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Bo Diddley

He only had a few hits in the 1950s and early '60s, but as Bo Diddley sang, "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." You can't judge an artist by his chart success, either, and Diddley produced greater and more influential music than all but a handful of the best early rockers. The Bo Diddley beat -- bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp -- is one of rock & roll's bedrock rhythms, showing up in the work of Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, and even pop-garage knock-offs like the Strangeloves' 1965 hit "I Want Candy." Diddley's hypnotic rhythmic attack and declamatory, boasting vocals stretched back as far as Africa for their roots, and looked as far into the future as rap. His trademark otherworldly vibrating, fuzzy guitar style did much to expand the instrument's power and range. But even more important, Bo's bounce was fun and irresistibly rocking, with a wisecracking, jiving tone that epitomized rock & roll at its most humorously outlandish and freewheeling.

Before taking up blues and R&B, Diddley had studied classical violin, but shifted gears after hearing John Lee Hooker. In the early '50s, he began playing with his longtime partner, maraca player Jerome Green, to get what Bo's called "that freight train sound." Billy Boy Arnold, a fine blues harmonica player and singer in his own right, was also playing with Diddley when the guitarist got a deal with Chess in the mid-'50s (after being turned down by rival Chicago label Vee-Jay). His very first single, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man" (1955), was a double-sided monster. The A-side was soaked with futuristic waves of tremolo guitar, set to an ageless nursery rhyme; the flip was a bump-and-grind, harmonica-driven shuffle, based around a devastating blues riff. But the result was not exactly blues, or even straight R&B, but a new kind of guitar-based rock & roll, soaked in the blues and R&B, but owing allegiance to neither.

Diddley was never a top seller on the order of his Chess rival Chuck Berry, but over the next half-dozen or so years, he produced a catalog of classics that rival Berry's in quality. "You Don't Love Me," "Diddley Daddy," "Pretty Thing," "Diddy Wah Diddy," "Who Do You Love?," "Mona," "Road Runner," "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover" -- all are stone-cold standards of early, riff-driven rock & roll at its funkiest. Oddly enough, his only Top 20 pop hit was an atypical, absurd back-and-forth rap between him and Jerome Green, "Say Man," that came about almost by accident as the pair were fooling around in the studio.

As a live performer, Diddley was galvanizing, using his trademark square guitars and distorted amplification to produce new sounds that anticipated the innovations of '60s guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. In Great Britain, he was revered as a giant on the order of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. The Rolling Stones in particular borrowed a lot from Bo's rhythms and attitude in their early days, although they only officially covered a couple of his tunes, "Mona" and "I'm Alright." Other British R&B groups like the Yardbirds, Animals, and Pretty Things also covered Diddley standards in their early days. Buddy Holly covered "Bo Diddley" and used a modified Bo Diddley beat on "Not Fade Away"; when the Stones gave the song the full-on Bo treatment (complete with shaking maracas), the result was their first big British hit.

The British Invasion helped increase the public's awareness of Diddley's importance, and ever since then he's been a popular live act. Sadly, though, his career as a recording artist -- in commercial and artistic terms -- was over by the time the Beatles and Stones hit America. He would record with ongoing and declining frequency, but after 1963, he never wrote or recorded original material on par with his early classics. Whether he'd spent his muse, or just felt he could coast on his laurels, is hard to say. But he remains a vital part of the collective rock & roll consciousness, and occasionally reached wider visibility via a 1979 tour with the Clash, a cameo role in the film Trading Places, a late-'80s tour with Ronnie Wood, and a 1989 television commercial for sports shoes with star athlete Bo Jackson. ~ Richie Unterberger
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Bo Diddley's Beach Party

1. Memphis (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

2. Gunslinger (Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger) (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

