Some people don’t know Diddley

Bo Diddley, that is. And if there’s any truth to the old truism that rock and roll is a hybrid of R&B and country, this is the man who made it so: a bluesman par excellence, he developed his signature beat while trying to come up with a suitably-bluesy version of a Gene Autry tune. The Bo Diddley beat debuted in a song called, of all things, “Bo Diddley,” which the man waxed in 1955; it’s still around today.

(For a couple of examples, your attention is directed to “When the Lovelight Comes Shining Through His Eyes,” the Supremes’ first Top 40 hit, and “Desire,” off U2’s Rattle and Hum album. Twenty-five years apart, and still easily recognizable as Diddley’s children.)

Diddley’s own compositions landed at an odd angle to the rest of the rock and rhythm universe. “Say Man,” his only single to reach high on the pop charts, wasn’t a song at all: it’s a two-sided dis, a straightforward yet hilarious version of the dozens, Bo and Jerome Green swapping insults as old as the hills and enjoying it no end. (“I already figured out what you is. You that thing I throw peanuts at!”) It stops short of “Yo mama,” but only just.

Bo died today at his home in Archer, Florida; he was seventy-nine. That one hambone beat, though, is pretty much eternal.

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