Bo Diddley


Bo Diddley (December 30, 1928 – June 2, 2008)

Featured Recordings Before You Accuse Me


Ellas Otha Bates  known by his stage name Bo Diddley, was an American rhythm and blues vocalist, guitarist, songwriter (usually as Elias McDaniel), and inventor. He was also known as “The Originator” because of his key role in the transition from the blues to rock & roll, influencing a host of acts including Buddy Holly, Jimi HendrixThe Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Who, The Clash, The Yardbirds, and Eric Clapton.He introduced more insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged guitar sound on a wide-ranging catalog of songs. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was known in particular for his technical innovations, including his trademark rectangular guitar.

Early life and career

Born in McComb,Mississippi, as Ellas Otha Bates, he was adopted and raised by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel, whose surname he assumed, becoming Ellas McDaniel. In 1934, the McDaniel family moved to the largely black South Side area of Chicago, where the young man dropped the name Otha and became known as Ellas McDaniel, until his musical ambitions demanded that he take on a more catchy identity. In Chicago, he was an active member of his local Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he studied the trombone and the violin, becoming proficient enough on the latter for the musical director to invite him to join the orchestra, with which he performed until the age of 18. He was more impressed, however, by the pulsating, rhythmic music he heard at a local Pentecostal Church, as well as an interest in the guitar.

Inspired by a concert where he saw John Lee Hooker perform, he supplemented his work as a carpenter and mechanic with a developing career playing on street corners with friends, including Jerome Green (c. 1934–1973), in a band called The Hipsters (later The Langley Avenue Jive Cats). During the summer of 1943–44, he played for tips at the Maxwell Street market in a band with Earl Hooker. By 1951 he was playing on the street with backing from Roosevelt Jackson (on washtub bass) and Jody Williams (whom he had taught to play the guitar). Williams later played lead guitar on “Who Do You Love?” (1956). In 1951 he landed a regular spot at the 708 Club on Chicago’s South Side, with a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters.

In late 1954, he teamed up with harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold, drummer Clifton James, and bass player Roosevelt Jackson, and recorded demos of “I’m A Man” and “Bo Diddley”. They re-recorded the songs at Chess Studios with a backing ensemble comprising Otis Spann (piano), Lester Davenport (harmonica), Frank Kirkland (drums), and Jerome Green (maracas). The record was released in March 1955, and the A-side, “Bo Diddley”, became a #1 R&B hit. McDaniel adopted the stage name “Bo Diddley”. The origin of the name is somewhat unclear, as several differing stories and claims exist. Diddley claims that his peers gave him the nickname, which he first suspected to be an insult. Bo Diddley himself said that the name first belonged to a singer his adoptive mother was familiar with, while harmonicist Billy Boy Arnold once said in an interview that it was originally the name of a local comedian that Leonard Chess borrowed for the song title and artist name for Bo Diddley’s first single. A “diddley bow” is a typically homemade American string instrument of African origin, probably developed from instruments found on the coast of west Africa.

Success in the 1950s and 1960s

On November 20, 1955, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television variety show, where he infuriated the host. “I did two songs and he got mad,” Bo Diddley later recalled. “Ed Sullivan said that I was one of the first colored boys to ever double-cross him. Said that I wouldn’t last six months”. The show had requested that he sing the Merle Travis-penned Tennessee Ernie Ford hit “Sixteen Tons”, but when he appeared on stage, he sang “Bo Diddley” instead. This substitution resulted in his being banned from further appearances.

The request came about because Sullivan’s people heard Diddley casually singing “Sixteen Tons” in the dressing room. Diddley’s accounts of the event were inconsistent. Chess included Diddley’s recording of “Sixteen Tons” on the album Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, which was originally released in 1960.

