Memoriam > Feature
Interviews - Music >
Feature Interviews A to E >
You Don't Know Bo
Copyright © 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: September 25, 2004.
Diddley was the only child of Ethel Wilson and
Eugene Bates, born as Ellas Bates on a cold
December of 1928. He had three half
brothers and one half sister.
He was adopted by his
mother’s cousin, Miss Gussie McDaniel. During mid 1930’s the whole family
moved to south Chicago, where young Bo began to study violin under Prof.
O.W. Frederick at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. For
twelve years he studied violin and even composed
two concerts for the instrument.
His half-sister Lucille
bought him his first guitar for
Christmas in 1940. From that moment on, he became Bo Diddley,
from friends while attending Foster Vocational
High School at Chicago.
ly named Bo D., who was blessed with musical rhythm,
was living and being between church walls. At the same time,
he was transforming all he
has learned into his own musical vision. “I play guitar like I play a
drum…”, he says, trying to explain his legendary “Bo Diddley
Soon enough, he had his first group, The Hipsters.
Here Bo clearly navigates his road for the future. He earned
the title “The Originator” and
became known as of one of the most important figures
in rock 'n’
roll music. At
that time, not only did Bo begin evolving into a phenomenal musician, but
the group began to take on a far more professional and serious tone.
Jerome Green joined the group in 1950, and even
today Bo says that he was one of the best musicians that Bo Diddley shared a
stage and studio with. A year later another
member, Billy Boy Arnold, joined the group, with his harmonica, which would
fully establish the sound of The Hipsters.
more than ten years of playing on the streets and clubs of Chicago, Bo Diddley finally got a chance to record two tracks “Uncle John” and “I’m a
1955, the two tracks end up in the hands of Chess Records, who suggested that Bo
change the title of “Uncle John” to something more
personal. Bo went back to the studio to re-record the two tracks,
which came out as a double A-side
single “Bo Diddley” b/w
”I’m A Man.”
Decades went by and his songs were recorded by The Rolling Stones, The
Animals, Manfred Mann, The Kinks, The Yardbirds and many
Diddley jammed on records with both Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters.
classic version of the song “Who Do You Love”
became an inspiration to many
artists, including The Doors, Bob Seger, ZZ
and even Elvis, who spoke of Bo Diddley as one of his key influences.
had the honor of playing for
John F. Kennedy, Jr.
He was a sheriff in
the small city of Los Lunas,
New Mexico. Bo tried acting.
In 1976 he toured with The Clash on their famous
U.S. Tour. Paul McCartney's version
of Bo’s “Crackin’ Up” was
Live In The Soviet Union album. In the 80’s Bo
was admitted to the Rock N’
Roll Hall of Fame and also
participated in the Live Aid concert.
After a long hiatus, Bo came out with
the excellent 1996
album A Man Amongst Men which featured Richie
Sambora, Jimmy Vaughan, Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards, Billy
Boy Arnold, Johnny Guitar Watson, and the Shirelles.
This one-hour interview took place
after a show in
Buffalo, New York. I was interested in what Bo Diddley,
now in his late 70’s, looked and sounded like. A
little before Bo Diddley and his band
finished up their part of the
show, we were led to Bo Diddley’s mini bus. Fifteen minutes
I was sitting with Bo Diddley.
Who exactly is Bo
Diddley is my stage name. My real name is Ellas Bates.
In the books it says
that you were born in 1928 in Mississippi…
Yes. I was, but when I was seven or
eight we moved to South Chicago.
seven-eight years of
experience in Mississippi influence you to become a musician?
Maybe the influence of that Delta Blues Sound?
Nooooooo, I didn’t bring any musical influence from Mississippi. Many
journalists confuse that with my music. I grew up on classical music when we
moved to Chicago. I started to study violin under Prof. O.W. Frederick and
from 1940s to 1950s guitar wasn’t in my musical plans.
was it like being a black musician in white America in
the 40s and 50s?
Hard. That’s the time we called the Time of Ignorance. Everything... even
music... was viewed and appreciated through color of skin.
lowest and dumbest thing that can happen to a man. But
it could happen to
anyone. Just like today’s world is messed up, and just like today no one has
any idea what is happening and what will happen, that’s how it was in
1950’s. Even then, I still had no idea what was happening. I didn’t
understand anything about all those parts. I never asked myself WHY? As a
young man, I always thought that’s the way it has to be. We
knew that the older people talked about it, but the kids didn’t know what’s
going on. We remembered parts, but we never knew to put it into the
real context of racism. Even today, unfortunately people have the wrong idea
by which someone’s child can’t play with other kids just because of their
nationality or color of skin… But finally when I realized what was going on,
that experience brought me a lot of pain. Man finally has to understand that
we all live on this planet… living one relatively short period of time. And in that time living in hatred is nothing but complete madness.
