May 29, 2009 / 9:17 PM / 9 years ago

A year after his death, Bo Diddley in new spotlight

DETROIT (Billboard) - Bo is gone. But his beat goes on.

Legendary blues guitarist Bo Diddley performs at the 35th annual Bumbershoot Seattle Arts Festival in Seattle September 4, 2005. REUTERS/Anthony P. Bolante

It’s been a year since Bo Diddley died of heart failure at age 79 in his home in Archer, Fla., after a prolonged illness. His June 2, 2008, passing ended one of the most influential careers in pop music history, a 54-year run during which the man born Ellas Otha Bates earned the rightful title of the Originator as he helped merge blues into rock ‘n’ roll.

On such hits as “Bo Diddley,” “Hey Bo Diddley,” “Say Man” and “Who Do You Love,” Diddley created a staccato, second-line-style beat that became an intrinsic part of rock’s foundation.

Diddley’s array of inventions included his trademark, square-shaped Gretsch guitar (three models of which are now manufactured by Fender) and a variety of effects that are commonplace today.

In the wake of his passing, those who guided his career now want to ensure that Diddley’s legacy remains vital and potent. Leading this effort are Margot Lewis and Faith Fusillo of Talent Source. Lewis had been Diddley’s agent since the early ‘80s and became his manager in 1992. Fusillo stepped up at that time as Diddley’s business manager. The two oversee an estate that includes four children, 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

“We want to perpetuate his legacy and make sure he gets his due in the world of popular music and popular culture,” Fusillo says. “We really believe (Diddley) is an American original, just like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean. I don’t think he got that due during his lifetime. So we’re exploring all kinds of ways to take (Diddley) into the 21st century. He’s still so well-thought-of today, we need to make sure that 50 years from now he’s still considered an American icon.”


Lewis and Fusillo are working with strategic partners — primarily the New York-based publishing and marketing firm Primary Wave Music, and also Universal Music Enterprises (UMe), which owns much of Diddley’s recorded catalog — on an array of projects, including exposure for some 200 reels of unreleased and largely unheard Diddley recordings.

“Bo is such an icon,” Primary Wave chief marketing officer Adam Lowenberg says, “but we feel that he is under-represented, and there’s so much meat on the table.”

A new Web site,, will serve as a major portal through which fans will be able to buy new Diddley product, including an extensive merchandise line that’s in development. Fusillo says there also will be items bearing the “Bo Knows” image from Diddley’s portion of the late-‘80s Nike ad campaign that featured dual-sport professional athlete Bo Jackson.

A future part of the Web site will be a USB drive that Lowenberg says fans will be able to use to receive new musical offerings and other exclusive content.

Available now, however, is a Diddley Collector’s Pack on iTunes featuring the artist’s hits and an exclusive unreleased track — a frenetic jam recorded in the ‘70s and featuring “Bo going crazy on the guitar for about 10 minutes. It’s unbelievable, vintage Bo. When we first heard it, we almost started to cry,” Fusillo says.

Talent Source and Primary Wave are hoping that will be the first of many new offerings to come from what Fusillo calls Diddley’s “basement tapes.” She and Lewis are combing through them, transferring tapes to digital formats, cataloging and copyrighting material that ranges from nascent riffs and ideas to full songs in a variety of genres.

“They’re sitting on so much music ... boxes and boxes of stuff,” Lowenberg says. “We are very confident that there is a great deal of unreleased music ... that’s going to come into play later on down the line.”


He expects to introduce a line of Diddley ringtones and plans to market the music for sampling. He’d also like to “put an album together that takes today’s stars and people who have been influenced by Bo over the years and give them some of these snippets and beats and (guitar) lines and have them craft songs around them.”

ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, who with Diddley co-designed a special “Billy-Bo” guitar for Gretsch, is among the artists who would certainly have an appetite for that. “We’ve played Bo Diddley music all these years. It would be an honor to have any role whatsoever in creating new Bo Diddley music,” he says.

Talent Source also has a video of Diddley’s last major concert performance — at Australia’s Byron Bay Festival in 2007, two weeks before he suffered a stroke — that will come out on DVD, possibly before the end of the year.

UMe, meanwhile, is preparing for the June 9 release of “Ride On/The Chess Masters 1960-1961.” The set boasts 16 unreleased tracks and rarities, including recordings Diddley made at his home studio.

Primary Wave, Talent Source sister company Talent Consultants International and the Diddley estate also hope to stage a tribute concert, most likely for the second anniversary of his death, in 2010, which will probably yield a companion album and DVD. Lowenberg says the company “will certainly reach out to all of Bo’s biggest (musician) fans and people he influenced the most in the music community.”

A documentary about Diddley is under discussion and a coffee-table book featuring photos from throughout his career is planned.

“It’s not just about raising a bunch of money for the estate,” Lewis says. “We just want to spread the word and make people aware of who Bo Diddley was in the history of music. He was such an important figure and made so many important contributions that we still hear today. We have to make sure that people know who Bob Diddley was ... forever.”

(Editing by Dean Gooodman)

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