He continued to have hits through the rest of the 1950s and even the 1960s, including “Pretty Thing” (1956), “Say Man” (1959), and “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (1962). He released a string of albums whose titles, including Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger and Have Guitar, Will Travel, which bolstered his self-invented legend. Between 1958 and 1963, Checker Records released 11 full-length albums by Bo Diddley. Although he broke through as a crossover artist with white audiences (appearing at the Alan Freed concerts, for example), he rarely tailored his compositions to teenage concerns.

In 1963, he starred in a UK concert tour with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard. The Rolling Stones, still barely known outside London at that time, appeared as a supporting act on the same bill.

In addition to the many songs recorded by him, in 1956 he co-wrote, with Jody Williams, the pioneering pop song “Love Is Strange”, a hit for Mickey & Sylvia in 1957.

Bo Diddley was one of the first American male musicians to include women in his band, including “The Duchess” Norma-Jean Wofford, Peggy Jones (aka “Lady Bo”), Cornelia Redmond (aka Cookie), and Debby Hastings, who led his band for the final 25 years of his performing career. He also set up one of the first home recording studios.

Later years

Over the decades, Bo Diddley’s venues ranged from intimate clubs to stadiums. On March 25, 1972, he played with The Grateful Dead at the Academy of Music in New York City. The Grateful Dead released part of this concert as Volume 30 of the band’s Dick’s Picks concert album series. Also in the early 1970s, the soundtrack for the ground-breaking animated film Fritz The Cat contained his song “Bo Diddley”, in which a crow idly finger-pops along to the track.

Bo Diddley spent many years inNew Mexico, living in Los Lunas, New Mexico from 1971 to 1978 while continuing his musical career. In the late 1970s, Diddley left Los Lunas and moved to Hawthorne, Florida where he lived on a large estate in a custom made log-cabin home, which he helped to build. For the remainder of his life he spent time between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Florida, living the last 13 years of his life in Archer,Florida, a small farming town near Gainesville.

He appeared as an opening act for The Clash in their 1979 US tour; in Legends of Guitar (filmed live in Spain, 1991) with B.B. King, Les Paul, Albert Collins, George Benson, among others, and joined The Rolling Stones as a guest on their 1994 concert broadcast of Voodoo Lounge, performing “Who Do You Love?” with the band. Sheryl Crow and Robert Cray also appeared on the pay-per-view special.


On May 13, 2007, Bo Diddley was admitted to intensive care in Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, following a stroke after a concert in Council Bluffs, Iowa on May 12. Starting the show, he had complained that he did not feel well. He referred to smoke from the wildfires that were ravaging South Georgia and blowing south to the area near his home in Archer,Florida. Nonetheless, he delivered an energetic performance to an enthusiastic crowd. The next day, as Bo Diddley was heading back home, he seemed dazed and confused at the airport. His manager, Margo Lewis, called 911 and airport security and Bo was immediately taken by ambulance to Creighton University Medical Center and admitted to the Intensive-care unit, where he stayed for several days. After numerous tests, it was confirmed that Bo Diddley had suffered a stroke. He had a history of hypertension and diabetes, and the stroke affected the left side of his brain, causing receptive and expressive aphasia (speech impairment). The stroke was followed by a heart attack, suffered in Gainesville, Florida, on August 28, 2007.

While recovering from the stroke and heart attack, Diddley came back to his home town of McComb, Mississippi, in early November 2007 for the unveiling of a plaque devoted to him on the National Blues Trail stating that he was “acclaimed as a founder of rock and roll.” He was not supposed to perform, but as he listened to the music of local musician Jesse Robinson who sang a song written for this occasion, Robinson sensed that he wanted to perform and handed him a microphone. That was the first and last time that Bo Diddley performed publicly after suffering a stroke.


Bo Diddley died on June 2, 2008 of heart failure at his home in Archer,Florida. 


Bo Diddley achieved numerous accolades in recognition of his significant role as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.

    1986: inducted into the Washington Area Music Association’s Hall of Fame.

    1987: inducted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

    1990: Lifetime Achievement Award from Guitar Player magazine.

