Interview with Bo Diddley

This interview was conducted during the Seattle Pop Festival, held at Gold Creek Park in Woodinville, northeast of Seattle in July of 1969 where twenty-five musicians and groups performed over three days. Myself and a photographer named Vlad from the Vancouver Province managed to convince the conservative management of the paper that this event deserved covering. We slept in Vlad's Karmann Ghia in the parking lot (not very well) and soaked up the atmosphere. Some of the questions in this interview suggest that the wiltering heat was getting to me. Photos are by Vlad.

MQ: I was wondering, how do you like the pop festival so far?

BD: Beautiful, beautiful Ö yeah.

MQ: What do you play now mainly, mostly pop festivals?

BD: No, this is the first one Iíve done in a long time, yeah, and I hope to get in on a few more.

MQ: What do you do otherwise, nightclubs, or big concerts, or what?

BD: Yeah, thatís what Iíve been doing Ö nightclubs and things around the Los Angeles area when Iím out here. I still live in Chicago. I be out in Los Angeles quite frequently because I have people out there. While Iím out there I used to work a little bit, but I think I be making a little noise on this end.

MQ: How much of your time has been making records now? How many records do you have?

BD: I think I have twenty-seven albums. I donít know how many singles.

MQ: I imagine quite a lot of your time is spent in recording, is it?

BD: Right.

MQ: Cool.

[Bo whispers to someone ďGet me a hamburger.Ē]

MQ: The one thing that really got me is the way you turn the crowd on so much Ö has it always been like this?

BD: Yes Ö I donít know, Iíve been doing the same thing for 16 years now. And itís seemed to be Ö itís me Ö originality Ö and Iím glad Iíve got something that the people dug and it caught on. So it really made me feel good, you know Ö so Ö it really made me feel good, as an entertainer to know that Ö to know that people appreciated me so much and in return the only thing I can do is appreciate them and try to do my best to keep them supplied with my musical knowledge, you might say.

MQ: When you started fifteen years ago, what was the audience reaction like then?

BD: About the same Ö primarily, the same thing.

MQ: Were you doing rock concerts?

BD: I was doing a lot of college things.

MQ: You seem to have this really elemental thing, and it really gets to them. What do you think of that?

BD: Well, thatís good too, but it Ö I donít know, I think I was a few years ahead of time, about roughly 10 years ahead of my time. Because now everybody the music that people used to talk about and call it ďjungle music,Ē today everyone is copying me.

MQ: Do you think theyíre going back? Groups are going back?

BD: Yes, they are.

MQ: Like a lot of groups seem to be getting back to the sort of thing youíre doing Ö itís really cool.

BD: I like it, because, man, itís a gas. This is my Ö Iíve made this my aim in life, to be an entertainer, so this is whatís happening

MQ: The music is really what turns them on Ö thereís so many people smiling and doing things that werenít before you came on, like yesterday especially, they really got turned on.

BD: Well, I had them all standing yesterday Ö this made me feel good, because itís a Ö music has Ö come out of the stiff collar bay [?] Ö and into the good feeling Ö you know, the good part of it

MQ: You just feel it Ö

BD: In other words Ö you donít have to be all dressed to go on. You just go on stage and do your thing.


MQ: Whatís your message, Bo?

BD: Well, I really donít have one, I hope people just keep doiní their thingÖ

MQ: Like we could maybe say your message is the music. Thatís what really got to me.

BD: Yeah, you could say that.

MQ: What was that you said yesterday, that you really got through to the people, what you said, do you remember? It was when you were talking about your lifeÖ

BD: I said that they needed somebody on their side, I wanted them to remember one thing: I was in their corner 100 percent, because itís groovy when you take a cat my age that thinks about the kids and thinks of the life they are trying to live. And like you only have one short life, and like I used the term ďa short time here and a long time gone.Ē And the reason why you can be assured that you are a long time gone, all of the the heroes that have died in our lifetime, none of them have come back and said, ďHey, Iím George Washington, man Ö you know Ö Iím Abraham Lincoln.Ē Theyíre gone and thatís it. And sixty or seventy years or eighty years is no long time. So this is what I meant. So you only have a short time here so you might as well enjoy yourself, and this is it. See, the old folks used to didnít enjoy themselves, everybody was too worried about what the other person was gonna sayÖ

MQ: Yeah, everybody was up tight.

