Ellas Bates was born in McComb, Mississippi on December 30, 1928. He later took the last name of his birth mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel, who became his adoptive parent. His stage name, Bo Diddley,is actually that of a one-stringed African guitar.
Ellas McDaniel is most famous for popularizing what he called “The Bo Diddley beat,” a rhumba-type rhythm invented by street performers who would slap and pat their bodies while chanting. In 1952, three years before McDaniel began recording, Dolores Hawkins & The Hambone Kids scored the hit “Hambone” with that very same rhythm. Ellas himself came across the beat one day while trying to master Gene Autry’s country classic “Jingle Jangle Jingle.” Later records to also pick up the rhythm included Elvis Presley’s “His Latest Flame,” The Strangeloves” “I Want Candy” and Johnny Otis’ “Willie & the Hand Jive.”
Ellas, as Bo Diddley, was far more original when it came to his innovative uses of reverb, chord voicing, distortion, string scratching, auto-tremolo and violin-style guitar tuning. His trademark instrument, “The Twang Machine,” was a Gretsch guitar with a rectangular body that he helped develop. Bo’s first hit, which he named after himself, was based on the lullaby “Hush Little Baby.” The song “Bo Diddley” was not only a #1 R&B hit in 1955 but even carried a second hit, “I’m A Man,” on it’s flip side. Muddy Waters’ “Manish Boy,” released two months later, was the hit answer to Bo’s chart-topper. Four more R&B hits — “Diddley Daddy,” “Pretty Thing,” I’m Sorry” and “Crackin’ Up” followed before Diddley made his first appearance on the pop Top 40 with a single he cut quite by accident. Neither he nor his maracas player, Jerome Green, were aware that tape was rolling when they improvised a rhythm in the studio and traded good-natured insults over it. The resulting record, “Say Man,” reached #3 R&B and #20 pop in the fall of 1959. Bo went on to score four more R&B hits through 1967 — “Say Man Back Again,” “Ooh Baby,” “Road Runner” and “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover.” He also wrote the Mickey & Sylvia hit “Love Is Strange” in 1957.
At the age of 79, on June 2, 2008, Bo Diddley died at Archer, Florida.
His recording of “Bo Diddley” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Bo’s Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award followed in 1998. Bo Diddley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2010.