By Kevin Hogan (@radiator9987)
The architect of what is known as the “Bo Diddley Beat” is widely considered an 'oldies' or 'novelty' act, but it was his vision that propelled the Psychedelic movement in SF in the 60s, the birthplace of Jam Bands.
Everyone took Diddley's syncopated variation of the 3-2 clave rhythm that he first introduced in 1955 and used it as a way to break song structures and 'jam,' but is Bo himself the leader of a Jam Band? The 11 years between 'Hey Bo Diddley' and his many performances around the bay area in 1966 saw his music grow and become the blueprint for the dozens of jam bands that sprouted up in The Summer Of Love. Quicksilver Messenger Service borrowed liberally from him, as did Country Joe and The Fish, Steve Miller Band and Big Brother and The Holding Company, in turn, influencing Jam Bands in the late 70s and early 80s like The Dinosaurs, Comfort, Kingfish, and Zero. With Ricky Jolivet on guitar, Chester Lindsey on bass, Clifton James on drums Eddie Drennon on electric violin he had created a band far removed from the tight arrangements of his backing bands found on earlier tours. Still incorporating Blues as his main idiom, he adds all the flavors that are considered hallmarks of 'Jam Music.'
Let's take a look at his performance from the Avalon Ballroom in 1966.
Gunslinger opens the show and sets the tone. Bo has all the swagger of years before, but with a little more cool added in.
Eastern Thing, the next tune, goes in a completely different direction and infuses non-Western musical motifs that allow for a long groove that jams.
Great Grand Daddy is Bo having fun while the band vamps behind him which leads us to the hit Hey Bo Diddley followed by another jam vehicle for the band, Everybody Needs Somebody.
Each tune offers something different but embraces the ethos of letting the music happen at the moment. Whatever your metric for defining a jam band, Bo fills it all on this recording and continues into the 70s pushing these same boundaries and musical ideas. Most bands 'on the scene' today owe a lot to Diddley whether they know it or not. Like Mickey Hart said to NME when Bo passed in 2008 “(The) ‘Bo Diddley-beat’ is the bedrock for thousands of bands including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, and countless others. His slashing rhythm guitar brought the most powerful rhythms from west Africa into rock ‘n roll,” The Grateful Dead's NFA is probably the most famous copping of Diddley's style. It is simple, it makes you tap your foot and want to get up and dance. Isn't that what a jam band is supposed to do?