Thursday, June 5, 2008

Backstage with Bo

Peter Dammann is blogging the Waterfront Blues Festival this year, and he has a nice account of our gig with Bo Diddley in 2005, shortly before this article appeared in Rolling Stone.

I'd like to add a couple of things. Our gig with Bo came 45 years after I first saw him perform, when he was at the height of his fame. To this day I have never seen an artist destroy an audience the way Bo Diddley did that day in Birmingham, accompanied only by Jerome Green on maracas and Clifton James on drums.

Nearly every article since Bo's death has listed all the major artists who were supposedly "influenced" by the Bo Diddley beat, from Buddy Holly to Bruce Springsteen and U2. That's one way to look at it. But it's one thing to extend "credit," and quite another to deal in cash. There's an old saying: the dollar make you holler.

I guess it depends on whether you regard the blues as a quarry to be mined, or as a community you'd like to enter. If it's nothing but some kid of resource deposit, loot it and leave. The sooner you go away, the better.

But if it's a community, and you want to be part of it, then you need to show some respect.

Bo made no secret how he felt about it; to him, the "Bo Diddley beat" was "not just a beat; it's a melody and a rhythm pattern." If you're a musician, and you wrote a song using Bo's signature beat, then to my mind you had two choices: respect his contribution and pay him for it, or go on paying him "tribute" by refusing to listen to his opinion.

Obviously I'm not talking about bands just starting out or playing low-money gigs. I'm talking about people getting rich off somebody else's creativity.

Even the New York Times obituary described Bo as a man 'Who Gave Rock His Beat.' I can just imagine Bo saying, "I didn't give them anything. They took it."

The silver lining, if there is one, is that -- again, according to Bo -- of all those bands that appropriated his beat, not too many of them got it right. Most didn't even come close. If you don't believe me, go listen to some of them. Then let the needle drop on "Bo Diddley." The first ten seconds will explain it far better than I ever could.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bo Diddley was the man who was the real king of the beat!!!a King of music, a master of rythm! I Love ya BO, rest in peace!

Skip Young said...

David,
Enjoyed your entry about Bo Diddley, a man who is a hero of mine. I am 52 years old. I first met Bo when I was 17 years old in high school. He was appearing at a nightclub in Bellevue at the time. I was on the school newspaper (Interlake High School) and wanted to do an article on him. I called the nightclub, a woman there told me where he was staying, gave me the phone number and room number. I called. Bo told me to come on down. Talked to me for about an hour or longer. Let me hold the famous red square Gretsch guitar.
Gave me an autographed picture, which, of course, I still have, along with a Bo Diddley scrapbook.
In addition to being a great musician, he was a gracious man
to a young kid who knew nothing about music, but who picked up a
guitar not long after that meeting.
From what I have learned since, he was good to a lot of other people as well. He left us a wonderful gift with his music and attitude.

Thanks for a great write-up on Bo. You did it good!

Skip Young
Aloha, OR

Anonymous said...

"I guess it depends on whether you regard the blues as a quarry to be mined, or as a community you'd like to enter. If it's nothing but some kind of resource deposit, loot it and leave. The sooner you go away, the better."
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I've never heard it said better.