Home Artists - A to K Artists - B Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley

Otha Ellas Bates was born on 30 December 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, and at the age of five, moved with his family to the south-side of Chicago.

He spent his formative years studying classical violin and later taught himself to play the guitar. He also changed his surname to McDaniel, after his adoptive mother, Gussie McDaniel.

As a teenager in high school, McDaniel formed his first group, The Langley Avenue Jive Cats, and after he graduated he created another band who began playing the blues in Chicago nightclubs.

He supplemented his meagre guitarist income with jobs as a construction worker and a light-heavyweight boxer, where he acquired the nickname ‘Bo Diddley’.

In 1955 he auditioned for Checker Records (a subsidiary of Chess) and had his first single – also called Bo Diddley – released the same year.

Bo brought an exciting new sound to records – a pulsating jungle beat, heavy bass and the incessant shuffling of maracas. The sound became the Bo Diddley trademark and was immortalised much later by The Rolling Stones on Not Fade Away.

Diddley also pioneered the use of a totally electric sound on records. He was noted for his array of weird and wonderful guitars, which were self-designed and often self-made.

His favourites were a bright red oblong-shaped axe, one covered entirely in fur, and another covered in bright purple carpet. Bo was also a great showman, looking much larger than life in extravagant stage clothes.

Although he only amassed three minor hit records – Say ManPretty Thing and Hey, Good Looking – Bo Diddley was responsible for writing many R&B classics including RoadrunnerI’m A ManWho Do You Love? and You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover.

They were all covered by major recording artists during the 1960’s and 1970’s.


His performing career was given a tremendous boost in 1972 when he appeared in Richard Nader’s rock & roll revival show and was later featured in the movie Let The Good Times Roll (1973).

In 1976 he recorded a new album, Twentieth Anniversary of Rock for RCA, featuring such celebrated colleagues as Joe CockerBilly Joel and Keith Moon of The Who.

Two years later he undertook a successful British tour with another legendary rock & roller from the 1950s, Carl Perkins.

Diddley served for two and a half years as Deputy Sheriff in the Valencia County Citizens’ Patrol while continuing his musical career. During that time he personally purchased and donated three highway patrol pursuit cars.

Bo Diddley was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

In 2005, Bo celebrated his 50th anniversary in music with successful tours of Australia, Europe and North America, and he performed a number of shows around the US in 2005 and 2006.

He passed away on 2 June 2008 in the small farming town of Archer, Florida, from heart failure following a stroke and a previous heart attack. His last words were reportedly “I’m going to heaven”.

His influence on succeeding generations of musicians has been immense – with artists such as Buddy HollyThe Rolling StonesThe YardbirdsThe Animals and The Clash drawing heavily on his musical legacy.