    1998: Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

    1999: His 1955 recording of his song “Bo Diddley” inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of lasting qualitative or historical significance.

    2000: Inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and into the North Florida Music Association’s Hall of Fame.

    2002: Pioneer in Entertainment Award from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters

    2002: Bo Diddley was honored as one of the first BMI Icons at the 50th annual BMI Pop Awards. He was presented the award along with BMI affiliates Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

    2008: Although confirmed before his death in June 2008, an honorary degree was posthumously conferred upon Diddley by the University of Florida in August 2008.

    2009: Florida’s Secretary of State announces Bo’s induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame (induction to occur during Florida Heritage Month, March 2010).

    2010: Bo Diddley was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

In 2003, U.S. Representative John Conyers paid tribute to Bo Diddley in the United States House of Representatives describing him as “one of the true pioneers of rock and roll, who has influenced generations”.

In 2004, Mickey and Sylvia’s 1956 recording of his song “Love Is Strange” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of qualitative or historical significance, and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame.

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him #20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

In 2005, Bo Diddley celebrated his 50th anniversary in music with successful tours of Australia and Europe, and with coast-to-coast shows across North America. He performed his song “Bo Diddley” with Eric Clapton, Robbie Robertson, and longtime bassist and musical director Debby Hastings at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 20th annual induction ceremony and in the UK.

Uncut magazine included his 1957 debut album “Bo Diddley” in its listing of the ‘100 Music, Movie & TV Moments That Have Changed The World’.

In 2006, Bo Diddley participated as the headliner of a grassroots organized fundraiser concert, to benefit the town of Ocean Springs,Mississippi, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The “Florida Keys for Katrina Relief” had originally been set for October 23, 2005, when Hurricane Wilma barreled through the Florida Keys on October 24, causing flooding and economic mayhem. In January 2006, the Florida Keys had recovered enough to host the fundraising concert to benefit the more hard-hit community of Ocean Springs. When asked about the fundraiser Bo Diddley stated, “This is the United States of America. We believe in helping one another.”. In an interview with Holger Petersen, on Saturday Night Blues on CBC Radio in the fall of 2006 Bo Diddley commented about the racism that existed in the music industry establishment during the early part of his career that saw him deprived of his royalties from the most successful part of his career.

Bo Diddley performed a number of shows around the country in 2005 and 2006 with the fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson Band, featuring Johnson on keyboards, Richard Hunt on drums, and Gus Thornton on bass. But from 1985 until he died, his touring band consisted of Debby Hastings (bass/musical director), Frank Daley or Nunzio Signore (guitar), Tom Major, Dave Johnson, Yoshi Shimada or Sandy Gennaro (drums), and his personal manager, Margo Lewis (keyboards).

Notable cover versions

Bo Diddley’s songs have frequently been covered by other artists.

    Captain Beefheart covered “Diddy Wah Diddy” in 1966.

    Buddy Holly’s rendition of “Bo Diddley” (recorded in 1957) was a posthumous top-10 hit in the UK, peaking at No. 7 in the summer of 1963.

    The Rolling Stones covered several Bo Diddley numbers in concert and in early BBC Radio broadcasts. In 1964 they released “I Need You Baby (Mona)” on the UK version of their first album (the US version featured their cover of the Diddley-inspired Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away”).

    The Kinks covered “Cadillac” on their debut album in 1964.

    The Pretty Things covered “Road Runner” on their debut album in 1965, where it was featured as the opening track. “Road Runner” has also been covered by Humble Pie, The Who and Aerosmith.

    The Animals and Bob Seger have both covered “The Story of Bo Diddley”.

    The Yardbirds, The Who, The Remains and the Dutch group Q65 covered “I’m a Man”.

    The Grateful Dead, The Woolies, George Thorogood, Ronnie Hawkins, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Juicy Lucy covered “Who Do You Love”, which was also a concert favorite of The Doors.

    Quicksilver Messenger Service covered both “Who Do You Love” and “Mona”.

