Roger Knows Bo (aka Bo Diddley, hacker)
One of the people at O’Reilly I hope I stay in close touch with is Roger Magoulas, who runs the company’s research group. Maybe we will, now that our conversations will no longer revolve around where that damn updated chart is. Roger sent me a great email about Bo Diddley and I asked if I could pass it along. So…
I was surprised at how strongly I was affected by the news that Bo Diddley (ne Elias Otha Batea, ne Elias McDaniel) had died on Monday. It got me thinking about why and then it hit me, Bo Diddley hacked rock’n’roll. From building his own guitars and electronic effects, to using nursery rhyme self-referential boasting, to the driving beat (yes, the beat was copped from elsewhere; yes, it still resonates) and distorted guitar sound, Bo seems to have single-handedly invented much of the rock vernacular. He influenced nearly everyone of merit over the last 50 years, really anyone trying express high-energy with a dirty ambience. I love that the list includes Buddy Holly, the Dead, Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top ,and the Clash. And how can George Thorogood ever repay him?
It wasn’t just the music, check out this video – in just 94 seconds on The Big TNT Show you can see just how rock’n’roll the big guy was:
Check out the staging, the knowing smirk on Bo’s face when the song starts, the wall of amps, the strut and moves, the skintight dresses, how much fun everyone seems to be having. Bo played a major role defining what a rock show should be. And he had women playing a pivotal role in his band from the early 60s. The woman playing guitar in the video, Norma-Jeane Wofford, aka The Duchess, could really play, providing the lead fills so Bo could concentrate on the rhythm and singing.
Like many disruptive hackers, Bo never got his full due. But I’ll never forget as I sit strumming out that crazy beat with the distortion turned way up on my amp. Rest in peace Bo, seminal rock’n’roll hacker.