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Looking back, I know I owe a lot to Bo

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 23, 2002

I don't know why other kids went to school. Thirst for knowledge? To get out of the house? Fear of the truant officer?

I went to school so that I could be in the band.

Specifically, so that I could be with, arguably, the neatest kids in school, the band kids.

More specifically, so that I could ride on the bus with the band kids on trips to football games and marching or playing contests. That was the most fun I had in high school.

A big part of our fun on those trips was singing Bo Diddley songs, mostly Bo Diddley ("Bo Diddley caught a nanny goat, to make his pretty baby a Sunday coat. . . . Bo Diddley caught a big bearcat, to make his pretty baby a Sunday hat. . . ."). When we ran out of verses, we made up our own.

We also sang I'm a Man. Ba-BA-uh-ba-ba; Bo said, "I'm a maaaane," with a long "a," and we did, too.

Joe Paul Stroud, who went on to become a professional musician and band director, could do Diddley's "hambone" beat on the back of a bus seat for hours -- CHINK-uh-CHINK-uh-CHINK, uh-CHINK-CHINK. Darla Howell knew the words to his songs. The rest of us eventually learned the words, but no one could ever hold that beat as long as Joe Paul could.

Diddley is 73 years old now and lives near Gainesville. When he played at Chasco Fiesta last year, nearly 5,000 people showed up to see and hear him, according to Jim Wilcox, a concert promoter and booking agent.

Diddley is coming back to New Port Richey on Dec. 14, this time to the Bourbon Street Concert Club on U.S. 19. Bourbon Street holds about 10 percent of the number who showed up at the Chasco gig, so anyone who goes will have a close encounter with a genuine rock 'n' roll legend. Keith Caton and the Accelerators will open his show and back up his set. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and they go on sale Monday.

Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, the definitive bestower of r 'n' r honorifics, calls Bo Diddley "a founding father of rock and roll," sort of the Alexander Hamilton of roots music.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. It was the second year of the hall's existence, and many people thought he should have been inducted the first year, when the emperors of rock were: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cook, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

He's that important to rock 'n' roll.

Diddley was also given lifetime achievement awards by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

He wrote for the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and Bruce Springsteen (She's the One).

I guess my band pals and I weren't the only ones who thought Diddley was one-of-a-kind great.

Record promoters, producers and agents cheated Diddley out of the $50-million he estimates should have gone to him. That's probably a modest figure, considering what some of his contemporaries have hauled in -- some with much less talent and fewer stylistic creations.

This year, Diddley told my colleague Dave Scheiber, "I have bills to pay, and I have to work." He prefers small clubs and venues so that he can connect with the audience. At Bourbon Street, he'll be near the kitchen and can grab a snack in case his blood sugar plunges, as it tends to do, making him weak and lightheaded.

All that is probably why people will get to see him live and in person at Bourbon Street.

I suppose, in a roundabout way, Bo Diddley was responsible for my academic success all the way through graduate school.

In order to stay eligible for band, we had to maintain a respectable grade point average. In my usual -- some say obsessive -- way, I went overboard and studied most of the time that I wasn't at band practice. As luck would have it, I soon began to love knowledge as much as I loved band. Then I began to love knowledge more and ended up teaching college English and, now, bathing in the butter bucket also known as being arts and entertainment writer for My Favorite Newspaper.

Thanks for everything, Bo.

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