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Bo Diddley Beat Marked Rock 'N' Roll

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Bo Diddley
Diddley's swaggering stage presence influenced artists including James Brown, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix. A primal guitar sound and stage swagger influenced music from Elvis to rap. But he never got the full rewards of a pioneer.

Primal rock and blues musician Bo Diddley, who helped cast the sonic template of rock more than 50 years ago with a signature syncopated rhythm that became universally recognized as “the Bo Diddley beat," died Monday. He was 79.

The Bo Diddley Sound
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter, who often referred to himself as “the Originator" to emphasize his contribution to rock music, had long battled hypertension and diabetes, among other health problems, and was hospitalized for 11 days after suffering a stroke onstage in Iowa in May 2007.

Alongside Chuck Berry, Diddley is recognized as one of rock's most influential guitarists, expanding the instrument's vocabulary with a crunching, tremolo-laden sound. He played a rectangular “cigar box" guitar of his own design, an instantly recognizable visual counterpart to the distinctive chank-a-chank, a-chank, a-chank-chank rhythm that bore his name and provided the backbeat for his own songs, including “Bo Diddley," “Mona" and “Who Do You Love."

That beat -- fusing blues, R&B, Latin and African rhythms -- resurfaced over the decades in countless other rock and R&B songs, among them Buddy Holly's “Not Fade Away," Johnny Otis' “Willie and the Hand Jive," Bruce Springsteen's “She's the One," David Bowie's “Panic in Detroit," U2's “Desire" and George Michael's “Faith."

“Bo's one of the guys who invented rock 'n' roll," said Eric Burdon, lead singer of the Animals, the British Invasion band that recorded the tribute song “The Story of Bo Diddley" in 1964. “He took two cultures that existed in separate forms -- country and western and the kind of blues that used to be known as 'race music' -- and put them together. His beat was a jungle beat. That's what he called it."

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