3. Hey Bo Diddley (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

4. Old Smokey (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

5. Bo Diddley’s Dog (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

6. I’m All Right (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

7. Mr. Custer (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

8. Bo’s Waltz (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

9. What’s Buggin’ You (Crackin' Up) (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)

10. Road Runner (Live At The Beach Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina/1963)


Track List: Live 1984

2. Doctor Jekyll (Live)

3. Everleen (Live)

4. I Don’t Know Where I’ve Been (Live)

5. You Can’t Judge A Book (Live)

6. Roadrunner (Live)

7. I’m A Man (Live)

8. Mona (Live)


Track List: Bo's The Man! - Live On Tour (Europe 1984)

2. Doctor Jekyll (Live)

3. Everleen (Live)

4. I Don't Know Where I've Been (Live)

6. Roadrunner (Live)

7. I'm A Man (Live)

8. Mona (Live)


Track List: His Best

1. Bo Diddley

2. I'm A Man

3. You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)

4. Diddley Daddy

5. Pretty Thing

6. Bring It To Jerome

7. I'm Lookin' For A Woman

8. Who Do You Love?

9. Hey Bo Diddley

10. Mona (aka I Need You Baby)

11. Before You Accuse Me

12. Say Man

13. Dearest Darling

14. Crackin' Up

15. The Story Of Bo Diddley

16. Road Runner

17. Pills

18. I Can Tell

19. You Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover

20. Ooh Baby


Track List: Chess Box

Disc 1

1. Bo Diddley

2. I'm A Man

3. You Don't Love Me

4. Diddley Daddy

5. Pretty Thing

6. Bring It To Jerome (Alt. Take)

7. Bring It To Jerome

8. Diddy Wah Diddy

9. I'm Looking For A Woman

10. Who Do You Love?

11. Down Home Special

12. Hey Bo Diddley

13. Mona (I Need You Baby)

14. Say Boss Man

15. Before You Accuse Me

16. Say Man

17. Hush Your Mouth (Alt. Take)

18. The Clock Strikes Twelve

19. Dearest Darling (Alt. Take)

20. Crackin' Up

21. Don't Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)

22. I'm Sorry

23. Mumblin' Guitar

24. The Story Of Bo Diddley

Disc 2

1. Cadillac

2. Signifying Blues (Extended Version)

3. Deed And Deed I Do

4. You Know I Love You

5. Look At My Baby

6. Ride On Josephine

7. Aztec

8. Back Home

9. Pills

10. Untitled Instrumental

11. I Can Tell

12. you Can't Judge A Book By It's Cover

13. Who May Your Lover Be

14. The Greatest Lover In The World

15. 500% More Man

16. Ooh Baby

17. Bo Diddley 1969

18. Blank Track

19. Blank Track

20. Blank Track

21. Blank Track


Track List: Go Bo Diddley

1. Crackin' Up

2. I'm Sorry

3. Bo's Guitar

4. Willie And Lillie

5. You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)

6. Say Man

7. The Great Grandfather

8. Oh Yea

9. Don't Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)

10. Little Girl

11. Dearest Darling

12. The Clock Strikes Twelve


Track List: Bo Diddley - Go Bo Diddley

1. Bo Diddley

2. I'm A Man

3. Bring It To Jerome

4. Before You Accuse Me

5. Hey! Bo Diddley

6. Dearest Darling

7. Hush Your Mouth

9. Diddley Daddy

10. Diddy Wah Diddy

11. Who Do You Love

12. Pretty Thing

13. Crackin' Up

14. I'm Sorry

15. Bo's Guitar

16. Willie And Lillie

17. You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)

18. Say Man

19. The Great Grandfather

20. Oh Yea

21. Don't Let It Go

22. Little Girl

23. Dearest Darling


Track List: The London Bo Diddley Sessions

1. Don't Want No Lyin' Woman

2. Bo Diddley

3. Going Down

4. Make A Hit Record

5. Bo-Jam

6. Husband-In-Law

7. Do The Robot

8. Sneakers On A Rooster

9. Get Out Of My Life


Track List: Where It All Began

1. I've Had It Hard

2. Woman

3. Look At Grandma

4. A Good Thing

5. Bad Trip

6. Hey, Jerome

7. Infatuation

8. Take It All Off

9. Bo Diddley-itis


Track List: Another Dimension

1. The Shape I'm In

2. I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know

3. Pollution

4. Bad Moon Rising

5. Down On The Corner

6. I Said Shutup Woman

7. Bad Side Of The Moon

8. Lodi

9. Go For Broke


Track List: Bo Diddley & Company

1. (Extra, Read All About It) Ben

2. Help Out

3. Diana

4. Bo's A Lumber Jack

5. Lazy Woman

6. Mama Mia

7. Gimme Gimme

8. Put The Shoes On Willie

9. Pretty Girl

10. Same Old Thing

11. Met You On Saturday

12. Little Girl


Track List: Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger

1. Gun Slinger

2. Ride On Josephine

3. Doing The Crawdaddy

4. Cadillac

5. Somewhere

6. Cheyenne

7. Sixteen Tons

8. Whoa Mule (Shine)

9. No More Lovin'

10. Diddling

11. Working Man

12. Do What I Say

13. Prisoner Of Love

14. Googlia Moo

15. Better Watch Yourself


Track List: In The Spotlight

1. Road Runner

2. The Story Of Bo Diddley

3. Scuttle Bug

4. Signifying Blues

5. Let Me In

