Bo Diddley was a musical innovator who helped forge the sound and contributed to the style of rock 'n' roll. He sported a trademark fedora, played an iconic square-shaped guitar and from it he extracted a deep, rusty reverb and a peculiar playing style that influenced generations of players.
Diddley died Monday of heart failure at his home in Archer, Fla.; he was 79. He'd been in ill health for much of the past year, having suffered a stroke and a heart attack in 2007.
Prior to those ailments, though, Diddley remained a vigorous performer, continuing to tour regularly, as he'd done since he began performing in the mid '50s, when he helped shape rock 'n' roll.
"He was by far the most underrated of any '50s star,'' says producer Phil Spector. "You listen to those (reissued box sets) and the rhythmic invention, the consistent high quality of imagination and performance, the excellence of the writing, the power of the vocals - nobody else ever did it better or had a deeper, more penetrating influence.''
Perhaps no guitarist was more influenced by Diddley's sound and style than ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, who carries on Diddley's tradition of strange-looking instruments and full-bodied guitar riffs with prickly solos.
Gibbons called Diddley "the 'artiste.'
"He was the man who constructed the sound we all grew to revolve around,'' he said. "And a vision of simplicity delivered through effortless expression and sense of humor. Many times, Bo made a point to say, 'I'll always be around,' and we know he will.''