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Bo Diddley: He was born in McComb, Mississippi as Otha Ellis Bates and was put out for adoption. He became Elias B. McDaniel after his adoptive mother, Gussie McDaniel. (Both names are variously spelled: Bo's indifferent to which is correct.)
The derivation of his stagename is the subject of debate. There are about a dozen different accounts. Even Diddley said in an interview with the author: "I'd like to know where it came from, do you know?"
The most likely is that it was from Bo Diddley, a comic character that had been around a while, named from a slang phrase meaning "nothing at all", as in "he ain't bo diddley", "he ain't worth diddley squat".
In a separate interview with Rolling Stone, Didley seemed surer: "My name came from grammar school in Chicago. Some kids started calling me that, and it stuck." There's evidence he was known as Bo before he turned to music and certainly while training as a Golden Gloves boxer. Bo said this also came from Southern patois and means "a bad boy" ("bad" in the complimentary sense).
His rebirth as singer and rock 'n' roll legend Bo Diddley came after he was signed to Chess Records in 1955. Harmonica player 'Billy Boy' Arnold recalled how one time, walking along the street, bass player Roosevelt [Jackson] said: "'Hey Elias, there go Bo Diddley', speaking of a comical-looking, bow-legged, little short guy. To me it was the funniest word I'd ever heard: I just cracked up!" White notes that the name was used for any comical bow-legged man.
Diddley later found another southern singer had been called the same 20 years before, while Chess found a Diddley had been performing in Chicago around 1935. There was even another - in Shanghai, of all places, around 1929. They might have been named after the comic Diddley figure, and one of Diddley's guitarists suggested he might have stolen it from one of the vaudeville troupes. Still, Diddley himself states he wasn't named after them since he didn't know of them.
Diddley dismissed another theory while talking to the author in 1985: "Only the other week, I read there was a folk instrument in the South, in the old days, called a diddley bow. People played in it the fields." So his name was an inversion of this - but only coincidentally - since he had not heard of it until much later, he insisted.
Inspired: The Pretty Things. Nicknames: Black Gladiator, Big Bad Bo.
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