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MUSIC BO DIDDLEY : Who Do You Know : A rock pioneer sounds off about politics, Ed Sullivan and the shady side of the music business.

April 01, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Before anyone knew Derek, Svenson or Jackson, Bo knew Diddley. Elias McDaniel was born more than 60 years ago in Mississippi, moved to Chicago as a kid, played the violin then adapted to a guitar and reinvented himself as a rock 'n' roll innovator named Bo Diddley. He will make a rare local appearance tonight at the Anaconda Theater in Isla Vista.

McDaniel grew up as the new kid in the Windy City, and thus learned to box as a means of dealing with the locals on that ubiquitous Unwelcome Wagon. After the wise guys who needed it were beaten like tent pegs, the dizzy survivors gave McDaniel a nickname--Bo Diddley. And later, he gave us the Bo Diddley beat, a primitive sound that incorporates both Latin and African influences. He often would play with the late Jerome Green shaking maracas, and the sound was something eminently recognizable by feet the world over.

Diddley's unique guitar sound helped inspire the Rolling Stones, among others, and Diddley songs such as "I'm a Man," "Who Do You Love" and "Mona" have been recorded by countless bands. Nonetheless, Diddley, like many of the pioneers of rock, says he remains unhappy about the contracts that were signed in those days because the check still isn't in the mail despite the fact he's sold a zillion albums.

During 40 years of touring, Diddley invented his signature square guitar, played for three Presidents, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, made a Nike commercial with Bo Jackson and worked as a sheriff. Diddley's zillionth album, "This Should Not Be," is on Triple X.

Recently, Diddley spoke with The Times from his Florida home:

Question: So Bo, have you ever really stopped touring?

Answer: Been working, man, but I do mostly weekends now.

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Q: Ever played Santa Barbara before?

A: Santa Barbara? Oh yeah, man, but I don't remember when.

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Q: You've played all over the world. Have you been to Eastern Europe?

A: Yeah, man, I was there four or five years ago, before the Wall fell. I'm not sure how that worked, but America helped bring these people around to capitalism, and now they're in trouble and we don't know what to do. We brought 'em to the picnic, but now we can't feed 'em. If they don't want to get themselves together, I say leave 'em alone until they get their act together.

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Q: Do you have a band or just play with whoever's there?

A: Sometimes I have a band. Other times, they just call up the union hall and pick up a band for me like for this gig.

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Q: How many Bo Diddley albums are there?

A: Man, there's so many I can't count them all.

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Q: What's the story on all the old stuff you recorded for Chess Records?

A: I didn't get paid for a lot of that stuff--a lot of people have been ripped off over the years. We made the music, but the contracts didn't mean a damn thing. I'm very, very, very disturbed that the government is not getting involved in this. They should go out and find those guys. (They have) been using my money all these years--they got their kids' names on the accounts now. I didn't get paid for inventing the Bo Diddley beat. Nobody ever came forward and said, 'Hey man, here's half-a-million dollars.'

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Q: So has the music business changed over the years?

A: No, man, the music business is the same as any other business. But the country has to be on solid ground for business to be on solid ground. You can't afford a $110-a-week apartment with a $75-a-week job. Wake up, America. Don't sleep too long.

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Q: Why did Ed Sullivan want you to play "Sixteen Tons," which was somebody else's song, on his show?

A: I don't know, man, it was Tennessee Ernie's song. I guess he thought maybe I could do it. I thought I got to do two songs, but I didn't do "Sixteen Tons" and he got pissed off. That was the first and last time I was on his show. He said I'd never last. Hey, man, I'd ate beans before. Now, he's gone and I'm still here.

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Q: You've played for a number of Presidents--Kennedy, Bush and Clinton. What was that like? Did you play "Who Do You Love?" for Kennedy?

A: Yeah, man, but Kennedy wasn't there. He was out talking to Castro or something. Bush wasn't there, man. Clinton was gone too, but the Gores were there. They were two really nice people.

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Q: You were a sheriff for awhile. Did you still play, then arrest people if they didn't dance?

A: No, man, nothing like that. I was the sheriff in Los Lunas, New Mexico. You know, somebody had to do it.

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Q: If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

A: I'd be somewhere doing barbecue.

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Q: What's next?

A: Well, I've invented a new instrument called a Superstick. It's a drum machine that handles like a guitar. I also have a Guitdrum which has a guitar built into it too.

Hey, man, I gotta go . . .

* WHERE AND WHEN:

Bo Diddley, Ghoul Brynner, The Chodes tonight at the Anaconda Theater, Isla Vista, 8 p.m.. Admission, $15. For more information, call 685-3112.

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