100 Greatest Guitarists

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Bo Diddley
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27. Bo Diddley

"It's the mother of riffs," says guitarist Johnny Marr: the "Bo Diddley beat," introduced by the Chicago guitarist born Ellas Otha Bates, a.k.a. Diddley. Driven by his tremoloed guitar, songs such as "Mona" and "Bo Diddley" unleashed a superpowered version of a West African groove that was handed down by slaves; after Diddley, the riff would be hijacked by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Rolling Stones (who covered "Mona" in 1964), and, later, garage rockers and punks, who responded to its raw simplicity. (The Clash made the connection formal when they brought him on tour in 1979; the Smiths built "How Soon Is Now?" around the riff.) "Anybody who picked up the guitar could do it," says Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. "If you could keep a beat, you could play Bo Diddley." "His style was outrageous," Keith Richards said; it suggested "that the kind of music we loved didn't just come from Mississippi. It was coming from somewhere else."

Key Tracks: "Bo Diddley," "Road Runner," "Who Do You Love?"

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