I can’t remember when I first heard the song “Bo Diddley” with its hambone beat, hypnotic riffs, and Jerome Green powered maracas, but it thrilled me. I realize that Chuck Berry’s more wide-ranging musically and possesses a deeper canon, but Bo’s early songs with their African rhythms reverberated in my marrowbone like nothing else in early rock-n-roll.
Later in high school, my friend Tim Miskel turned me onto the album Animal Tracks. On the final cut of Side 1, Eric Burdon provides a five-minute bio of Bo, which initiated a mild obsession.
One day, one night
Came a Cadillac, four headlights
Came a man with a big long fat cigar.
He said “Come here son, I’m going to make you a star.”
Bo Diddley said, “Uh, what’s in it for me?”
The man said, “Uh, shut your mouth son and play the guitar
And you just wait and see.”
From “The Story of Boy Diddley,” Animal Tracks
Whenever I’d go into a new record store, I’d see if they had any Diddley. No luck ever until one day I wandered into Fox Music House on King Street in Charleston. Their inventory was eclectic, old-fashioned, but sparse. You could cop some Doris Day but not the Stones. As I was flipping through their loosely organized bins, I found a first edition copy of Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (recorded live at the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, SC). Fox sold albums for the exorbitant price of five dollars a pop. I actually tried to talk the clerk into a discount. “No one’s ever going to buy this record,” I argued. “It’ been sitting here since since 1964.” It was no dice, but I snatched it up anyway. By the way, the vinyl was heavy on those discs of yore; you could beat someone senseless with a pre-70s LP.
Alas, one debauched night in the first semester of my freshman year, I left Beach Party on the floor of the suite adjoining our dorm rooms, and someone stepped on it. The damned thing cracked like a glass plate.
Chalk it up to the wages of carelessness or drunkenness or gangafication or a combination of the three.
Later, in graduate school, all hepped up on Dada, my friends Jake Williams, Keith Sanders, and I had a mini Bo revival. We nearly wore out Keith’s Diddley’s records. We’d meet on Sunday evenings, prepare dinner, imbibe second tier scotch, and jive talk our way into the wee hours while listening to Keith’s world class vinyl collection.
A few flips of the calendar later, in the pre-children early years of my marriage to Judy Birdsong, I got to see Bo play live at a club in North Charleston. In between sets, I approached him as he walked off stage.
Wesley: Oh, man, Bo, I’m such a big fan. This is such an honor.
Wesley: Hey, Bo, where’s Jerome Green, your maraca man?
Wesley: How about the Duchess?
Wesley (finally getting the hint): Well, thank you so much!
Bo: head nod.
Well, in the course of the years that followed – childbirth, school days, graduation, empty nest, cancer, the death of Judy – my Bo Diddley obsession faded away, though I still listened to him now and then and sometimes included one of his songs on the mixed tapes and later mixed CDs I made for my students who won vocabulary bees.
When Caroline, my second wife, took me to meet her father Lee Tigner for the first time in the wilds of Awendaw, I discovered that he, too, was a Diddley devotee and could match me lyric for lyric. He also had met Bo in person but received a somewhat warmer albeit taciturn response. After Bo’s demise, Lee made the pilgrimage to Bronson, Florida, to visit the grave of the master. We’re talking about serious admiration.
Anyway, Lee and I bonded over Bo, which is perhaps a small compensation to him in light of my being an unintrepid indoorsman.
A couple of weeks ago, on an internet hunt, I found a copy of the late departed Bo Diddley’s Beach Party for sale and ordered it. It finally arrived today. So now, when Lee’s birthday comes around, I’ve gotten him a gift that I know he’s gonna dig, at least more than he did the last Christmas president I got him, an autographed copy of a mystery set on Folly Beach that Lee pegged as the worst novel ever published in the United States.
I’ll leave you with this:
 Back then, most albums cost under three bucks.
 If you’re gonna get all grammatical on me and say the “away” is unnecessary, I’ll respond by saying that it’s an allusion to Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” which uses the Bo Diddley beat.