Bo Diddley, Rock's Pulse

Rock-and-roll pioneer Bo Diddley died Monday after months of sickness, at the age of 79. His "Bo Diddley beat" is one of the most distinctive and recognizable rhythms in the rock canon and has been used in countless songs over the past 50 years.
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A moment of silence for Bo Diddley? Impossible.

One cannot think of Bo Diddley without hearing his calling card: That primal, propulsive "Bo Diddley beat," one of the most easily identifiable -- and oft-imitated -- rhythms in rock-and-roll history.

Bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp. Bomp-bomp.

Bomp-a-bomp-a-bomp. Bomp-bomp.

Diddley died yesterday at 79. He worried about his legacy to the very end, fearful that he wouldn't receive proper recognition as one of the true architects of rock-and-roll. He fretted that people might be puzzled by his occasional nickname, the Originator.

"They don't know who I am," he lamented to The Washington Post in late 2006.

That might have been a shocking thing to hear from a guitarist and singer who had one of rock's cornerstone rhythms named after him, except that it was a recurring theme: He often argued that he wasn't receiving enough credit for his role in shaping rock -- that a paternity test on the genre would surely find his musical DNA.

"Little Richard came two or three years later, along with Elvis Presley," he told the Sydney Morning Herald last year. "In other words, I was the first dude out there."

With no gold albums and just a single Top 40 pop hit ("Say Man"), Diddley never quite reached the broad commercial heights of some of his pioneering counterparts. And yet, among students of the music -- many of whom became superstars themselves -- Diddley's place in the pantheon was never in doubt.

"He was a wonderful, original musician who was an enormous force in music and was a big influence on the Rolling Stones," Mick Jagger said yesterday in a statement. "We will never see his like again."

Diddley, who was born in Mississippi, raised in Chicago and based for a seven-year spell (1959 to 1966) in Washington, was an innovative guitarist whose rhythmic playing and electric-guitar effects -- reverb! tremolo! distortion! -- were particularly influential.

As a lyricist, he could be ribald, adding levity to the nascent rock genre; he was also audaciously boastful, naming his epochal 1955 single after himself.

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