Bo Diddley, the guitar master and rock and roll innovator known as "The Originator" behind the hits "Who Do You Love" and "I'm a Man," died yesterday of heart failure in his Archer, Fla., home. He was 79.
Diddley's syncopated, "chunk, cha-chunk-chunk, chunk, chunk" scratch guitar sound was so distinctive it became known as the "Bo Diddley beat" and went on to become one of rock's building blocks, used in everything from Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and The Who's "Magic Bus" to Bruce Springsteen's "She's the One" and U2's "Desire."
He was born Ellas Bates in McComb, Miss., in 1928, and raised by his mother's cousin, Gussie McDaniel, whose surname he took, becoming Ellas McDaniel at age 7. He landed the nickname Bo Diddley during his stint as an amateur boxer.
He formed his first band, The Hipsters, in 1951 and landed a record deal with the Chess Records subsidiary, Checker, in 1955. His first release was a double A-side single with "Bo Diddley" and "I'm a Man" - songs that, along with Chuck Berry's early work, would bridge the gap between rhythm and blues and the new sound of rock and roll.
Though he didn't enjoy the chart success of many of his contemporaries, Diddley, who was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1998, did carry a great deal of influence, even leading The Jesus and Mary Chain to immortalize him with the song "Bo Diddley Is Jesus."
"If Bo Diddley was English, I think he should be knighted," Tom Petty once said. "Actually, this country should build a monument in every state to Bo Diddley. Elvis is King. But Diddley is Daddy."
He was known not just for his songwriting, but in his actual guitar technique, which brought distortion and other special effects into the mainstream, through his use of handmade electric guitars, and in his lyrics and imagery.
The way he referred to himself in the third person in hits such as "Bo Diddley," "Diddley Daddy" and "Hey! Bo Diddley," made him a forerunner of early hip-hop rhymes. He even had a hit with "Say Man," a bit of verbal sparring with his maracas player that was an early form of battle rapping.
Diddley was also known for his live shows, offering incredible solos and coaxing otherworldly sounds out of his homemade rectangular guitars for more than five decades. Playing on bills with everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Clash and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Diddley maintained an aggressive touring schedule up until his recent illness.
He suffered a stroke in May after a performance in Council Bluffs, Iowa. On Aug. 24, 2007, he suffered a heart attack during a routine medical checkup after he complained of dizziness and nausea.
Diddley is survived by his children, Evelyn Kelly, Ellas A. McDaniel, Tammi D. McDaniel and Terri Lynn McDaniel, a brother, the Rev. Kenneth Haynes, as well as 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.
REAL NAME Ellas Bates
BIGGEST HITS "Bo Diddley" (No. 1 R&B Singles, 1955); "I'm a Man" (No. 1 R&B Singles, 1955); "Say Man" (No. 3, R&B Singles, 1959)
SONGS RECORDED BY Jimi Hendrix ("I'm a Man"); Rolling Stones ("Mannish Boy"); Eric Clapton ("Before You Accuse Me"); The Kinks ("Cadillac")
AWARDS Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987); Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1998); inducted into National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (1998).