I must have been 6 yrs. old when I saw my first Bo Diddley
album cover, it belonged to my 16yr old cousin. The red plaid jacket and
the rectangular box guitar left an indelible mark on my consciousness. By
the time I hit my 20's I was copping harp parts off the same recording
and had listened to just about everything he'd recorded for the Chess Brothers
in Chicago. I thought I knew Diddley.
Here's the scoop. In the early 80's for $2000.00, a round
trip ticket from somewhere in Florida, and one night in a hotel, you too
could have Bo for the night. We were the house band at JB's and JB's had
acquiesced to fork over the cash. The Numbers Band would open, then back
up Mr. Diddley. Unbeknownst to him we were ready to kick ass behind him.
We'd been covering him for years, "Can't Judge a Book", "Who Do You Love",
"Mona" and "You Don't Love Me" were some of our most requested songs.
We had single-handedly kept his name alive in our neck of the woods. Our
Drummer, David, could have written a doctoral thesis on how to employ
the nuance and give life to the world famous "Bo Diddley Beat".
David and I went down to pick up Bo at the airport. We're
standing there watching these people walk up the stairs after de-boarding
when I asked "how will we recognize him." David laughed, "He'll be the
one that's Bo Diddley". About a minute later there he was, no doubt, David
was right. The black Fedora was a dead give away, not to mention the
huge guitar case he was hauling. We drove him back to Kent, Ohio. We went
directly to the club for a rehearsal, after all he was slated for a 2 hour
show, that's a lot of songs.
Bo was all business. He'd been through this routine at
least a thousand times with every little podunk band across the country who
had single-handedly kept his name alive in their neck of the woods. He plugged
in, tuned up and started playing the rhythm that had put him on the
map more than 30 yrs. ago. It oozed out of the amp, I was captivated. It
was the essence of rock and roll, it stood on it's own, no accompaniment
He told me exactly what he wanted from my harmonica.....
"just the beat man"..... I could have played it in my sleep. David started
playing the drum part he'd been playing since late adolescence. Bo came
to an abrupt stop, turned to David and said "I don't play that old shit no
more". That comment hung in the air, for an amount of time that's
immeasurable. What he wanted out of the drums was Rock Drum Beat 101.
Kind of a boomp... bop... boomp... bop... thing. I was disappointed.
David was...well, I don't know what David was, but it wasn't good. Then Bo
played a little 3 note figure and told us, "When you hear this..1..2..3..the song ends."
He meant EVERY song. Rehearsal was over, it had taken about 15 minutes.
I drove Bo to his hotel.
JB's was packed that night, wall to wall, a fire marshall's
nightmare. All the boys and girls had come to see us kids make good while
backing up the Legend. Included in our opening set was a tip of the hat
to Bo, yet another version of "You Don't Love Me". He stood and watched
us from behind the bar, with a slight hint of appreciation in his eye.
The crowd was beside itself.
My brother Bob got down off the stage, Bo took his spot. It
was time.... "If that diamond ring don't shine Bo Diddley take it to a
private eye". It was heaven. I was playing music next to a guy who'd been
staring at me from album covers since I was 6. I lunged into the harp and
played exactly what he'd told me, that's all. Beautiful, I was there to
soak it in, just like everybody else. We were cranking out his hits, one
after the other, 1..2..3, same beat, new song. About three tunes in, Bo
caught my eye. He looked at me and rolled his index finger. He was throwing
me a solo. I couldn't believe it, I took the verse. The crowd went nuts,
crowds are apt to do that when one of the locals get called off the bench.
He rolled his finger at the end of the verse, so I took another and another.
He was having me solo on every song. The crowd was loving it and I
was out there, in that land somewhere, never wanting to return. David,
on the other hand, was not having a good time. When he would try to
demonstrate that he could play the drums or make a contribution to the
proceedings, Bo would turn around and snarl at him and toss off some
discouraging words. The show eventually came to an end. I was exhausted
The next day I took him back to the airport for his flight home.
We were alone in the car. We made small talk and then I said "so you
heard the band, what advice would you give us?" He said "well if I was you
boys I'd learn some country music, its coming back and its gonna be big."
I asked for it....couldn't believe it....and if we had taken it, ya'all
could be line dancing in front of us.
I did have a realization on the way home after dropping him off.
While I was playing my ass off the night before, Bo was just killing time.
One more thing....he flew up from Florida about a year later, David managed
to be out of town. I hope he had a good time.