At what time did you get
the support of white musicians like Buddy Holly, and did that help for you
to be seen in the media, to be better paid?
None of that helped. I don’t want to go into this because sometimes speaking
about that can become wrongly interpreted and I really do not want to
At this time Little Richard would go on to say that Elvis…
am not Little Richard and I do not want to comment on his statements but
surely everything he said about Elvis is true. I loved Elvis and all he was
doing, but he didn’t go through anything black Rock N’ Roll Musicians went
through. The fact is that Elvis didn’t start this whole thing. We
ones who opened the door to Rock N’ Roll music. Elvis was fantastic but he
always came three years before me. Three years in musical term is a fairly
long period of time and speaking of money I surely didn’t make it selling my
records. Lots of others got rich on my account, and by some logic I should
now have six million dollars in my bank. I should but I don’t. That’s why I’m
still working today. So no support of white musicians helped me to get
In the 1950’s you met
Chuck Berry. Was that set up through management or was it something that
Since the first moment when I came to Chess Records I met and befriended
Chuck Berry. I see a guy playing guitar and is about to record material
almost the same way that I wanted to do. That was enough for the two of us
to become friends.
In 1956 and 1957 you
became a recognized name in the US top charts…
that time I stayed on the charts for six months. Longer than Elvis Presley.
And that I was a black musician was never publicly announced.
But, I never
hated anyone over that. Then I decided to ignore all that because it was all
stupid. Then I started to meet people that started saying that it shouldn’t
be like that. Then the same people began telling me how it should be and I
was really confused. Finally when you try to ignore things, and then you
open your eyes and you realize what’s going on. Its like passing by the same
person every day. Not realizing they are holding a snake. You pass by the
person and don’t notice them. Then one day you notice they have a snake
in their hand and you yell, “Hey, this person has a snake in their hand.
This person is dangerous” This type of situation is always around us. Its
just necessary to pay attention.
Speaking of a message,
one of the songs you performed today was “Kids Just Don’t Do It”, from your
last album. Through this song you send a positive and direct message to the
younger crowd, that drugs and crime aren’t solutions to their problems.
course, it’s all very simple. Drugs are a big evil in the African American
community. Criminal is no less an evil. Drugs lead to criminal. Its not
pointless when I say listen to your parents! They have life experience and
they wish you good. It’s sad that today’s DJ’s do not play songs with
positive messages, which is the case with my song.
What is your opinion
about today’s radio conglomerate in the USA?
Horrible… Pathetic… Radio stations in most cases are ignorant of the roots of
Rock N’ Roll. Towards people like me, who have made it possible for kids
these days to have their own rock n’
roll outlet. Today I wouldn’t be able to come on
the stage and play something like kids following hip
hop and rap culture. I can’t because that’s not me. At the same time
I can understand those kids, because this is their time. Their way of musical
expression is OK. That doesn’t mean I agree with their generation, much like
the generation before me didn’t agree with my song, “I’m A Man.” They simply
didn’t understand much like I don’t understand today’s
rap music. There are
too many dirty things and mainly because of quickly getting money, and
marketing stuffed into rap music. Why should a six-year-old girl
be exposed to
dirty stuff? That’s something that’s played 24 hours a day on these radio
stations that should be promoting a bright future for
African American community. It’s really sad. The little girl is like
a tape recorder. She simply hears all the negative messages and memorizes
them… then that comes to a conflict. You as parents try to educate your
child, ensure a solid future, explain what’s good and what’s bad, while from
the other side the media bombs the child with all the
negative messages. You don’t want to feel like a dictator. These are all
important things that we all need to talk about and pay attention on what’s
Can Bo Diddley change
such a situation?
individual, and that also means me, can’t do a thing. However, an organized
group of people can make a change. It's the same as if one man stands in front
of a store. Until one day that man throws a brick into the window of the
same store. And then people from the store look out to see what’s happening.
Of course, if there was a big group of people in front of the building,
there would be no reason to throw the brick through the window because there
would already be a crowd of people. Then, there wouldn’t be a fear of
getting called dangerous and violent. All that is necessary to yell, to be
loud, and in that way get attention. That’s when things begin to change.
