I know I’m behind on this one, as I’m just catching up with my feeds after a long busy spell. But I thought I’d relate a little story from when I saw Bo Diddley, in 2000 or 2001.
I caught his act at the Iron Horse in Northampton, a little club that seemed like it held no more than 60 or 70. I was seated at a table that had been set up more or less in the middle of an aisle, with a mom, dad, and daughter in from Boston to visit Amherst.
Bo played included all the songs you’d have wanted him to, but many were made slightly unfamiliar. For example, the classic desert-road hambone haunt, “Who Do You Love,” was an extra-long encore with a jumpy, major-key interlude.
I learned a lot from that song in particular. Bo’s tweaks showed a creative passion—an interest in process, in revision—that, culturally, we don’t often attach to the “classic” blues singers. Which is foolish, of course: Bo, for one, famously designed his own boxy guitar, and . In short, with an attention to traditional craft and a ceaseless drive towards innovation, he helped shepherd the blues into rock ‘n’ roll’s growing hands.
Finally, the classic “touching brush with fame” moment: On a break between sets, I was getting a Coke at the Horse’s back bar. Bo walked up next to me—I heard his boots coming before I saw him—and ordered his drink.
I didn’t want to just stare at him, so I said, “Hey—I really love what you’re doing up there, how you’re changing things.” (I’m sure it came out more clunkily.)
Bo glanced over, smiled, and asked, “Do you play, brother?” Then he paid for my Coke.