Many refer to Bo Diddley as “the Originator” due to his role in perpetuating a style of Chicago blues that would eventually spur the growth of the rock and roll genre. He had a sultry rhythm and blues style, and he was known for combining five-accent clave African beats with electric guitar rhythms that drove the melody in a fashion that was particularly innovative at the time. He is also known for his signature rectangular guitar, something that no one had seen before Bo Diddley took the stage.
Bo Diddley’s style is often thought of as somewhat simplistic. His melodies, while innovative, were not overly complicated. He was not known for chord changes, or for a particularly large vocal range, but his voice was big and he was known for performing his music with attitude. Even his influences were relatively simple. His music was inspired by the hambone style of rhythm, although he actually incorporated a wide variety of rhythms into his music aside from the basic beat for which he is most well-known. He is also known for the 1959 song “Say Man,” in which he does not sing at all. Instead, the song consists of an insult game played between Bo Diddley and his percussionist, Jerome Green, while music plays in the background.
There is no shortage of artists that have been inspired by Bo Diddley’s career. He inspired bands such as the Rolling Stones, Parliament and Funkadelic, the Yardbirds, the Beatles, and Iggy and the Stooges. His rhythms also inspired Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. The song “Say Man” is widely known as one of the progenitors of hip hop music, despite being released several years before hip hop would become a well-known genre.
Many of the artists he inspired did covers of his music. For instance, the Rolling Stones performed a cover of his song “Mona (I Need You Baby)” on their debut album. His song “Pretty Thing,” written by Willie Dixon, inspired the name of the band Pretty Things and was also covered by them in their debut album. The song was also covered by bands such as the Animals and Canned Heat. The Yardbirds also did a cover of the song “I’m a Man.” While Bo Diddley’s personal career never took off as much as some of the artists who covered him, his influence on the music scene from the 1950s and 1960s forward is undeniable.
Bo Diddley is one of the most influential blues artists who ever lived, having influenced the guitar playing and rhythmic styles of innumerable musicians since he first began playing in 1943. He remained active until 2007, eventually succumbing to illness and heart failure. His death was honored by a number of musicians, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Petty, and long-time friend Little Richard. Even the president at the time, George W. Bush, paid tribute to Bo Diddley alongside the US House of Representatives. His debut single, 1955’s “Bo Diddley,” is still remembered for the impact it had on the music industry and its perceptions of rhythm.
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