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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Rock and roll just wouldn't be the same without the Bo Diddley beat.

Mr. BO DIDDLEY (Musician): Boom, dadaboom, dadaboom, daboom, boom, boom. Dadaboom, dadaboom, daboom, boom...

MONTAGNE: Since Bo Diddley first recorded that rhythm in 1955 it's become a cornerstone of rock. It turns up in songs like "Not Fade Away" by Buddy Holly and "Desire" by U2. Growing up in Chicago, though, Bo Diddley loved classical music. As part of the series "Musicians In Their Own Words," he describes how he got his start playing the violin.

Mr. BO DIDDLEY (Musician): I wrote a concerto that I do on the guitar now. It's called "Bo's Concerto."

(Soundbite of Bo Diddley humming "Bo's Concerto")

(Soundbite of song "Bo's concerto")

Mr. DIDDLEY: I played until I broke this little finger, and that threw the violin out of reach for me. But I didn't see too many black dudes with a violin playing in the big orchestras or nothing. I saw cats with guitars on the street corners. But one dude who caught my fancy was John Lee Hooker. I heard him on the radio. I'm going to shoot you right down. Boom, boom...

(Soundbite of song "Boom Boom")

Mr. JOHN LEE HOOKER (Musician): (Singing) Boom, boom, boom, boom. I'm gonna shoot you right down.

Mr. DIDDLEY: And I told my sister, if that cat can play, I know I can learn.

(Soundbite of song "Bo Diddley")

Mr. DIDDLEY: (Singing) Boom, daboom, daboom, daboom, boom, boom.

Mr. DIDDLEY: That was basically an Indian chant. I just pictured them dancing around a big fire with their spears. Boom, daboom, daboom, daboom, boom, boom...

(Soundbite of song "Bo Diddley")

Mr. DIDDLEY: (Singing) Bo Diddley buys baby diamond ring, if that diamond ring don't shine, he's gonna take it to a private eye...

Mr. DIDDLEY: I got the maraca idea from Calypso music, because it gave me a sound of a big echo room that sounds like it's in you, in my guitar.

(Soundbite of song "Bo Diddley")

Mr. DIDDLEY: A lot of bands covered my stuff, but where is the money? Where did it go? It didn't come into me. We were in a very messed up situation between black and white. And at that time, the people that was controlling all the money, oh, I could picture, give him $20 and he's happy. You know what I'm saying? Buy him a car, buy him a Cadillac and he'd be fine, you know, that's all they need in the ghetto.

(Soundbite of song "Story of Bo Diddley")

Mr. DIDDLEY: (Singing) Now a man stepped out with a long cigar, if you sign the line, I can make you a star. I said what's in it, man, what's in it for me? He says play your guitar, son and wait and see. Here I am...

Mr. DIDDLEY: What is after rap? What is coming after rap? I want to see. One of my grandsons came in the house, beautiful kid, one that I raised. He come walking in the house with a CD. He says, grandpa, check this out. I'm listening, I said where did you get that mess from? He said this is what's happening.

I said, no, no, no, no. Not in here. I just don't like the dirty lyrics. So, he hit me with this. Well, when you came about and you sang "I'm a man," what did people think about that?

I said, oh they gave me some problems because we are nation of slow understanders. I might do a song with two meanings but I don't say nothing. You dig? You can think what you want to.

(Soundbite of song "I'm a Man")

Mr. DIDDLEY: (Singing) Now when I was a little boy at the age of five, I had somethin' in my pocket keep a lot of folks alive. Now I'm a man...

Mr. DIDDLEY: So, I feel great, man. I intend to go as long as I can as long as Arthur don't get me. I'm talking about Arthur-itis. Tell everybody, you never get too old to rock and roll. Bo knows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "I'm a Man")

Mr. DIDDLEY: (Singing) M-A-N. Man.

MONTAGNE: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bo Diddley. He's 79 years old and still touring. We heard from him as part of the series Musicians In Their Own Words, produced by David Schulman and Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr. You can hear Bo Diddley tell how he came up with his song "Who Do You Love?" at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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