Bo Diddley has seen it all: 40 years of unpaid royalties, penny-pinching to buy a 75-acre dream home in Central Florida, induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nike commercials with Bo Jackson.
But he has never seen anything quite like young America’s reaction to the suicide of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain.
“That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Diddley said from his home in Archer, just outside Gainesville, “and everybody’s trying to make him into a hero. He was a fool.
“He was responsible for his own actions, and I tell kids all the time, don’t think that was a big deal and try to follow in his footsteps because he’s not around to tell you, ‘Come on. It’s nice where I’m at.’ Children that are following him should think about what he did. Do not hurt yourself.”
In his many travels, Diddley volunteers his time to warn children about drugs and sex. The influential R&B/rock guitarist-vocalist said he does so because “there are so many evil people put here to test you and find out if they can turn your mind.”
He has resisted his own temptations by realizing early on “you don’t jump out in front of a freight train because you know what it’s going to do.”
Born Otha Ellas Bates McDaniel on Dec. 30, 1928, in McComb, Miss., Diddley moved to Chicago at age 7 and studied the violin before discovering the guitar, which his mother called “the devil’s music.”
He flirted with a boxing career and trained at a local gym, where he was given the nickname (“bo diddley” is a one-stringed African guitar). He performed on street corners and eventually moved indoors, playing at the famed 708 Club. That’s where he was spotted by Leonard Chess, who signed him to his Checker label.
His first record was a two-sided No. 1 R&B hit, “Bo Diddley/I’m a Man,” both of which had the trademark Bo Diddley back beat and call-and-response pattern. It has been copied and imitated by so many artists over the past five decades that Diddley feels cheated.
“I was at the beginning of this stuff, me and Chuck Berry,” he said. “That tells you right there that I’m not trying to take the limelight from anybody else. Chuck Berry and I were the first ones raising hell, then came everybody else. We were the first two to be called rock ‘n’ roll.”
Diddley said he is “fixing to open courthouse doors” to get his due credit. In the meantime, he continues to tour extensively and has a new album on Triple X Records due in the fall.