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Published: Friday, 5/14/2004

Diddley: Elvis was great, but he wasn't an original

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bo Diddley Bo Diddley
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Bo Diddley knows his place in rock history. He just wishes everybody else knew it, too.

"I am original. I did not copy somebody. [Legendary disc jockey] Alan Freed introduced me at a theater in New York: 'This man's original. This man is going to rock and roll you right out of your seat.' "

Diddley, whose nickname is "The Originator," said he is coming to Toledo "to do what I do" when he performs tonight at Gumbo's Bayou Grille.

"I'm not playing at it, I'm doing it," he said this week in an interview from his home near Gainesville, Fla. "I'm 75 years old now, but I don't feel it. It ain't nothing but a number. I'm still doing my thing."

Born Ellas Bates McDaniel in McComb, Miss., the rock legend changed his name to Bo Diddley after moving to Chicago in 1936.

He was a boxer and a carpenter, playing music as a hobby until he signed with Chess Records in 1955.

He uses words like a boxer uses his fists, striking hard and letting the blows sink in. He speaks boldly, but said he's not bitter. At 75, he said, he doesn't have much patience for dancing around controversial issues.

Diddley is known for creating a primal rhythmic punch that is now called "The Bo Diddley Beat," as heard on his signature tune, "Bo Diddley," and other songs he wrote, such as "Who Do You Love" and "I'm a Man."

"It was me and Chuck Berry, we were the ones that started the rhythm thing," Diddley said. "Everybody else was blues - Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf. And there were big bands. But then there was me and Chuck Berry."

He said he didn't call the music rock and roll. That term was coined by Freed, a Cleveland disc jockey who played a key role in bringing rock and roll to the masses in the 1950s.

Diddley said his music career got off to a great start until a white singer from Tupelo, Miss., entered the picture.

"My downfall began when Elvis popped up," he said. "He copied me, with his leg moving and all that."

But the music business was segregated in the 1950s and black artists were limited to the genre known as rhythm and blues or "race records."

Presley took the compelling sound of rock and roll and introduced it to mainstream America.

"We had that racial [stuff] going on and they overlooked Bo Diddley," Diddley said. "Elvis later became really great. Elvis was really good. But Elvis did not start rock and roll. It was me and Chuck Berry.

"I used to not want to talk about it. I didn't want to open a can of worms. But I want credit for what I started, for what I did. When I leave off of this planet and go to another world - I have no idea where I'm going, and I don't plan on dying anytime soon - I want kids to know."

But Diddley said he was proud to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. "Better late than never," he said.

He said he wonders what happened to the money from his record sales, claiming that he barely saw a penny.

"I never seen a royalty check but for 10 bucks," Diddley said. "I got ripped off. Where did the money go? That's what I want to know: Where did the money go? It didn't come to me."

He said he plans to put some recordings he described as "modern collectors items" on his Web site, which is still in the development stage.

"I'm gonna package all this stuff - some old stuff I used to make in the '50s and '60s - and I'm not gonna try to rob people," Diddley said. "I just want to cover the costs of what I have to do."

Bo Diddley will be accompanied by Toledo band Voodoo Libido tonight at Gumbo's Bayou Grille at The Docks in International Park. Doors open at 8, and the show starts at 9. Tickets, $25, are available at Ticketmaster, Allied Record Exchange, and at the door. Information: 419-693-5300.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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