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Bo Diddley: The underappreciated innovator

Bodiddley_2 Even as he mourns the death of a musical hero, former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch can’t help laughing about the first time he tried playing The Beat.

Petty had come into their Gainesville rehearsal space with a new tune called American Girl. And there was only one rhythm he wanted powering the song: The Bo Diddley Beat.

“The first hit record I ever played on was my sorry attempt to sound like him,” said Lynch, who still has a poster signed by the seminal rocker nearly 30 years ago sitting in his St. Augutine home office. “It was kind of sweet — it gave it a pulse. Just shows, you can try to be like Bo Diddley, and even when you suck, it sounds great.”

Diddley, 79, died Monday at his home in Archer, Fla. after a long stretch of health problems. In May 2007, he suffered a stroke in the Omaha airport; three months later, he had a heart attack at a Gainesville hospital.

With Sean Daly off work today, I got pressed into service writing the appreciation for Diddley. Here's some other wonderful quotes from notable people on Diddley's death, including this line from Lynch: "Everybody's had a Bo Diddley crossing. 'Bo diddley told me this'  'Bo Diddley says do it this way.' He was every musician’s great uncle.”

Lynchdrummer Lynch met Diddley at a show years ago: "I think I had a chance to tell him thank you inadvertently for letting me have a hit record. I don’t think he understood it, but he understood I was showing respect. It was hey man, can I kiss the ring?  It was amazing, because I remember seeing him on Ed Sullivan and he scared the shit out of me."

Keith Caton, Dunnellon blues guitarist and longtime Diddley friend: "He played in places where (black people) weren’t allowed to eat. He never saw color – he just saw good people and bad people. He was cautious about the music business, because he knew he had a hand in losing a lot of money, because he didn’t pay attention to the business side. Just being near him – I learned so much from the guy."

Sidestan_93 A songwriter who has worked with Don Henley and others, Lynch has also tried writing a tune with the signature beat: “It's so distinctive, that it overwhelms everything. I tried to do it slower, tried to do it faster. It’s a hard one to do, because the minute you do it,the first thing is that the eyebrows go up – 'You’re going to try and cash that check?' It’s such a deep bag. There's certain songs, you commit to (the beat) almost before you commit to the song. You say to your band – its going to be a bo diddley song—then you worry about the lyrics later."

Caton on his feelings about Diddley: "I just want people to know how important this guy was. I’m just fortunate that we had the relationship we did. I’ll never put on a guitar without thinking about him.”

Lynch on trying to play the beat on American Girl: "I remember literally Tommy was adamant when he wrote that – it’s Bo Diddley. He was playing the beat. Spazmo, me, I just launched before I even thought about it – play before you think. You play the first freaking thing that comes out of your butt. And then you think: Well, nobody’s yelling at me. It must be okay."

Rock critic Dave Marsh: "Now that things have switched over to where the beat is more important, you can see he's at least as important as Chuck Berry. The consistency of songs, the unbelievable beat, a great band and fantastic guitar playing -- that voice, which is the scariest thing since John Lee Hooker....That was this thing he and Hooker had – joyful menace. Nobody else could have sung 'Who Do You Love' and made you believe it. He tosses that off like he’s singing about ice cream."Catonandbo_2

After his most recent health problems, Caton couldn’t talk to him on the telephone because Diddley couldn’t recognize his voice. "Back when we had the four hurricanes in Florida, he lost two toes to diabetes. He started calling himself 'Eight to Diddley.' That was his sense of humor."

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:47pm]


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