Some days rock 'n' roll seems to begin and end for me with Bo Diddley. Today is one of those days.
The master inventor — as a matter of fact known and called "the Originator" for his forceful transition from deep-rooted blues to rock 'n' roll. He played about everything: guitars (most often rectangular-shaped), violin, keyboards, drums, synthesizer. Born in 1928 in Mississippi with the name Ellas Otha Bates...how'd I go this long before telling you that? There's been a million stories how he came upon the name "Bo Diddley", from the Bo Diddley one-string instrument, to something Leonard Chess at Chess Records concocted. Just listen to his songs — that insistent and steady driving rhythm and edge — most likely first influenced as a young man by seeing John Lee Hooker perform.
Like Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley managed to get himself banned from The Ed Sullivan Show for not performing exactly what the squire wanted. Jim Morrison did the same thing. Those of us watching the shows in real time were raised another notch by the electric insubordination.
Bo Diddley passed away in 2008, not exactly recognized for all his charms except by his peers who adored his music. The British Invasion of the 60s came over to the USA fueled on propane called Bo, Chuck and Muddy. But Bo Diddley blazed his own path, including a stint for almost three years in Valencia County, New Mexico where he was a deputy sheriff. His own cruiser and all.
Because of his chin hairs and maybe demeanor he was known as "The Goat". By whatever name, and there were a ton for the fabled and foiled and ever self mythologized Aleck "Rice" Miller, better known as Sonny Boy Williamson II, not to be confused with the slightly younger Sonny Boy Williamson I from Chicago. Both dyed-in-the wool bluesmen. No one goes wrong with either.
Sonny Boy II was such a mystery to folks, no official birth date has been given. His gravestone in Mississippi (he was born in Tallahatchie County) states 1908; researchers persist with 1912; the Goat says 1899.
He played with Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Robert Lockwood, and his sister was married to Howlin' Wolf. He appears as "Big Skol" on Roland Kirk's Kirk in Copenhagen.
I think of him as the sidewinder by his movements on the stage, with other performers (including Led Zepplin and various white blues bands from the sixties). The bowler hat. His way of maligning and abiding. It's a toss up which version of "Help Me" smolders and eventually burns the house down late at night — Junior Wells, or Sonny Boy's. I love them both, but when I hear the latter's, every time, and not planned and linked up and all ready like this, but sudden, sneaking up...it stops me cold.
It may be the greatest ambush blues song alive.