    Creedence Clearwater Revival and Eric Clapton have both covered “Before You Accuse Me”.

    The New York Dolls and The Lurkers have both recorded their own versions of the song “Pills”.

    Dr. Feelgood led off their second album, Malpractice (1975), with a cover of “I Can Tell.”

    The Clash recorded “Mona” during the London Calling sessions.

    Ex-Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker counts Diddley as one of her chief influences and covered “Bo Diddley” on her 1989 solo album, Life in Exile After Abdication.

    Chris Isaak covered “Diddley Daddy” on his third album, Heart Shaped World (1989).

    Black Strobe covered “I’m a Man” on their Album Burn Your Own Church (2007).

    Tom Petty has played “I Need You Baby (Mona)” in concert, and performed it with Diddley himself in 1999.




Year Title Chart positions
US Hot



1955 “Bo Diddley” 1
1955 “Diddley Daddy” 11
1955 “Pretty Thing” 4 34
1956 “Diddy Wah Diddy”
1956 “Who Do You Love?”
1956 “Cops and Robbers”
1957 “Hey! Bo Diddley”
1957 “Say! Boss Man”
1958 “Hush Your Mouth”
1958 “Willie and Willie”
1959 “I’m Sorry” 17
1959 “Crackin’ Up” 62 14
1959 “Say Man” 20 3
1959 “Say Man, Back Again” 23
1960 “Road Runner” 75 20
1960 “Walkin’ and Talkin'”
1960 “Gunslinger”
1961 “Not Guilty”
1961 “Pills”
1962 “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” 48 21
1963 “Greatest Lover in the World”
1964 “Memphis”
1964 “Jo-Ann”
1964 “Chuck’s Beat”
with Chuck Berry
1965 “Hey, Good Lookin'” 39
1965 “500% More Man”
1966 “We’re Gonna Get Married”
1966 “Ooh Baby” 88 17
1967 “Wrecking My Love Life”
1968 “I’m High Again”
1969 “Bo Diddley 1969”
1971 “The Shape I’m In”
1971 “I Said Shut Up Woman”
1972 “Infatuation”
1972 “Bo-Jam”
1973 “Husband-In-Law”
1973 “Don’t Want No Lyin’ Woman”
1976 “Drag On”
1996 “Bo Diddley Is Crazy”


“—” denotes a release that did not chart.

Studio albums

All studio albums released as LPs, except which were released as cassettes and ^ which were CDs.


Title Release date Notes Label
Catalog No.
Go Bo Diddley July 1959 Checker
Have Guitar Will Travel January 1960 named after Have Gun–Will Travel Checker
Bo Diddley in the Spotlight 1960 featuring “Road Runner” Checker
Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger December 1960 #20 on the UK Albums Chart Checker
Bo Diddley Is a Lover September 1961 Checker
Bo Diddley’s a Twister March 1962 based on the twist craze Checker
Bo Diddley August 1962 #11 on the UK Albums Chart, #117 on the Billboard 200 Checker
Bo Diddley & Company January 1963 first album with The Duchess Checker
Surfin’ with Bo Diddley June 1963 Checker
Two Great Guitars August 1964 with Chuck Berry Checker
Hey! Good Lookin’ 1965 Checker
500% More Man 1965 Checker
The Originator December 1966 Checker
Super Blues June 1967 with Muddy Waters and Little Walter Checker
The Super Super Blues Band February 1968 with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf Checker
The Black Gladiator July 1970 Checker
Another Dimension May 1971 Chess
Where It All Began May 1972 Chess
The London Bo Diddley Sessions 1973 Chess
Big Bad Bo 1974 Chess
20th Anniversary of Rock & Roll 1976 RCA Victor
APL 1-1229
Ain’t It Good To Be Free 1983 Limited release BoKay
Breakin’ Through the B.S. ^ 1989 Triple X 51017
This Should Not Be ^ 1992 Triple
X 51130
A Man Amongst Men ^ May 21, 1996 #8 on the Blues Albums chart Atlantic

Compilation albums

All compilation albums released as LPs, except which were released as cassettes and ^ which were CDs.


