by Lorraine Kay
Anaheim, CA — Legendary rock and roller, Bo Diddley rocked to a packed house at the House of Blues in Anaheim at Downtown Disney Friday, June 24, with the Debby Hastings Band. The 77 year old who ”put the rock in rock and roll”, who appeared here at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center in March, was still rocking as he presented many of his classic hits spanning his 50-year career.
The pounding signature Bo Diddley beat began behind the heavy stage curtains and then that unmistakable funky guitar strumming twanged above the sound of the band building with anticipation. And then the curtains parted on Diddley sitting center stage on a straight back chair, with his amp and effects pedal at his side, and his custom rectangular guitar in his lap. It was a powerful moment as he broke into “Bo Diddley” as no other performer can. No one wanted it to end, but it did and it was all right, because he had a whole lot more to offer for the evening.
Supported on stage by the Debby Hastings Band, Diddley presented hit after hit from his 50 years of recording and writing. Hastings directed the four-piece as she pulled it all together on electric Fender P bass. The lady is a powerhouse delivering a brawny bass line on every tune, whether it was a pounding Bo Diddley beat, or seductive ballad, Hastings conveyed control with an air of ease all the time calling the shots to the rest of the band.
Hastings has been with Diddley for over 20 years, since she was discovered playing in a small club in Greenwich Village. She was invited at that time by Diddley’s management to back him up on a local college gig. “It was serendipity,” she said. “I was really lucky.” She was invited to stay and then took over the job of music director 10 years ago.
The “rest of the band” is no less talented. Barely visible behind a Hammond B-3 with a Kurzweil keyboard stacked on top, Margo Lewis rips on the keyboards. She might be small in stature, but this lady delivers a big sound as well, commanding the B-3 with nostalgic licks so hot that Diddley walked over and began fanning the keys with his hat. Frank Daley is no slouch on guitar either. Keeping up with Diddley is a challenge to a lot of guitarists, but Daley seemed to handle the gig with ease. Finishing off the band is Sandy Gennaro on drums. His pounding presence on the opening tune set the mood for the evening. Solid playing throughout the night was rewarded by a duet with Diddley on drums.
Known throughout the world as Bo Diddley, he was born Otha Ellas Bates in 1928, on a small farm in McComb, Mississippi. But as Bo Diddley he was destined to become a rock and roll icon. His humble beginnings, first in Mississippi and later on the south side of Chicago, set the stage for a career equal to few others. Soon after moving to Chicago in the 30s, he began to take violin lessons from Professor O.W. Frederick at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. A gifted musician, he was classically trained on the violin for the next twelve years, composing two concertos for the instrument, both of which he plans to record for the first time in the very near future.
A turning point in his musical career happened when his sister Lucille bought him his first guitar, a cheap Harmony acoustic for Christmas in 1940. It was then that for a reason that escapes Diddley himself that he acquired the nickname “Bo Diddley.” “Bo Diddley is me; to tell the truth, I don’t know what it (the name) really is, what it means, or why they called me that,” says Diddley. “The kids at school just started calling me that,” he said referring to his fellow students at Foster Vocational High School in Chicago.
Paying his dues, playing on street corners and in small clubs finally paid off after more than a decade, in the spring of 1955, when he took demo recordings he made of two songs he had written, “Uncle John” and “I’m A Man”, to brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, owners of Chess Records. They suggested that he change the title and the lyrics of “Uncle John” to Bo Diddley to more reflect his own unique personality. The two songs were re-recorded at Bill Putnam’s Universal Recording Studio, in Chicago, on March 2, 1955, and released as a double A-side disc “Bo Diddley”/”I’m A Man” on the Chess Records subsidiary label Checker Records. It went straight to the top of the rhythm ‘n’ blues charts, establishing Bo Diddley as one of the most exciting and original new talents in American music and the rest, as they say, is history.
Nicknamed the “Originator”, Diddley has indelibly stamped his mark on rhythm ‘n’ blues, rock ‘n’ roll and popular music over the past five decades. His innovative trademark rhythm, his electric custom-built guitars, his use of female musicians, his psychedelic guitar sounds, his wild stage shows, and his on-record and on-stage rapping, pre-date all others. His influence on other musicians, both black and white, is immeasurable. Without a doubt, Bo Diddley put the Rock in Rock ‘n’ Roll. He shaped and defined the sound and presentation of rock music for all time.
His creativity covers every aspect of his stage shows, from his innovative use of special effects such as reverb, tremolo and distortion to make his guitars talk, mumble and roar like jet engines to his use of female guitarists and musicians, including; Lady Bo, Duchess, Cookie and, most recently, Debby Hastings and Margo Lewis, on stage. And the man himself has set his own individual style with his distinctive all-black outfit complete with hat and over-sized eagle badge.
For anyone who had never seen Diddley in live concert Friday night’s concert was a treat. Even after 50 years the man still rocks like few others. And he shows very few signs of slowing down at 76 years. As he closed Friday night’s performance, he shared a few solemn moments with the audience to explain the reason that he had to sit throughout the concert. He talked about his bout with diabetes and a back problem. “This guitar is pretty heavy,” he said, talking about his famous custom rectangular guitar and how it had become a strain on his back. He also shared how he had to have two toes on his right foot amputated due to complications from diabetes, warning others to be more diligent in caring for their health. “If it wasn’t for my kids making me go to the doctor I might not be here tonight,” he said.
Taking her cue, Hastings directed the band to jump into ‘Hey, Bo Diddley”, another Bo Diddley signature tune during which he handed off the infamous guitar and rose up from his chair to join Gennaro on the drums for a pounding drum duet to close the show as Hastings led the audience in the reprise shouting “Hey Bo Diddley!”
Following the Anaheim concert, Diddley is traveling north for a couple of concerts and then on to Canada for several appearances. For dates and locations visit his web site at http://members.tripod.com/~Originator_2/index.html