at Myrtle Beach in ’63 is a must-have for any early Stones fans too.

  32. Cut and pasted because stories don’t stay on the LA Times server very long:


    The night Bo Diddley banned the Beat
    How do you play with a legend without doing it the legendary way? By learning his lesson of keeping himself new.
    By Dave Alvin, Special to The Times
    June 4, 2008
    “Whatever you do, do not play ‘the Beat!’ “

    That was the first thing Bo Diddley said to us before we walked onto the stage of the Music Machine club in West L.A. for two sets in 1983. We were a mix of members of the Blasters and X who had agreed, with great enthusiasm, to back up one of our greatest heroes for free at a benefit show for the Southern California Blues Society.

    To say that we were upset by his announcement/warning would be an understatement. How could you play Bo Diddley songs and not play the powerful, infectious and sensual Bo Diddley Beat?

    Since Bo’s first records for the Chess label back in the mid-’50s, his “Beat” (a primal and relentless mix of the old shave-and-a-haircut riff, Chicago blues grooves and Latin rhythms) had been borrowed, stolen or adapted by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Rolling Stones to David Bowie for their own hit records.

    Now, even though Bo had used various permutations of the Beat over the course of his long career, he was asking us to abandon it entirely in favor of . . . what? It’s sort of like asking an actor to do “Hamlet” but don’t use any of Shakespeare’s words.

    Blasters drummer Bill Bateman and X drummer DJ Bonebreak, sharing the drum and percussion duties for the night, asked Bo to clarify what beat they should play. He tapped out some rhythm that stressed a different accent, but, to be honest, I couldn’t tell what the difference was. Fortunately, Bill and DJ picked up on his instructions, and by the end of the first song Bo seemed pretty happy.

    It was a very good band, with Bill and DJ teaming for the essential duties on drums, timbales and maracas, X’s John Doe and Blasters bassist John Bazz sharing the bass position, while my brother Phil, who also played some harmonica, and I followed Bo as best we could on guitars.

    Most of the songs in the first set were new songs that Bo had recently recorded but none of us had ever heard, let alone studied. We (and just about every other musician in the modern age) had been dissecting all of his old records for years with the passion of theology students poring over the Dead Sea Scrolls or physicists debating string theory. A couple of the songs in the set were straight blues that easily fell into a comfortable pocket, but the rest were extended one-chord, semi-funk jams that wound up sounding as much like “Bitches Brew”-era Miles Davis as they did classic Bo Diddley.

    As the set progressed and I began to get comfortable with Bo’s new beats, I started thinking that it was close-minded of me to expect him to play the old songs the same old way. Wasn’t Bo Diddley as much of a musical revolutionary as Bob Dylan? Weren’t his original recordings of “Mona” or “Who Do You Love?” as musically unique, pivotal and influential in their day as Dylan’s?

    Maybe Bo wasn’t the genius lyricist that Dylan is, but in rock ‘n’ roll (or blues and folk), lyrics aren’t everything. If Dylan could change the melodies, grooves and even lyrics to his songs to keep exploring the possibilities of his art, why couldn’t Bo Diddley?

    Some people would argue that Bo was one of the architects of funk and, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t he be allowed to follow his own rhythmic path to wherever it might lead him? Why should Bo Diddley have to be stuck in the past just because that’s where a part of his audience (and perhaps his backing bands) wanted him to remain?

    I remember smiling on stage like a goofball as I realized all of this and came to the conclusion that if you really dig Bo Diddley, then let Bo Diddley be Bo Diddley! I was a young guy at the time who was trying his best to replicate old music — and that’s the best way to learn, believe me — but that night Bo taught me a lesson about growing and surviving as a musician/artist: Stay true to yourself.

    After the first set I approached Bo backstage and told him what I had been thinking while I played with him. “That’s right,” he said, laughing. “I already made all them old records years ago. Now I’m keeping myself new.”

    But as we walked back onstage for the second set, Bo turned to us, smiled and said, “You know, you boys are pretty good, so I’ll tell what: The first song is gonna be ‘Mona’ and you can play with the Bo Diddley Beat.” And we did.

    Thank you, Bo, for all your incredible music over the years and, especially, the wise life lesson you taught me.

    Singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Alvin has been a member of the Blasters X and the Knitters and leads his own roots-rock group, the Guilty Men.

  33. Sammy, are you confusing the real Buddy Holly with the Kids in the Hall “I’m Buddy Freaking Holly” who let his pet monkey fly the plane that killed him? I’ll admit that guy was a dick.

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