JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bo Diddley’s revolutionary approach to the guitar won him plenty of honors, reverent admirers and legions of fans. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while superstar acts like Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones paid him homage.
But while Diddley was rich with accolades, the entertainer always lamented that he never earned true riches in music, even though his “shave and a haircut, two bits” rhythm and groundbreaking guitar effects changed the course of rock history.
“I am owed. I’ve never got paid,” he said. “A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun.”
Diddley, one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, died Monday at 79 of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla., spokeswoman Susan Clary said. He had a heart attack in August, three months after suffering a stroke while touring in Iowa.
“Bo Diddley was a music pioneer and legend with a unique style,” revered blues entertainer B.B. King said in a statement. “He will truly be missed, but his legacy will live on forever.”
The legendary singer and performer was an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and received a lifetime achievement award in 1999 at the Grammy Awards. In recent years he also played for the elder President Bush and President Clinton.
Diddley appreciated the honors he received, “but it didn’t put no figures in my checkbook.”
“If you ain’t got no money, ain’t nobody calls you honey,” he quipped.
Diddley, like other artists of his generation, was paid a flat fee for his recordings and said he received no royalty payments on record sales. Partly as a result, he continued to tour and record music until his stroke. Between tours, he lived near Gainesville in north Florida.
The name Bo Diddley came from other youngsters when he was growing up in Chicago, he said in a 1999 interview.
“I don’t know where the kids got it, but the kids in grammar school gave me that name,” said Diddley, who was born as Ellas Bates. Diddley said he liked it, so it became his stage name. Other times, he gave somewhat differing stories on where he got the name. Some says it’s after a one-string instrument used in traditional blues music called a diddley bow.
His first single, “Bo Diddley,” introduced record buyers in 1955 to his signature rhythm: bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp, often summarized as “shave and a haircut, two bits.”
Diddley’s other major songs included, “Say Man,” “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover,” “Shave and a Haircut,” “Uncle John,” “Who Do You Love?” and “The Mule.”
Diddley’s influence was felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Buddy Holly borrowed the bomp ba-bomp bomp, bomp bomp rhythm for his song “Not Fade Away.”
The Rolling Stones’ bluesy remake of that Holly song gave them their first chart single in the United States, in 1964. The following year, another British band, the Yardbirds, had a Top 20 hit in the United States with their version of “I’m a Man.”
“He was a wonderful, original musician who was an enormous force in music and was a big influence on The Rolling Stones,” Mick Jagger said in a statement. “He was very generous to us in our early years, and we learned a lot from him. We will never see his like again.”