I’ve noticed that you
have no room in you for hate and violence. Are you a religious person?
religious as much as I need to be able to recognize good from evil. If
you’re asking me if I go to church, then I would have to say that I’m not in
church that often. One of my brothers is a preacher in a little church In
Mississippi. I chose my path to be Rock N’ Roll music. That was my decision
because, it seems to me, that I have done a lot of useful things for this
country and more.
Let’s talk about your
I love Europe. My first visit was in ’62 from the beginning I was received
very well. That was true with other black musicians beside myself like Miles
Davis, Charlie Parker, etc… Because of that I see this European hunger for
things tied to jazz, Rock n’ Roll… The whole American pop culture.
example, at that time had just an one-hour show, which aired late at night,
that played only rock music. So BBC only gave them one hour, but the public
was simply hungry for not only rock music but everything that was coming out
of USA. I remember a really funny thing that happened while I stayed in
London at the time. We went to this restaurant to eat and I tried ordering a
hamburger but the waitress had no idea what I was talking about, what I was
ordering. Then I told her to give me some ground beef from the grill and two
pieces of bread and some mustard, at which point she started arguing with me
that they had no such food on their menu and that she couldn’t do that. Of
course, everyone with me couldn’t wait for me to make that famous hamburger.
you're responsible for introducing the hamburger
Ha, Ha,… I guess it sounds that way. But speaking of Europe, something that
was especially interesting is that I didn’t notice even a bit of racism.
Maybe more nationalism but not racism.
From your perspective
now, does either USA or Europe look different?
Something that we have today is, so called, dependents
of authority. I like to call them authority
junkies. If the domination of
this type of junkies continues,
then chances are that the entire humankind
will be responsible for the disappearance of the planet we’re living on.
Still the strongest destructive force is yet uncovered, but unfortunately,
humankind is on the way to discover it. Along that, when you add the
element of violence, one doesn’t have to be too smart to see what kind of
future is waiting for us. Technology went too far ahead of our time, and I’m
afraid that the same technology will destroy us. Just look at mobile phones!
A harmless tool of communication, which in hands of an evil man can very
easily become a dangerous weapon. This person can activate a bomb from a
completely different continent by just one call.
of these things, how does Bo Diddley see America
after September 11, 2001?
Hate. Hate and Fear. Even today we’re scared to
death. It’s all very depressing. I’m just interested if the authority
junkies are wondering why [there is] all this hate towards us? Somebody did something
bad sometime, and that someone decided to take their revenge on us. We have
to find the person responsible for this or that reason all this is
happening. Ignoring problems is a dangerous issue in our society. Just look
at how much food we throw away. In my religion, in the bible you can read
about David and Goliath. David toppled Goliath just using a sling shot.
Today we are Goliath and some small insignificant person is hiding and we
can’t find him. How is that possible? With all our technology we are unable
to find this small guy! This simply has to end. This has to stop terrorism
for the future of human race. We felt terrorism in our land. Tomorrow it can
happen in some other land, to some other race.
The whole world is confused
and they’re starting to put up a new Berlin Wall. To prevent that from
happening we have to be able to understand one another. We have to learn how
to speak to one another. Because we can’t solve problems with bullets and bombs. It’s the worst thing
when man loses his dignity. Why do we still have homeless and lost people in
such a rich land like USA? We have them because
some are lazy and don’t want to work. We see them and give them a few
dollars and have a feeling we just helped someone. In fact it’s the
opposite. If a person is healthy then they can work… clean windows, picking
up trash. So they can earn money for life. Man needs to have dignity.
Why can’t we hear and
see you more on American media?
will soon be working on a project called Bo Diddley Speaks. It will be in
a form of a DVD and I will simply be speaking about the events that are
happening in the world today. It will be interesting to do that.
helped develop your
mother. And you know how she did that? She never used the words “time
like some parents do to their kids today. My mother would say, “Time out
until I get a twig so I can smack your butt.” Ha ha ha… That’s when I had
my first lessons in morality. When your mother dies you’ve lost your best
teacher and best friend.
What is your message for
young boys and girls who are practicing their guitars in some basement or
garage and thinking about being stars some day?
practice, but be original. To not copy. To come up with something different.
To be themselves.
After the interview with Bo Diddley I remembered a text, long time ago,
written in one of music magazines. The text explained possible period of
global nuclear war;
“…and then, quite possibly, from the rubble, a man with one tooth in his
face would come out, plug his guitar into the amp and sing,
'It’s Only Rock N’ Roll But I Like
There is nothing else to say but to hope that, the same one toothed guy with
the guitar in his hand will be someone with the same personality, soul, and
morality as Bo Diddley.
us Let us know what you
Return to the features page