Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Features and More

Legendary rocker Bo Diddley dies at 79

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 has a poster signed by the seminal rocker sitting in his St. Augustine 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."

Mr. Diddley, 79, died Monday (June 2, 2008) at his home in Archer, near Gainesville, of heart failure 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.

Still, despite his ongoing illnesses — diabetes took two toes on his left foot years ago — some friends seemed shocked by news of his passing, convinced somehow that the rock and blues showman would remain immortal, just as the music he helped invent.

"Talking to him was like being around a living history book," said Dunnellon blues guitarist Keith Caton, 52, a 30-year friend of Mr. Diddley's who calls him "my musical father."

"He invented rock 'n' roll music (but) he didn't realize he was changing history," added the musician, who first called Mr. Diddley after finding his given name in the phone book. "He once said, 'I opened the door for a lot of people, and they ran on through and left me holding the knob.' "

Born Ellas Otha Bates in 1920s-era Mississippi, Mr. Diddley was a classically trained violinist who migrated to drums and later guitar, developing a percolating style built around one of the most recognizable rhythmic figures in rock history.

Mr. Diddley voiced it to the St. Petersburg Times in 2002 this way: "BOOM, t-boom, t-boom, TIKA-boom, boom" — a two-bar beat somewhere between a rumba and the old "shave and haircut" beat.

By the time he signed with Chicago's Chess Records in 1955, Mr. Diddley had evolved a gutsy, brash sound that led straight from the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta to the rock 'n' roll charts.

His signature beat — reportedly developed trying to copy a Gene Autry tune — formed the backbone of his own classic hits Who Do You Love? and Bo Diddley, while inspiring everything from Buddy Holly's 1957 success Not Fade Away to George Michael's 1987 smash Faith.

Still, the lack of compensation and credit for his achievements was often a sore point (to wind him up, ask about the credit Holly or Elvis Presley got as rock innovators). He was among the second group of legends inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and once claimed $50-million in losses from those who ripped off his songs or recordings.

"Ain't no way in hell I'll get past the anger feeling until I see some checks," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2002. Caton said Mr. Diddley felt artists such as Presley and Pat Boone "took their music, black music … and sanitized it for young white kids."

Critics have suggested that Mr. Diddley wasn't better known, in part, because he was blackballed from television when he angered legendary talent show host Ed Sullivan by unexpectedly playing his own song on live TV.

"He was his own worst enemy in some ways," said Caton, struggling to hold back tears. "The lyrics to his original version of Bo Diddley were so vulgar, (record company owner) Leonard Chess said, 'We can't release that.' "

But rock critic and Sirius Satellite Radio DJ Dave Marsh had another explanation for why Mr. Diddley never seemed quite as well known as contemporaries such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

"It was too black, it was too angry, it was too primitive and it was too sexual," said Marsh, founding editor of the rock magazine Creem. "Bo has always been the most underrated of the '50s (rock innovators). There's no Buddy Holly without Bo Diddley, which means there's no Beatles without Bo Diddley."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report and Times files were used. Eric Deggans can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

Comments
Top things to do for Memorial Day weekend in Tampa Bay: Concerts, festivals and memorials

Top things to do for Memorial Day weekend in Tampa Bay: Concerts, festivals and memorials

Our editors' picks for things to do this weekend.
Updated: 1 hour ago
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’SFeel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more than 91 flavors of ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampa’s Boy Scout Boulevard in...
Updated: 1 hour ago
John Fogerty, coming to Clearwater, isn’t backing down on protest songs, Parkland and #MeToo

John Fogerty, coming to Clearwater, isn’t backing down on protest songs, Parkland and #MeToo

It’s been 50 years since John Fogerty wrote Fortunate Son, one of the most scathing protest songs from the Vietnam War era. Writing another one with that kind of impact has been a challenge ever since. "Back in the ’80s, I had a couple o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Well, it’s different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

Well, it’s different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

IF YOU SAY SO: PORN STARS ARE COMEDIANSWell, it’s different. Porn Stars Are Comedians extends the concept of the podcast Porn Stars Are People ("the only podcast with porn stars where we don’t discuss porn or the business of porn"), hosted by Dan Fri...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Waiting for ‘Godot’ to end: Half-okay performances mar an already irritating classic at Hat Trick

Waiting for ‘Godot’ to end: Half-okay performances mar an already irritating classic at Hat Trick

CLEARWATER — Hat Trick Theatre, the resident company of Ruth Eckerd Hall, closes out its season with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I must say it’s a stark choice, mainly because I can’t get two sentences into this without using the word "stark....
Updated: 4 hours ago
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Art and Short Film Mini-Fest

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Art and Short Film Mini-Fest

SHORTS: Art and Short Film Mini-FestA fundraiser for the [email protected] brings an Art and Short Film Mini-Fest to the studio tonight. There will be four short films, an exhibit of artwork by Corinne Leavengood and photography by Diana Lucas Leavengood. P...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Artist and activist Benny Andrews at the MFA, 50 years of prints at the Tampa Museum and dresses inspire art

Artist and activist Benny Andrews at the MFA, 50 years of prints at the Tampa Museum and dresses inspire art

MIX MASTER: BENNY ANDREWS AT THE MFABenny Andrews was an award-winning artist known for his innovative use of collage in his paintings and works on paper, starting in the late 1950s. He was also an activist and advocate for African-American artists, ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
A weekend of festivals: Sunset Music Fest, 97X Barbecue, WMNF’s US Festival tribute

A weekend of festivals: Sunset Music Fest, 97X Barbecue, WMNF’s US Festival tribute

THE BEATS GO ON: Sunset Music FestivalAt last year’s Sunset Music Festival, the focus was all on crowd safety. After two fans died from drug overdoses at Tampa’s largest annual rave in 2016, organizers heightened security across the board, yielding a...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

ORLANDO — The popular breakfast and brunch chain First Watch will be opening a new restaurant in Orlando that will add cocktails, beer and wine to the menu. The new concept restaurant, set to open on Memorial Day at 1448 N Alafaya Trail, will be 1,00...
Updated: 7 hours ago