The great Lester Bangs once called Bo Diddley “The unquestionably authentic and righteous bluesbustin’ dad of rock and roll.” That’s some praise. While Bangs’ sentiments are right on, Bo Diddley is the last character you would want to have as your father: he is the writer of I’m A Man, a raw example of libido-fuelled delta blues that became a staple for the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. “All you pretty women, stand in line / I could be making love to you in an hour’s time,” sings Bo.
A lot of these classics are about getting his end away – including the remarkable Say Man, little more than a dialogue Bo has with a love rival about the fidelity of their women and their own prowess – all over a quasi-bossa-nova rhythm. This is not a shy man. He even includes his own name in the titles to at least a quarter of all his songs.
One listen to Bo Diddley proves that his influence on the British beat groups exceeds any other’s, including his recording companion, Chuck Berry. On here is Before You Accuse Me, later appropriated by Eric Clapton, and Who Do You Love – transformed byThe Doors, among others.
Most striking, though, on listening to this collection, is the debt Jagger and Richards owe to Bo. His vocal style (pronouncing the word ‘man’ as ‘mayyn’, for example) seems to be the blueprint for Mick, while the riff to Diddley Daddy is clearly the basis for 19th Nervous Breakdown. Even as late as Exile On Main Street were the Stones utilising Bo, with Bring It To Jerome, a highlight of The Story Of Bo Diddley, proving the model for Shake Your Hips.
Bo’s appeal to middle class British beat groups is proof of his accessibility and popular appeal. This fact does, however, detract from his authenticity (despite what Lester Bangs said) when compared to elder figures like Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf. The saying goes ‘to sing the blues, you got to live the dues’, but with his boastful lyrics and jaunty rhythms, Bo seems a bit too happy to join the premier league of bluesmen.
But that aforementioned sense of rhythm remains utterly infectious – it is nigh on impossible to stop your foot from tapping in response to these songs. What is more, Bo was not adverse to a bit of experimenting – utilising bongos and unusual guitar styles on Mumblin’ Guitar. Another surprising feature of this collection is that he even veers towards Phil Spector-like production on the more polished numbers such as We’re Gonna Get Married.
“I’m a myth,” he sings in the title track, suggesting that he wasn’t entirely all about the music. And while his ego might sometimes overshadow his music, his critical role in shaping the world of rock and roll in the 1960s cannot be underestimated.