I realize that I'm a few days late in writing this tribute, but it is difficult to try and capture the feelings I have about the passing of this legend. I can proudly say that I saw him perform in a very intimate setting years ago...and even had the chance to speak with him afterwards!
Let me back up a little bit though. When I was in 5th or 6th grade I stumbled on my Mom's amazing collection of "forty-fives" from her high-school years...and beyond (?). These were an absolute revelation for me. I listened to The Coasters, The Beatles, Elvis (of course), The Platters, Buddy Holly, and just too many to list. I heard the songs "Poison Ivy", "Woo Hoo", "Run Red, Run", "Money", "Go Honey Go" -- and so many of these songs. It was a history lesson, a doorway into my own imagination, a stepping-off point for my interest in music...and especially rock and roll.
I made mixed-tapes of these records and began diving into my parents' record collection at-large. Led Zeppelin, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Baez, Willie Nelson to name a few. To me, the Gods of the collection, above all others...the ones that spoke to me and haunt me in that way only music can...were Bo Diddley and Waylon Jennings. I never saw Waylon Jennings perform, which I will always regret. But thanks to my Mom (yet again), I did see Bo Diddley perform.
I still have my mom's record (she'll find this out when she reads this...sorry Mom, I'm taking very good care of it!!) "Have Guitar, Will Travel" with Bo Diddley sitting on his scooter (a Vespa?) holding his infamous "Big B" rectangular guitar (custom by "Gretsch" in the 50s and was reissued in 1999)...and looking so...well...so Bo Diddley! That album broke into my brain like a freight train (not to be cliche)...with songs such as "Diddley Daddy" and "Say Man". Who can forget lyrics like "I was down in the jungle, pickin' wild beans/when something jumped up that I never before seen" or "I was drivin down the boulevard late one night when I spied a guy over on the corner, bummin all alone/now as I passed him by I heard him call out 'hey, by any chance, you goin my way'/I said 'why sho baby, hop on in and gimme a cigarette" -- aaaaah...and then the awesome tale that follows, ending in "Yeah, they gonna put him so far back in jail this time, Hell, they gonna have to pump air into him"...you MUST listen to this album before you die!
So, back to my Mom. Several years ago Bo Diddley did a small tour and one stop on the tour was "The Little Bear" in the mountains in Colorado. This is a small mountain-style dive-ish bar. It was stunning. My Mom got two tickets for us to see this show (she will always regret never seeing Roy Orbison perform, and didn't want to repeat this missed-opporunity...YAY MOM!!!)...anyway, Bo Diddley brought down the house in style. Anyone who saw him live can agree, I'm sure...he owns the audience. His guitars floored me...mudflap girl and all. And afterwards, he sat in a nearby booth signing autographs and quietly thanking people for coming. I approached for an autograph and nerdily said "why sho baby hop on in and give me a cigarette" thinking he would appreciate my generationally mysterious knowledge of this somewhat obscure reference to a song from "Have Guitar, Will Travel". You can guess, right? He looked blankly at me as if I'd spoken to him in Gaelic. Uuuum....ok, well, anyway I have no regrets even if I was a little uncomfortable! I spoke with a true legend...or at least TO him!
When I found out he had passed away the other day, I wasn't shocked (he was up there in years, afterall), but I did feel that sense that someone really important -- to me, to rock and roll, to so many people for so many reasons -- had moved on to another world. It is never easy to put into words what someone means to you. Bo Diddley -- I didn't know him personally, but for some reason musicians seep into our minds like old friends with their songs. Thankfully, I'll always be able to dial up "Diddley Daddy" in my mind, and on the turn-table.
Thanks Bo Diddley!