Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bo Diddley Beat(le)

Writing about Elvis Presley last week reminded me of Bo Diddley's death in June. When I heard the news, my mind did a mental search, trying to make a connection between one of Rock and Roll's founding fathers and The Beatles. Surprisingly, there was not much.

There were a few obvious musical matches. I knew Paul covered "Crackin' Up" on Choba B CCCP, and when he covered "I Wanna Be Your Man", on Paul Is Live, he gave it the legendary Bo Diddley beat (probably in response to a review that accused Macca of treating his catalogue like museum pieces) . The radio series The Lost Lennon Tapes played John's cover of "I'm A Man", where he humorously lapsed into a proper British accent. Lennon also produced Elephant Memory's 1972 Apple album, which featured a song called "Chuck 'n' Bo". Aside from impromptu covers during the Get Back sessions, it's difficult to find any other obvious material with the Bo Diddley stamp on it.

(This is also true of Jerry Lee Lewis. However, Lennon reportedly dropped to his knees in deference to the "The Killer" when they met in the 1970s. He also said, "No group, be it Beatles, Dylan or Stones, has ever improved on 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' for my money.")

The Beatles are at the epicenter of my musical education. My knowledge of 1950s Rock and Roll was learned via The Fabs. When I was young, I'd be home, in my room, reading the information on the Capitol "rainbow" label, trying to figure out where the cover versions originated. Some were obvious, like Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. Others involved detective work. For instance, I wondered if Richard Penniman - who co-wrote "Long Tall Sally" -was "Little Richard". (Of course, it was).

Conspicuously absent from the Beatles' catalogue was Bo Diddley (a.k.a. Ellas McDaniel). Even a search though their BBC sessions came up with no Diddley. Lewisohn's Complete Chronicle book offered a clue : the Fabs covered both "Crackin' Up" and "Road Runner" in the early 1960s. In a 1977 Crawdaddy magazine interview (, George Harrison cited Diddley as one of the artists the Beatles would cover in the early days. Coincidentally, Crawdaddy was also the name of a Diddley song.

Both the Kinks and the Rolling Stones have much stronger connections with Diddley. The Kinks covered Diddley a few times on their early albums. While the Rolling Stones only covered Diddley a couple of times on record ("Mona" in the 1960s , and "Crackin' Up" in the 1970s), their early sets would feature many Diddley covers. Their third single, a cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away", was steeped in the Bo Diddley beat. Ron Wood even toured with Diddley in 1987, and I was lucky to see them together at The Channel club in Boston.

Plenty of other artists covered McDaniel, including The Who, The Yardbirds, Warren Zevon, Eric Clapton, and Creedence. "Who Do You Love" alone has been covered by Ronnie Hawkins, The Doors, George Thorogood, and Patti Smith, among others. Recent live concerts by Tom Petty and Jefferson Starship featured Bo Diddley tribute covers. Bob Dylan name-checked Diddley in "From A Buick 6". Of course the "Bo Diddley Beat" is ubiquitous in Rock and Roll. You can hear it in Springsteen's "She's The One", The Who's "Magic Bus", The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now", The Strangelove's "I Want Candy", and the Soft Boys' "Wey Wey Hep Uh Hole", among many others.

One of the ironic side effects when someone you are interested in dies, is you get to know more about that person after their death then when they were alive. After researching Diddley, I found yet another Beatles connection. It turns out that the song "Love Is Strange", which Wings covered on their debut album, was actually written by Bo Diddley under his wife's name (for legal reasons). Of course it's probable that Paul knew the song via Buddy Holly's version. Still it is another Fab connection to Mr. Diddley.

When I recently put on Paul Is Live to revisit his version of "I Wanna Be Your Man", I came across his original composition "Peace In The Neighborhood", which has the same feel as "Crackin' Up".

So while his influence on the Beatles may have been less than, say, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and others, I guess you could say that The Fabs DID indeed "Know Diddley".

UPDATE: 9/14/79 Paul performed "Bo Diddley" during a Buddy Holly celebration.

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