Rock pioneer Bo Diddley dies, aged 79

The rhythm and blues musician whose distinctive choppy rhythm shaped rock'n'roll has died at home in Florida of heart failure

Bo Diddley, the rhythm and blues musician whose distinctive choppy rhythm shaped rock'n'roll, died yesterday, aged 79. The singer and guitarist had suffered a heart attack in August, three months after having a stroke while on tour in Iowa. He died at home in Florida of heart failure.

Wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a black Stetson and playing a home-made box-shaped guitar, he cut a distinctive figure among the first generation of rock and rollers. But he never achieved the fame or fortune of contemporaries such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

His first single, however, was arguably as influential as anything recorded by the pioneers of rock'n'roll. Hey, Bo Diddley, a tale of rural infidelity released in 1955, introduced the "shave and a haircut, two bits rhythm" that Diddley made his own, and which was subsequently absorbed by artists from Buddy Holly to David Bowie.

Diddley, who was born Ellas Bates in 1928 in Mississippi, claimed that he never received due financial reward for his music. Like most musicians in the early 1950s, he was paid a flat fee for his recordings, and never received royalties. "I am owed. I've never got paid," he said in the 1990s. "A dude with a pencil is worse than a cat with a machine gun."

Possibly because of the lack of riches, or his humble roots and religious background, he survived the ups and downs of an uneven career longer than most of his contemporaries.

"When I first became famous, it really freaked me out," he once said. "It didn't seem real. I didn't know what to do with it. I come from a very religious background and I figured I was being given a chance, and I wasn't about to let it slip by. Maybe that's why I'm still around and others aren't."


Dan Glaister in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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