Bo Diddley Dies at 79

ROCK'N'ROLL has lost a founding father. Bo Diddley, known as "the originator", died of heart failure on Monday. He was 79.

Diddley, who continued to play shows despite his ailing health, died at his home in Archer, Florida.

"One of the founding fathers of rock'n'roll has left the building he helped construct," his management agency, Talent Consultants International, said in a statement.

Diddley's syncopated, percussive, propulsive rhythm guitar playing, backed by shuffling maracas, was inspired by an African drum beat. That rhythm helped lay rock'n'roll's foundation.

"Boom da boom da boom, boom boom. That was basically an Indian chant," is how Diddley described it in a March 2007 interview with National Public Radio.

Resplendent in black Stetson hat and thick-rimmed glasses, employing distortion and reverb on his array of self-designed guitars — rectangular or with Cadillac-like "fins" — Diddley boasted on self-mythologising songs such as Bo Diddley and Bo Diddley's a Gunslinger, presaging many cocksure rockers and rappers.

The driving beat of songs such as Who Do You Love, Roadrunner and Pretty Thing inspired artists from Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones and the Pretty Things, the Clash, Iggy Pop, ZZ Top, U2 and the White Stripes.

Along with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Diddley constructed a sound that crossed America's racial divide, appealing to both black and white audiences and musicians. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognised his influence in 1987, and he received a Grammy lifetime achievement award the following year. Exploitation by record companies meant he never received financial rewards commensurate with his influence.

"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.

Melbourne DJ Mohair Slim, who will be presenting a tribute to Diddley on his show Blue Juice on 3PBS FM this Sunday morning, said Diddley was a true original.

"Bo Diddley didn't really have a predecessor, he was not part of any continuum or musical tradition," Slim said. "Every '60s R&B band had a Bo Diddley song in their repertoire but nobody adopted his whole approach or sound. The guy was such a maverick that he was destined never to get his due."

Born Ellas Bates in 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, he was given the nickname Bo Diddley as a teenager after moving to Chicago in the 1940s.

Inspired by John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, he started performing on street corners.

While he had just one top 40 hit with Say Man and collected no gold records, his influence is profound.

In 1956 a Harlem newspaper, the Amsterdam News, on first seeing Elvis perform, claimed he had "copied Bo Diddley's style to the letter". Rolling Stone magazine described his beat as "the most plagiarised rhythm of the 20th century".

Diddley toured Australia many times, including on the Legends of Rock'n'Roll Tour in the late 1980s, when he terrified promoter Kevin Jacobsen by staging a mock argument with Jerry Lee Lewis.

On his 1978 tour, he was so impressed by Brisbane guitar maker Chris Kinman that he asked him to build him a new square guitar, which he dubbed "the Mean Machine".

Playing at St Kilda's Prince of Wales Hotel in 2005, he surprised the crowd by straying from his signature sound in a genre-defying set of funk, soul, doo-wop, psychedelic rock, country and even rap, a genre he often derided.

Diddley also competed as a boxer and served as a sheriff in Los Lunas, New Mexico. In recent years, he worked with his local police department to warn teenagers about the dangers of drugs and gang violence.

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