Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 493 from February 12, 1987. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone’s premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
The litany of Bo Diddley’s great hits is one of the fundamental incantations of original American rock & roll. From the characteristically self-celebratory “Bo Diddley” in 1955 (which featured “I’m a Man” on the flip) through “Diddy Wah Diddy,” “Who Do You Love,” “Hey! Bo Diddley,” “Mona,” “Crackin’ Up,” “Say Man” (his pop peak: Top Twenty) and into the early Sixties with “Road Runner” and “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” Bo’s music is one of the true wellsprings of rock.
If Bo Diddley were in his artistic prime today, with sharp lawyers and management, he might well be — like so many fey pop youths of the moment — a very wealthy man. Instead, one of the fathers of rock & roll lives in a trailer at the end of a long and bumpy white-sand path deep in the woods around Archer, Florida, about half an hour outside of Gainesville. Pulled up in front of the double-width mobile home is a gold-toned Ford pickup with a brass duck mounted on the hood. Parked off to the side is a long, white ’64 Cadillac in some disrepair (“It’s an antique,” Bo says). A small but clamorous pack of semidomesticated dogs guards the trailer’s entrance — souvenirs, like Bo’s Aussie-crafted guitars, of his world travels.
Inside, all is tidy. There’s a sofa covered with a flower-print quilt, side tables neatly decked with towels and a coat stand topped with a collection of Bo’s trademark lids. On the floor are two disconnected TVs and a VCR, all blown out in a recent electrical storm. Nearby lies Bo’s guitar case, encrusted with Coors-beer stickers and road mottoes along the lines of “Girls Wanted.” The square-bodied Kinman guitar inside is tuned, of course, to an open chord. There is a large Bible, opened to Job, and on the walls a scattering of posters emblazoned with slogans: “Beam Me Up, Scotty, There’s No Intelligent Life Down Here.” And “If You Think Rock & Roll Started with Elvis, You Don’t Know Diddley.” Bo’s girlfriend, Marilyn, a cheerful, thirty-year-old white woman, sits at a dining table near the kitchen, sipping a Pepsi.