Title Release date Notes Label
Catalog No.
Bo Diddley 1958 Chess
Hey! Bo Diddley April 16, 1963 released in the UK only Pye International
NPL 28025
Bo Diddley Rides Again 1963 UK release, #19 on UK Albums Chart Pye International
NPL 28029
Bo Diddley’s 16 All-Time Greatest Hits 1964 Checker
Got My Own Bag of Tricks 1971 Chess
Chess Masters, Volume One 1982 Chess
Chess Masters, Volume Two 1982 Chess
His Greatest Sides, Volume One 1984 Chess
His Greatest Sides, Volume Two 1984 Chess
Living Legend 1989 New Rose
The Chess Box ^ 1990 Chess
Rear & Well Done ^ September 10, 1991 Chess
Bo Knows Bo ^ 1995 Universal Special
His Best ^ April 8, 1997 MCA/Chess
20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Bo Diddley ^ January 25, 2000 MCA
Eddy Mitchell Presente Les Rois Du Rock – Bo Diddley ^ October 28, 2003 Universal International
Classic Bo Diddley: The Universal Masters Collection ^ June 27, 2005 Universal Distribution
The Story of Bo Diddley: The Very Best of Bo Diddley ^ 2006 Chess
The Definitive Collection ^ April 17, 2007 #2 on the Blues Albums chart[2] Geffen/Chess
I’m a Man: The Chess Masters, 1955-1958 ^ September 2007 Hip-O
Rock ‘N’ Roll Legends ^ February 18, 2008 Chess
Road Runner: The Chess Masters, 1959-1960 ^ June 20, 2008 Hip-O
Gold ^ October 28, 2008 Geffen
Ride On: The Chess Masters, 1960-1961 ^ July 21, 2009 Hip-O

Live albums

All live albums released as LPs, except ^ which were CDs.


Title Release date Notes Label/Catalog No.
Bo Diddley’s Beach Party December 1963 #13 on UK Albums Chart Checker LP 2988
I’m a Man 1977 MF Productions 2002
Bo Diddley & Co. – Live 1985 New Rose FC-009
Hey… Bo Diddley: In Concert 1986 MF Productions
Live at the Ritz ^ 1988 with Ronnie Wood JVC
Live ^ February 1, 1994 Triple X 51162

Appearances on singles


Year Artist Title Details
1955 Little Walter and His Jukes “Roller Coaster” Composer/Guitarist
1955 Little Walter and His Jukes “Hate to See You Go” Guitarist
1956 Billy Stewart “Billy’s Blues” Guitarist
1957 Billy Stewart “Baby, You’re My Only Love” Guitarist
1959 The Marquees “Hey Little School Girl” Co-writer/Orchestra Director

Appearances on albums


Year Title Artist(s) Record label
(Catalog No.)
1972 Blues Rock Cookbook: Montreux Festival various Chess
Performer on “Diddley Daddy”, “I Hear You Knockin'”, “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”, “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, and “Early in the Morning”.
1987 La Bamba various Slash
Performer on the re-recording of “Who Do You Love?”
1992 Chess Blues 1947-1967 various MCA/Chess
Appeares as guitarist on “You Got To Love Me” by Billy Boy Arnold.
1998 Blues Brothers 2000 various Uptown/Universal
Appeares as a member of The Louisiana Gator Boys on “Turn on Your Love Light”
2003 Dick’s Picks Volume 30 Grateful Dead Grateful Dead Appeares with the Grateful Dead on “Hey! Bo Diddley”, “I’m a Man”, “I’ve Seen Them All”, “Jam”, and “Mona”.
2009 The Complete Chess Masters: 1950–1967 Little Walter Hip-O Select
Appeares as a guitarist on the previously unreleased songs “Feel So Bad” and “Make It Alright”.