Bo Diddley on The Bible06/10/2008
“It’s Like a Map That You Get From Here to Chicago”
By Bob Gersztyn
Legendary rock-and-roll pioneer Bo Diddley died last week. I talked to him a year and a half ago when I was working for the music e-zine Blueswax, and occasionally we veered off into the subject of religion. Bo believed that music could have a spiritual impact on the world. He believed that the Bible was a roadmap for life, and first learned about music in the church.
Here are a few things he had to say on the subject (with photos by Bob Gersztyn):
Door: If you looked at your entire life, and said this is the single biggest accomplishment that I want you to remember me by, what would it be?
Bo Diddley: 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. My thing is the rhythm that’ll make you undress.
Door: You began your musical involvement through the church. That seems to be common among many of the early pioneers of rock and roll, yet contradictory to your music. Why is that?
Bo Diddley: I don’t know. That’s where we learned how to do something.
Door: Were you going to church with your parents?
Bo: Yeah, but I wasn’t playing no rock-and-roll in it then.
Door: 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.
Door: 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. 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.
Door: I’m sure it was.
Bo: It was, man. [Laughter.] You could get a sack of potatoes for like damn near ten cents.
Door: Are you a religious person?
Bo: Very much. Very much. I play my little rock-and-roll, but I believe in that book, man. That book is like a schematic to our life, and look what’s happening right now.
Door: 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? 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.
Door: How has racism affected you in your career?
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 nighters. 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?
Door: So what do you think that the solution to the Mideast war is?
Bo: They need some rock and roll.
Door: Could you say that again.
Bo: They need some rock and 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 and roll all the time. I want people to know that I know something else besides the guitar. You dig what I’m saying? 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.
Door: What do you think of the current state of 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?
Door: 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?
Door: 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?
(All photos by Bob Gersztyn)