Back in 2006 when I was an associate editor for Blues Revue/Blueswax and the Wittenburg Door magazine I had the privilege of interviewing Bo Diddley, who is a rock & roll legend. It was before his concert in Salem, Oregon that I reviewed for Blues Revue/Blueswax. It was published in both online publications and can still be found online at the Wittenburg Door’s website, which is still up, even though the magazine quit publishing in 2008. Blues Revue/Blueswax quit publishing in 2013, but their website is no longer up. The link to the online interview is at the end of the interview. I took all the photos at the Elsinore Theater in Salem, Oregon, the day of the concert.
Bo Diddley Interview.
September 26, 2006
By: Bob Gersztyn
Bob Gersztyn: You began your musical involvement through the church. That seems to be common among many of the early pioneers of Rock & Roll. Why is that?
Bo Diddley: I don’t know. That’s where we learned how to do something.
Bob: Were you going to church with your parents?
Bo: Yeah, but I wasn’t playing no rock & roll in it then.
Bob: I read that your first music teacher, who taught you violin was the pastor of a church wasn’t he?
Bo: No. Professor O. W. Frederick.
Bob: I must have misread it in your biography.
Bo: Somebody added some shit to something that you read. It wasn’t so. My Pastor of my church was Reverend Smith, and the man who took care of the music part, was the professor O. W. Frederick, Oscar Frederick, and he taught me violin, so I played classical music for twelve years.
Bob: When you first were starting out, I mean as very young, in the thirties and forties, who were the people that influenced you at that time?
Bo: Nobody. Nobody influenced me to play classical music. I saw a dude with a violin and a stick, and that looked really cool. You know? And my church got together and took up twenty-nine dollars, and that’s what it cost, back then. Twenty-nine bucks was a lot of money back then.
Bob: I’m sure it was.
Bo: It was man. Laughter. You could get a sack of potatoes for like damn near ten cents.
Bob: When you look back on the tumultuous period that was going on in the 1960’s, how did that affect you? Were you involved in that in any way?
Bo: Like what do you mean?
Bob: Everything from Civil Rights to the Hippies.
Bo: I wasn’t involved in that, but I benefited from that, from the people that was doing it. You know. Because this shit should have never been that way in the first place. America has got some deep bullshit going on, you know, that we’re walking in. This is a beautiful country, and I think we got one of the greatest systems in the world, but it’s got some flaws, a lot of bad flaws, and it makes us no different from the people, like the people that they fighting right now. We got some shit going on right here in this country, that should not be going on. I’m talking about freedom. I don’t think that you’re supposed to go out and do wrong and then hide behind the flag, but a lot of people are doing that right now. Being a Black man, I used to wouldn’t even say shit like that, because I think that one day everybody would be as one. Regardless of who we are, if the Bible is right, we are all sisters and brothers, regardless of what color we are. What nationality or whatever way you want to put it. That’s the way I see it. I never thought about people being black and white, yellow and green and all that crap. We are all one.
Look at how the war is going on. I’ve been involved in it just as much as my white brothers. Now if it’s going to be separated, what do you want me to go fight for? It ain’t no business of mine, I didn’t do it, so why should I fight. I’ll stay back here and take care of the house. Sweep the floors and all that, but instead, we’re all in the same boat baby. We all in the same boat, and America needs to get rid of these standards that we got going on. See, just wake up and smell the roses, that’s all.
Bob: How has racism affected you in your career, over the years?
Bo: I’m still working. I never got a royalty check from Chess Records. It went to Sugar Hill and I ain’t seen no money yet. Everything that I own, I got it from working one nighter’s. A lot of people don’t understand how that can happen. All they have to do is, the people don’t pay you, that’s all. If they can stay away from me long enough, because first of all you got to have money to get a lawyer. You dig?
Bob: Yeah, I dig.
Bo: And then if there’s no money in what you’re doing, you can’t get no lawyer. So they ain’t worried. They fight you with your money, and I’ve been a victim of that, and I’m not happy about it, and I figure one day maybe before I leave this damn Earth, that I’ll go out and look in my mailbox and they’ll all be in there. In other words that ain’t gonna happen, this is America. That’s what you call a good old American rip off. You look at me right now. If I decided to jump up and go 100% suing somebody, it would be crazy for me to do it. You know why? Because they got something up the road called “Statute of Limitation”. Just like you’re doing a story right now. Alright, now if somebody else copies something that you did, and it might be a “statute” of three months, if there’s anything called a statute. It could be a hoax for all I know. Somebody gets something of yours and you wait four months to go after them, you might as well go back over and sit down, because they got it for their own. There’s a statute on that, you should have did that 23 days ago. Laughter. Do you hear what I’m saying?
Bob: Yeah, but….
Bo: You’re screwed right there man. You ain’t going to get nothing, so you might as well shut the hell up, and go back home. And that’s what’s happening right now. These people don’t have to run from me, but they know that I ain’t going to get nothing if I take them to court.
Bob: How many times, do you think, in you career do you feel that you’ve been ripped off?
Bo: I been ripped off for millions baby! Millions! I’m not just saying that as just a word. I’ve been ripped off. I have never seen a royalty check that came to me. I had some problems with a song. I’m gonna tell you this, but I don’t talk about it. A song that I wrote back in 1957, called Before You Accuse Me, I had some problems that the publishing company was paying another dude, and my name is Ellas, and they was paying another dude, and somebody sees something in a magazine and calls me and says, Bo did you write a song called such and such. Yep. Well there’s some other dude in there that say he got paid for a song that he don’t remember writing.
Eric Clapton did the song, but Eric don’t have nothing to do with people getting paid. Whoever it was, sent the money to the wrong dude. What kind of shit is that?
Bob: I read how you became the Deputy Sheriff of Los Lunas, New Mexico. How did that come about, and how long did you do that?
Bo: Two and a half years. Then I went back to Florida.
Bob: How did that even happen?
Bo: It’s worse than the police man. I like law. We got to have law. We got to have it. If we didn’t have laws, you couldn’t walk the streets. You dig? It’s bad now that we got the law. You can’t hardly walk the streets. You got crime. People getting away with all sorts of shit. It’s just not right. The drug scene can be stopped. If they go through people’s shit, like they do if I go to Canada, they go through my guitar case, tearing up shit, pulling stuff loose, wouldn’t no drugs get in here. So what is the thing? Everybody turns their head and look the other way, because we’re talking about a dollar bill. There’s a lot of money involved in that shit. People ain’t gonna hang themselves. They ain’t gonna put no rope around their own neck, you know. It’s almost like the kids that we’re dealing with today. With all the gangs and crap like that. Now when I was a kid coming up, if you were involved in gangs and making trouble in the streets, they put your ass in the Army. You understand? Go in there and learn how to be a man. That’s damn near about what needs to happen, I think. Because with this mess that we’re fighting right now, we’re not gonna win this, because this is a different type of man that we’re fighting. I don’t know who he is, but this dude is like a ghost.
What kind of man will stand up and kill by just putting a bomb on himself, and go stand around to kill six people. This is the thing. They have no regard for human life, and all this kind of stuff. I call it a ghost that we fighting. We need to leave them, and just tell the innocent people to get the hell out of Dodge, because we coming. You understand? We need to try to wipe this crap off the face of the planet. I don’t like to kill nobody, but this is not….he’s called a human being, but what kind of human being is he? You dig? What kind of man is this that they’re trying to eradicate? We’re trying to straighten out, trying to turn him into our ways, and they don’t want to be like us. It’s like trying to train a dog to do arithmetic. Set up and talk to you. I don’t like the things that go on where we stepping outside of our civilization. A civilized world as we call it for us. We are able to negotiate. We’re able to sit down and talk, and find out who stepped on who’s foot, that pissed them off. Don’t jump up and say the hell with you, I’ll step on it again. No, I’m sorry. That’s the reason why that word is in our vocabulary, is because I’m sorry for doing what I did to you and it won’t happen again. We due to have that one chance to prove that we are really sorry. What did we do to these people that make them want to kill everybody in America? What did we do? Somebody tell me something. You dig? I don’t know what it is, but I don’t think that God meant for us to be doing what we’re doing. I just don’t believe it. It’s like a family. Are they our brothers and sisters, as I said before? Are they involved in it? I don’t know, I’m scarred of it. It’s really weird. We’re fighting a ghost, and these people are not going to yield to our democracy, and all the stuff we trying to put on, they don’t want it. You can take a mule to water, but you can’t make him drink.
Bob: So what do you think that the solution to the problem is?
Bo: They need some rock & roll.
Bob: Could you say that again.
Bo: They need some rock & roll. They need some happy people. They need some good music that is not dangerous to their culture, and they’ve got to be showed something, something’s wrong man. Something went down funky, that we as citizens don’t know. Somebody did something. You take like, this is political. I get tired of talking about rock & roll all the time. I want people to know that I know something else besides the guitar. You dig what I’m saying?
Bob: Yes I do.
Bo: In my studio I’m gonna do a tape of Bo Diddley speaks, because I have a lot of time to think, and I see a lot of stuff that just ain’t right. Even in our own law enforcement, in our cities. We got police running around with dogs, biting people. This is an animal. You can’t talk to him, he don’t know you and he’s trained to kill. That’s like giving a nut a gun, and telling him, go ahead, shoot it. If you tell the police don’t bite me, the dog don’t know what the hell you saying. You know? And the man turning him loose to go bite whoever, that is wrong. I think, don’t sue the State, sue the person who sic the dog on you. I had a person tell me that a dog jumped on their mother, and I said that I’d like to ask the Governor, or whoever it is, that’s been having all this dog jumping on people. I said if you have to use a dog for a vicious criminal, then so be it, but people with a traffic ticket and stuff like that, you going to sic a dog on them? Would you want a dog sicced on you Mother? No. Uh uh. You dig what I’m saying? No this is wrong. This is something that we’re fighting against. This is German tactics, Russia and all those kinds of places like that. Now we got it here in America? No! Uh uh! That’s not right! It’s not right, and people need to think. I just jump back and say, well this is an old rock & roller talking and I ain’t biting my tongue about it. It needs to be looked at, because we’re turning into something that we ain’t gonna like man. It’s almost like you try and change somebody’s way of living, and after you change them, you might not like what you change them into. You dig? We need to look at this and get happy. I mix it up with rock & roll, with music. Let’s go back to doing something worthwhile and nice. America the beautiful, and all that good stuff. That’s where I want to be. I don’t want people telling me, I don’t like your country man.
Bob: So do you think that music has the potential to be able to make some changes?
Bo: I think so. If you can soothe a damn ape, where he’ll sit and look at you rather than tearing you apart, if you’re playing something. It’s funny man that we can train animals and we can’t even train our own kids. Really weird. Like I was getting ready to say a moment ago, when I got into something else, because there’s so much on my mind about different things that I get it all mixed up. Like the kids. Kids going to school with guns, and all this stuff. We didn’t have no crap like that when I was coming up. That’s what you call a change. That’s some kind of change, but what kind is it? For the better or the worse? Because parents are not allowed to train their own kids, cause you can have 9 kids, and one of them is liable to give you a heart attack. So what is happening? We need to get back to the good book. Our whole thing is based on God bless America. You think God’s going to bless the bunch of crap that’s going on?
Bob: Are you a religious person?
Bo: Very much. Very much. I play my little rock & roll, but I believe in that book man. That book is like a schematic to our life, and look what’s happening right now?
Bob: What’s your favorite part of the Bible?
Bo: All of it. It’s all in there. It’s like a map that you get from here to Chicago. If you follow the right road you’ll end up at the right destination, but if you veer off, you’re going to get lost. Okay?
Bob: Okay. What do you think of the current state of the music today?
Bo: That’s one of the things that really is confusing to me, because the rap music that’s going on today, is okay, but I just don’t like the dirty rap. With the dirty lyrics. I don’t like that. No. Some of the lyrics of the rap songs I don’t like. I’m from the old school baby. You can make music without using the dirty lyrics and exploiting our girls and mothers. Women in general. I just don’t like that. Everybody talks about censorship, and this shit, some of it is out here, just like I said it right now. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t of said that. All of a sudden, my mouth got to the point where, I didn’t have to worry about certain words, which I still don’t like it. That one just slipped, just then. You understand?
Bob: Uh huh.
Bo: I still don’t like it. I don’t understand how the FCC allows this stuff. A couple of things I’ve heard, that I couldn’t figure out, how did they let them get through to say that. How did they let some shows get on television, with chicks half naked, ain’t got no clothes on, and some dude licking all over them, you know, and your kid’s looking at this shit. You know what I’m saying?
Bob: Uh huh.
Bo: So now how do you raise a kid, to try and let him get 15, 16, 17 years old before you take your hands off of him. Since he got to be with us that long anyway. You know what I’m saying?
Bob: Uh huh.
Bo: We’re the only species on the planet, that I know about, that our kids stay with us til they’re 21, 25 damn near 30 years old. If you leave them when they first come in the world, they starve to death. There’s nothing else that will do that except little bitty things that can’t see. How they going to do nothing? But everything that comes in here, almost know how to start finding something to eat, to survive. We are not that way. We rather kill then survive. So we got all these different things going on. Like these people that I was talking about a moment ago. What kind of man is this? A man that take a plane with a lot of innocent people, and run it into a building. What kind of man is this? We need to try and find out, what it is, of where he come from. Who is he? Because he looks like a human being, but is he really? What do we have? How can we fight this? Cause something is wrong baby. Something is so wrong. I’ll get back to the rock & roll thing what you asked me.
I wanted to say this as I’m talking about it. Like everybody jumped on Bush, because they think that Bush is such a bad person. I don’t think so. You know why? Because we put Bush in the office to do exactly what he did. To protect us. If there’s something that sounds funky, go out and shut it down. You know what I’m saying?
Bob: Uh huh.
Bo: So we did that. Now he went and they didn’t find what somebody told him that was there. The poison gas and the mass destructions weapons, and some kind of crap. He ain’t found nothing, but I bet you on my life, I bet you they there. They there. They probably buried in that sand. You know what I’m saying?
Bob: Uh huh.
Bo: And they probably put the stuff so deep, that our little detection machines only detect so deep, and all they had to do was go another two or three stories down, after our little detection machine won’t reach. So we said ain’t nothing there, so Bush lied. No uh, uh I don’t think he lied. I think he acted in good faith. If he’d had of went, and the man came up out of there with something, we’d still be beat’in him up. We beat him up on the front door and the back door. You know what I’m saying?
Bob: Uh huh.
Bo: We going to jump on him anyway, and I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that’s right. They need to leave him alone. He did what they put him in there to do. He didn’t find nothin’, but at least he went to look. He went to look. He didn’t set on his butt. He went to look, and I think that they should leave Bush alone. I wouldn’t be the President for nothing in the world man. If you don’t find something they send you to look for, then they want to beat you up, because you didn’t find it. So that’s about all that! Now back to rock & roll!
Bob: What kind of music do you listen to today?
Bo: A lot of Country music.
Bob: Like who?
Bo: A lot of guys, you know. A lot of them I can’t pull their name up. Vince Gill, I like him, and Sheryl Crow. She’s my favorite, and Dolly Parton, in the early years. Well now too, I think that girl is remarkable. Charlie Daniels too. There’s so many of them, I can’t think of their names. There’s so many of them, and I love their music, because they got lyrics. Right now Rap music wouldn’t be so bad, with the part that I’m talking about, if they just clean up what I’m talking about. I like some of the Rap stuff, you know? I’m not against it at all, because it’s a new generation of music, and a new generation of kids, and every generation’s got their own bag of tricks.
Bob: How did you feel about Jimi Hendrix?
Bo: Jimi was okay. Jimi was a great friend of mine. He was a guitar player for Little Richard. I knew him very well, way before he made it big. He was in the “Upsetters”. That was Little Richards band, called the “Upsetters”. He got all by himself in upsetting stuff.
Bob: You play a guitar like a drummer plays drums. How did you first come up with that technique?
Bo: I don’t know. I wanted to be a drummer, but it didn’t work. My hands would not do one thing, while the other was doing the other. They both trying to do the same thing. I taught my daughter, Tammy Deane, to play drums. She calls herself Tammy Diddley. She’s about 4′-7″ or something like that, or 5′-2″. I don’t know, she’s short, a little bitty thing, and she plays like a man, and I taught her.
Bob: When you write a song, what is the process that you go through?
Bo: Put together lyrics, and make them have a meaning. Don’t just say some stuff. I don’t like songs like, things with guys that say I’ll swim the ocean for you, and can’t get out of the bath tub. I don’t like songs like that. I like song’s that’s with reality. Something that people can relate to.
Bob: Do you write the lyrics first or the melody?
Bo: I write sometimes the melody first, and then fit lyrics to it. Something that I can say. Whatever way the melody and rhythm is going. You know?
Bob: If you look at your entire life, and say this is the single biggest accomplishment that I want you to remember me by?
Bo: By the rhythm that I created. I’m a rhythm fanatic. I’m not a watcha call a finger fanatic, that you do a lot of little fast picking and stuff, I can’t do that. That rhythm that’ll make you undress.
Bob: Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t talked about?
Bo: It’s just that we deserve, I think that we deserve all the rock & rollers that really want to do something before they really say, I’m through with it. Let these kids know today, where it all began, and the way it’s really done. Don’t sample our stuff, think for yourself.
Bob: So getting back to the roots of gospel and blues?
Bo: That’s right, that’s right. One other thing, when you said roots, that triggered something in my mind that I’ve been telling people about. This is going back. I have to put this in with the political crap that I was talking about. To find out how these guy are working, over there, when our boys is over there. With roadside bombs, homemade bombs and all this. They need to find out where are they getting the material to do this stuff with, because they need to go to the roots of the crime, rather than playing with the leaves and branches, on the tree. You know what I’m saying? You don’t kill a tree by fooling with the branches. You got to get the root. That stops it from growing, and see they’re never going to stop these people if they never find out where they getting all of their stuff from, to make these stupid bombs. They could be making them in somebody’s front room. You know. They got to find out where it’s coming from.
Bob: Kind of like the drug thing.
Bo: That’s it. You gotta go to the roots in order to stop it. You’re not going to stop it by grabbing one of these little punks in the streets with $2.00 worth of something in his fingers. You ain’t going to find out nuthin, because he ain’t gonna tell you nuthin. You got to find out where he got it from. This is one of the baddest things that’s going on in our country, is that we got people that we’re passing by, and letting stuff in. Then other times let a little ship get caught. They sent it out there to get caught, so they can tell the treasury people, oh look what we did, we’re really cracking down. What about the big sucker that went by. Ha. Okay? In other words turn your head, you didn’t see this. You know what I’m saying? See, and we got a lot of crap that needs to be addressed. In other words ghetto tactics, not college. Cause college ain’t working. How do these dudes in the ghetto manage to stay away from the police so easy? Cause that’s their thing. Learn how to hide. That’s what they doing. So you ain’t going to find that in a law book in college, in a classroom. You got to get out there and go where the mess is at, and look for it, and dig deep baby. I’m going to have to let you go. God bless America, and God bless you bro. Take care of yourself. Bye.
I also had my interview with Bo Diddley published in the Wittenburg Door magazine and this is the online version. http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/bo-diddley-bible.html