Tum-Ta-Tum! (Da-Da-Do) Tum-Tum!

Originally posted June 3, 2008

By now, the news isn’t news any more: Bo Diddley is dead. Born December 30, 1928 as Elias Otha Bates (and later surnamed McDaniel – formally? informally? I’m not sure – after his teenage mother’s first cousin, who raised him), he was 79 when he crossed over.

Famed for the “Bo Diddley beat,” a rhythmic signature that became the foundation of his music, Diddley was a prolific writer and recording artist in the 1950s for the Checker label of Chess Records at a time when Chess was probably the second-most important U.S. record company, at least as far as rock ’n’ roll and R&B was concerned. (Atlantic Records would have come first.) His productivity – and the influence of his rhythmic innovations – did not translate into record sales: The McComb, Mississippi, native had only one Top 40 hit in his career, 1959’s “Say Man.”

“Say Man” is listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits as a novelty record, with the eighth edition of the book noting that on the single, “Diddley trades insults with maracas player Jerome Green.” Calling it a novelty seems a bit harsh, but it was different. The single – which went to No. 20 – had Diddley and Green laying down over a simple rhythmic bed a bowdlerized version of the urban insult game called “the dozens.”

While Diddley’s music didn’t have the impact on the charts he certainly would have liked, he influenced many musicians in his and following generations of rock, rock ’n’ roll and R&B. One early example: Buddy Holly appropriated the Diddley beat for “Not Fade Away” in 1957, an approach that the Rolling Stones echoed when they recorded the song on the British edition of their 1964 album, The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hit Makers). The record was the Stones’ first to hit the English charts and their first U.S. single.

His long-term influence on rock music brought Bo Diddley into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of its second group of inductees in 1987. He toured and performed regularly until health concerns took him off the road last year.

There are certainly hundreds – more likely thousands – of cover versions of Bo Diddley songs. I rummaged through my mp3s and came up with three versions of “Bring It To Jerome.” The first is Diddley’s own, released in 1956. The first of the covers is by the British group Manfred Mann and was released on the Manfred Mann Album in 1964. The second is by a group of L.A. musicians, Joel Scott Hill, Chris Etheridge (of the Flying Burrito Brothers) and Johnny Barbata – helped, as I understand it, by some famous friends – called L.A. Getaway, who released their very different version of “Bring It To Jerome” on their only album, a self-titled 1971 release.

Bo Diddley – “Bring It To Jerome” [Checker 827, 1956]

Manfred Mann – “Bring It To Jerome” [1964]

L.A. Getaway – “Bring It To Jerome” [1971]

Afternote:
Plenty of other folks in blogworld are remembering Bo Diddley in tales and/or music. Some of them are Jeff at AM, Then FM, Ted at Boogie Woogie Flu, Vincent at Fufu Stew, and our friend at The Vinyl District. In addition, jb from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ gave Bo some props at the WNEW blog.*

*Unhappily, the link to jb’s piece at the WNEW blog no longer seems to work. Note added July 7, 2011.

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