(Ellas Bates McDaniel)
Born: December 30, 1920, McComb, Mississippi
Died: June 2, 2008
Photo credit: David Horwitz – DavidHorwitzBluesImages@msn.com
One of the founders of rock and roll, Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates. He was raised by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel. In 1934, he moved to Chicago. Young McDaniel studied violin and trombone before picking up the acoustic guitar. As a teenager, he began playing on Maxwell Street, an open -air market located between 16th and Halstead Streets in Chicago, with a group that included harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold. In order to be heard above the din of the market, McDaniel switched to electric guitar and cranked up the amplifier. Playing in the streets of Chicago, he developed a distinctive style of music that bridged blues and rock and roll with a signature beat inspired by an Afro -Cuban clave beat His beat went “bomp -da -domp -da -domp -ba -domp -domp” and was accented by a shimmering tremolo effect (or raising and lowering of volume). Bo Diddley’s chicken -scratching technique on the guitar strings was inspired by his early training on the violin. In 1954, he auditioned for Chess Records. The owners, Phil and Leonard Chess, were favorably impressed and invited Ellas to revamp the rough lyrics of his audition song and return the next day. He changed the name of the song to “Bo Diddley,” in reference to the diddley bow. He recorded it as Bo Diddley, thus establishing his new stage name. Released in 1955, the song “Bo Diddley” hit nationally, rising to number two on the Billboard charts. A string of hits followed throughout the 1950s. Diddley toured the states becoming known for his stage antics like playing the guitar behind his head. He also constructed and played his signature square body guitar. In 1963, he toured Europe with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard.