You know you have confidence when you name a song after yourself. Bo Diddley was born Ellas Bates. He had his name changed to Ellas McDaniels when he was adopted. He took his stage name from a one-stringed Deep South instrument, the Diddley Bow.
Diddley was trained on the violin as a child, but switched to guitar (to emulate John Lee Hooker) when his sister gave him one for a Christmas present.
Originally titled “Uncle John,” the song was rejected by the owners of Chess Records because the original lyrics were “too dirty” for the white American record-buying public. In response, Diddley re-wrote the lyrics and named the song after himself. From this point forward, Diddley often put his name in his songs.
Its lyrics are based on the traditional lullaby titled “Hush Little Baby”, and it prominently features the Bo Diddley beat that the singer made famous.
The single was a double A side if there ever was one. Bo Diddley on one side and I’m A Man on the other. It peaked at #1 on the R&B Charts in 1955.
Diddley took his longtime partner Jerome Green to play the maracas on the recording. Green’s efforts were fed through an echo chamber to get the desired effect.
The Bo Diddley riff was incorporated into many rock’n’roll songs. Examples include “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “Willie and the Hand Jive” (Johnny Otis Show), “Cannonball” (Duane Eddy), “Hey Little Girl” (Dee Clark), “I Want Candy” (Strangeloves), “Bad Blood” (Neil Sedaka), and “Faith” (George Michael).
Contrary to popular belief, this did not make the Billboard Top Singles chart, but it did hit #1 on the Rhythm and Blues chart.
Diddley’s sole Top 40 his was recorded four years later – “Say Man” – a tape of Diddley and Green swapping insults in a bar. Instruments were added in the studio, and a #20 hit was born.
Bo Diddley performed this on his Ed Sullivan Show appearance November 20, 1955. Sullivan wanted Diddley to sing “Sixteen Tons,” but Diddley played this song anyway, which didn’t go over well with the host. Diddley was never asked back.
Bo diddley bought his babe a diamond ring
If that diamond ring don’t shine
He gonna take it to a private eye
If that private eye can’t see
He’d better not take the ring from me
Bo diddley caught a nanny goat
To make his pretty baby a Sunday coat
Bo diddley caught a bear cat
To make his pretty baby a Sunday hat
Mojo come to my house, ya black cat bone
Take my baby away from home
Ugly ole mojo, where ya bin
Up your house, and gone again
Bo diddley, bo diddley have you heard?
My pretty baby said she wasn’t for it