Bo Diddley: Rock ’n’ Roll Legend

A gorgeous young woman came into Egg Records looking for some Bo Diddley recordings because, she said, he was playing at the Enmore Theatre. She wanted to listen to some of his music before she went to see him. There was nothing in stock on vinyl or CD, but the poor woman couldn’t escape without getting my lecture on the ‘Bo Diddley’ beat – that syncopated strum pattern that also gets referred to as the ‘ham bone’ beat – that turns up in songs like ‘Not Fade Away’, Fred Smith’s ‘Imogen Parker’ and even the introduction to U2’s ‘Desire’. I figured the ideal thing would be to would be to corner Bo Diddley for an interview. Wouldn’t it be cool to find out about the ‘Bo Diddley’ beat from the man himself? Maybe he could even explain where the term ‘ham bone’ comes from.

Thankfully, it turned out that Richard Glover was going to feature Bo Diddley live in the studio during his drive segment the day before the Enmore gig; Diddley’s publicist and people very kindly let me have ten minutes straight after. In ten minutes we managed to cover a rough outline of the man’s career, we established that the ‘ham bone’ beat is different to the ‘Bo Diddley’ beat, and Bo threatened to undress me.

An exceprt went to air on ABC NewsRadio the following morning, in time to publicise the Enmore gig, with pretty much the entire piece getting a run in that weekend’s Music News segment. I present a version here, recut with a bit more music.

Soundbite: ‘I’m A Man’ from the BGO CD Hey! Bo Diddley/Bo Diddley

Demetrius Romeo: Bo, you’ve been playing music for the better part of sixty years, I’d gather…


Demetrius Romeo: You started in school, though.

BO DIDDLEY: Well I been playing music well before that. I was playing classical music from eight years old. I played for twelve years. Then I got the guitar. My sister Lucille gave me the guitar. I learnt myself how to play that.

Demetrius Romeo: Were you more passionate about the rock n roll than the classical music?

BO DIDDLEY: I had no idea what I was doing, I just did it.

Demetrius Romeo: Of course, it wasn’t called ‘rock n roll’ then, was it?

BO DIDDLEY: No, no. It was just called, uh, I would say that everyone was trying to say that I was playing boogie woogie. Not blues, boogie woogie. Then they couldn’t figure out whether I was blues, boogie woogie or what, you know? And then when I came up with the song ‘Bo Diddley’, Alan Freed named a whole trend of music which has lasted until now. I was the first one he named. He said, “here’s a man with an original sound, an original beat that’s gonna rock n roll you right out of your seat.” The word was born right at that time, not with Elvis Presley.

Demetrius Romeo: And did you rock n roll them out of their seat?

BO DIDDLEY: Oh yeah, I’m still doing it.

Soundbite: ‘Bo Diddley’ from the BGO CD Hey! Bo Diddley/Bo Diddley

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve been playing all those years.


Demetrius Romeo: What’s keeping you going?

BO DIDDLEY: Well I love to play, and I’ve got a lot of fans. You know, I know a lot of people around and I – I hope I see some of them while I’m here.

Demetrius Romeo: In all that time, how’s the music industry changed?

BO DIDDLEY: A lot! A lot. Now we’re dealing with rap. You know, there’s nothing wrong with it, I just don’t like the dirty lyrics that our children should not be subjected to.

Demetrius Romeo: There was a time, though, when adults felt that the music you were playing…

BO DIDDLEY: Was dirty.

Demetrius Romeo: Yeah.

BO DIDDLEY: You can’t find nothing that sounds like some of the stuff I’ve heard. They’re using words that – I’m seventy-six years old – that I won’t use. You understand what I mean? And I just think our decency or our morals have been walked on a little bit by some new entertainers, because your children should not listen to certain things until they’re old enough to handle it. I can’t help being a little bit old fashioned, but I’m sorry, it works.

Soundbite: ‘Bo Diddley’ from the BGO CD Hey! Bo Diddley/Bo Diddley

Demetrius Romeo: You’re actually one of the few musicians who has a rhythm, a beat, named after them – the ‘Bo Diddley’ beat.

BO DIDDLEY: Yeah, because I was the one who invented it. I came up with it, and everybody likes it. You know, it’s kind of primitive mixed up with a little bit of spirituality, and it’s a trance that I can put into it. The way that I execute sometimes, I can almost make you undress.

Demetrius Romeo: Not right now, please. Now, it’s also got another name, the ‘ham bone’ beat.

BO DIDDLEY: No, it’s not ‘ham bone’. Let me straighten you out right quick because I’m afraid your gonna fall into a hole. Sings an example of the ‘ham bone’ beat, and then an example of the ‘Bo Diddley’ beat.

There are two different melodies. Know what I’m saying? Two different melodies. And anyone that knows anything about music will understand that.

Soundbite: ‘Elephant Man’ from the Raven CD Drive By Bo Diddley – Tales from the Funk Dimension 1970-1973

Demetrius Romeo: In the 70s, your music took a heavier, funkier kind of turn. Would you agree with that?

BO DIDDLEY: Me still being here should tell you something. I believe in changing with the times. I studied something new; every time you see me, I’ll have a new song that I bring to people because I built this monster, and I have to feed him. This rock ’n’ roll thing, I have to keep it going. I don’t copy nobody else, I do my own thing, and I try to put my music where other people would like it. If I don’t like the song, I don’t fool with it, you know. Long live rock ’n’ roll!

Soundbite: ‘I’ve Had It Hard’ from the Raven CD Drive By Bo Diddley – Tales from the Funk Dimension 1970-1973