Otha Ellas Bates began his career as a boxer, where he received the sobriquet “Bo Diddley.” The singer worked the blues clubs of Chicago with a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. Today (March 2 1955), he teamed up with Billy Boy Arnold and recorded demos of “I’m A Man” and “Bo Diddley”.
Re-recorded at Chess Studios with a backing ensemble comprising Otis Spann (piano), Lester Davenport (harmonica), Frank Kirkland (drums) and Jerome Green (maracas), the a-side, “Bo Diddley”, became an R&B hit in 1955.
Before long, Diddley’s distorted, amplified, custom-made guitar, with its rectangular shape and pumping rhythm style became a familiar, much-imitated trademark, as did his self-referential songs with such titles as “Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger”, “Diddley Daddy” and “Bo’s A Lumberjack”.
His jive-talking routine with “Say Man” (a US Top 20 hit in 1959) continued on “Pretty Thing” and “Hey Good Lookin'”, which reached the lower regions of the UK charts in 1963.
By then, Diddley was regarded as something of an R&B legend and found a new lease of life courtesy of the UK beat boom.
The Pretty Things named themselves after one of his songs, while his work was covered by such artists as the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Manfred Mann, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Downliners Sect and the Zephyrs.
Diddley subsequently jammed on albums by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters and appeared infrequently at rock festivals.
His classic version of “Who Do You Love” became a staple cover for a new generation of US acts ranging from Quicksilver Messenger Service to the Doors, Tom Rush and Bob Seger, while the UK’s Juicy Lucy took the song into the UK Top 20.