Today is the 83rd anniversary of the birth of blues/rock music legend Bo Diddley, who died in 2008. (He shares this birthday with LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Patti Smith, Rudyard Kipling… and Sean Hannity, which makes sense when you realize that after you account for the others, there wasn’t much talent left over to hand out.)
Seeing live music has been a longstanding passion of mine, and based on the good fortune of seeing Bo Diddley play perhaps 20 or more times in the last quarter-century of his life, I would call him probably the best live entertainer I ever saw. (And I was too young to catch him in his prime, when he gave apocalyptic, primal performances like this one.)
Never content to just play the oldies, Bo made every show an improvisational showcase–with songs originally recorded at under three minutes becoming extended blues-funk jams, and new ones being invented on the spot based on two-chord vamps and a few tweaks of the numerous dials and switches on his custom-built square guitar. When fate found him backed up by a skilled eight-piece worldbeat band (the Bonedaddys) one night in Los Angeles, Bo loved the rhythmic and melodic options that opened up so much that he stayed in town for weeks, playing additional shows with them.
But wait, this isn’t a music blog… isn’t there a political angle in all this? Well, okay, if you insist, it’s worth noting that Bo Diddley played numerous benefit shows in Gainesville, Florida, near his home… and the city reciprocated a year after his death by naming its downtown plaza after him. The Bo Diddley Plaza is now the home of Occupy Gainesville (previously written about here on FDL), and Bo Diddley’s son was arrested there while supporting the occupation.
So rest easily wherever you are now, Bo, and take pride that good things continue to be done in your name, even beyond your unique musical legacy.