BD: Yeah, and I donít think this is right. If you donít pay my bills and walk the floor with my kids when theyíre hungry or sick or something, then donít tell me how to live. Understand? Thatís the way I look at it. When you are together, then you help one another this way. When youíre not together, then itís very easy to walk past the person whoís dying and say ďOh, let him die, he deserves it.Ē Or something like this. This crowd out here, todayís youth, donít think this way, and I donít think that the older folks dig it. Because itís too much right. They donít fight and cut up one another. The only time you hear of any problems is when you have the law in force come in and bickeriní and hitting people and knocking them around with sticks. And see Ö and you stop to think if an officer hits you with a stick, you tell him Ö you search his mind and see if he would like somebody to take a stick and hit him upside the head Öregardless of the job that he is doing. Just see if he would like to be hit upside the head. If he tells you yes, then get your stick, and try to knock his head off. This is the way I look at it Ö because we need law enforcement, we need law and order, but we donít need a bunch of heathens, a bunch of thugs -- should I say -- with a license Ö do you understand? We donít need that. Not in America. In Germany, in Japan, where theyíve been preaching this stuff for years and years and years, maybe the people are brainwashed to this type of thing. But not in America. America donít stand for that type of stuff. Thatís not what I was taught in school. I was taught something else in school and when I get grown I see something else different. And this makes me wonder, is there an Iron Curtain here that we donít realize, dressed up in all pretty things, you know, but itís there? Itís like a brick wall behind a white sheet. You think you gonna run through the sheet, and you run into the sheet and run into a brick wall. Do you dig what Iím sayiní?

MQ: How does your music come into all this?


MQ: How does your music fit into this, Bo?

BD: My music doesnít really fit in it, because I play Ö the songs that I sing are the truth. I tell the truth in a lot of songs that I sing. Itís no made up thing. A lot of the things I sing about I know about Ďem, or they once happened. Either they happened when I was a kid, or either Ö something recently happened. I sit down and hear people talkiní, and I pick up a couple of words theyíre saying and Iím listeniní at Ďem, and I write a whole tune from them.

[Tape fades out.]

MQ: [I think I was asking him about what he thought of other musicians.] Do you think that they do their own thing Ö

BD: Thatís one thing I donít do. If theyíre good, I say theyíre good, if theyíre not good, I tell them, ďMan, you know, like Ö youíll make it, or something,Ē you know Ö but I donít usually even say that much. I usually just donít give any comment at all. And therefore Iím not jeopardizing myself that I said such-and-such a thing [that he] is no good Ö I donít believe in it. I donít brag, thatís one thing I been .. I suppose tell them all the time in my group. Theyíll say Ö someone starts to say something like ďWow, we showed it up.Ē

Unidentified Woman: Who said that? You donít hear me sayiní that! Youíll hear your bass player and drummer sayiní that!

BD: I used to be a fighter, and anytime I would get up and look like Ö and start showiní off Ö or something like that, I would get whipped. I would be in the dressing room, ďOh, come on, I can do him in,Ē and I would go out there and get clobbered. So I learned one thing, and I learned this from Joe Louis. Joe Louis never said anything concerning a fighter except ďIíll do my best.Ē I tried to figure out why, because I was just a youngster. And I picked up this thing, you know, donít say nothiní, because Iím gonna be in there tryiní, thatís all he used to say. And so I learned the same thing When I go on the stage up there, I donít try to outdo nobody, I do what I know how to and thatís all. The only time I donít do nothiní is Iím probably not feeliní too good, or something like that you get those days when you try and you canít get goiní Ö you know Ö be like an old raggedy car.