6. Limber

7. Love Me

8. Craw-Dad

9. Walkin' And Talkin'

10. Travelin' West

11. Deed And Deed I Do

12. Live My Life


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Big Bad Bo
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If you are a Bob Segar fan, listen to Live Bullet. Bo's influence on Segar is very apparent.
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He was a friend of mine. May you rest in peace Bo.
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No words can really do this GREAT man justice.
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It's impossible to listen to a Bo Diddly song without tapping your feet or getting into the groove with him. A true innovator and influence. I have more respect for an artist that has a short but memorable and influential output than I do for artists like Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones who haven't produced any good music for the last 45 years and are coasting on their laurels
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I seen Bo live in a bar I hung out at in Huber Heights Ohio in 1968 put on a great show
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Bo Diddley: Blues Singer or Rock and Roll Singer? You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover sounds more blues, to me - and, yeah, it does sound a little rock and roll. But, then again, so does some of Howlin' Wolf's output. Well, either way, Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf are both superior to Elvis Presley!!
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Bo is some of that Mississippi delta blues greats HELL YES ��
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In the mid 70's, when I was on KRKE, in Albuquerque, NM, I had the fortune of meeting Bo , who at that time lived in New Mexico. I was on the air as Dr Wu and Bo said he liked my name so much, he was going to write a song for me. Wonderful meeting you Bo, even if I never did hear the song.
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Great stories..... . y e a h Bo is just pure 1A Bad A**....had a chance to see him live a year or two before he passed.....m i s s e d the show.....bum m i n g even more now that I read other peoples comments of what a great live act he was right up until the end......
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jim.orangebu c k e t
That story of Dayton, Ohio reminded me of the scene of the frat boys at a club from the movie Animal House . Been there too ! Keep on rock'n!!
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Big Bad Bo - The All-American - B o y
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Bo Diddley gave Porky Chedwick credit for help getting him started - Porky died Mar 2, 2014 @ 96
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Saw him preform in D.C. many times where I lived. Still enjoy his tunes. In the 50's we all loved his outrageous slanting while he played and we waited for him to fall down which he never did.
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I had a chance to see Bo Diddley a few years ago and am still kicking myself for passing up the opportunity. Bo was ahead of his time. People like that often don't get the recognition they deserve.
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Crackin' Up---one my favorites
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Bo was big on WAMO Porky digged him---BIG BAD BO
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I remember Porky Chedwick growing up in Natrona Heights Pa.
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fitzgeraldde s m o n d
I first saw and heard Bo Diddley in 1963 or 64 and he was fabulous. His 3 man group blew out the walls of a big hall, and left us all reeling for several days. DGFitzGerald
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It is great to know someone else remebers pittsburgh own Porky Chedwick: from my days at Pitt
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lol to the duchess
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Bo is a BAD A__!
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Bo's PILLS great stuff
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I'm a rooooooooad runner honey...and you can't catch up with me
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I like a lot of different music, and have seen lots of shows, but Bo Diddley's show was one of the best. Saw him a few yrs ago, 81yrs old and rocked the house!!! Classic. Rip
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i knew bo was special back in the fifties when i heard im a man got somethin in my pocket...... . . t h a t beat from congo square, i was hooked.then he came to the bklyn paramount & blew everyone away.
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Big Bad Bo.....the Road Runner
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Circa 1955, Wash DC - Bo lived on R. I. Ave NE - I'm 15, hooked on R & B and living next door to my friend is guitarist Bill Harris for The Clovers. Bo pulls up in his '55 Chev Nomad with song titles plasterd over entire car. Words cannot describe the scene. Still have his 45's
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Saw Bo on the boston common when we had local concerts in the open space. Talked to him for a while telling him I had bought his album on a 75 for my first stereo recording machine IT WAS I'M MAN . my PARENTS WERE NOT HAPPY WHEN THEY HEARD IT COMING HOME FROM CHURCH !!!!!
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Sir Bo never gets old
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I once saw Bo when he was an old man and he did a drum solo to show the drummer what he wanted. He BEAT those things. It was like the kit was about to come apart. The cymbal had a standing wave like a cartoon. That's how he played--his guitar was distorted because he tore it up. His voice was rough because he shouted it. He prefigured rap and was tougher than all of them together.
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I saw Bo at the Filmore. Wow what a showman!
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1 of the most important & influential American artists ever,his importance cannot be understated!
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photoruff_pw h s
In the Mid 50's in Mississippi Delta where I grew up, we had dances with a real bands. I remember the dances in Belzoni, MS. and the bands had to know and play Bo Diddley. His music wasn't played on the normal radio, but we all knew Bo Diddley's music.
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stevensegal2 0 0 9
One of the best
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I met Bo in a local supper club in the late 80's where he was perfoming that night. We spent a 1/2 hour in the lounge before the show just discussing his career. I first hear Bo in the summer on 1955 when his first big hit Bo Diddley/I'm a Man came out on a 45. My buddy an I must have worn out 3 copies of that record. I've never forgotten that night and our conversation , and also my wife and I sat at a table right next to the stage, and I sang along with Bo for his whole set. Many years later
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Loved him as the pawn shop owner in "Trading Places".
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Bo Diddley is the man!!!!
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Bo Diddley one of the best ever bass plukers ever thanx Pandora
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"Who Do You Love" - my favorite Bo tune. One of the greatest chugging beats ever waxed.
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Bo Diddley lived in New Mexico in the mid 70's. He played several dances at my church hall. He put on great shows. Great moves on the stage.
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Bo Diddley is the greatest!!!T h e best he ever did, I believe was "You can't judge a book by looking at the cover".
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I was incredibly lucky! I saw Bo Diddly four years ago when I was fourteen. It was an amazing show and an amazing venue...we made eye contact. I feel blessed to have gotten the chance to see at least one rock and roll pioneer...
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leon3anderso n
surfin' with Bo Diddley is one of the best !
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In February 1958, a couple of my Kettering OH Fairmont High School friends, one from Atlanta, another from Texas, who knew of Bo's music, heard Bo Diddley was coming to town. "Who in the world is Bo Diddley?" I asked. The venue was an all black "club" called Dell's Hall on the West Side of Dayton, just off Germantown St. About eight of us went to see Bo on a week night. We were all juniors in high school. Half of us went in my '51 Lincoln. Needless to say, I was terrified being the only white pe
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Spoke to Bo in '85 in Greensboro,N . C .
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If you want to listen to a real music innovator, do yourself a favor & listen to "Bo Diddley" & "Go Bo Diddley". Both albums are very good & listenng to them you will hear the influence he has had on many, many artists thru the years. This man will be truly missed & he will be listened to for many years to come. Goodbye dear old friend, I will miss you. Maynard G.
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Long live Bo Diddley !!!
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