Guitarist/songwriter/performer (and Juno winner) Paul James backed Bo many times onstage for about 35 years, from 1973 to shortly before Bo’s passing earlier this year. http://www.pauljamesband.com/
Here’s what Paul has to say about his close friend Bo Diddley:
PJ: "I first played with Bo Diddley in 1973 when I was hired to back him up with my band Lick'n' Stick at the upstairs El Mocambo (in Toronto). We played the whole week there to soldout crowds of fans. Bo took me under his wing and gave me some good advice on being a bandleader and encouraged me.
At the end of the week we recorded the sound track to a movie called 'Diary of a Sinner'. He then asked me,' You didn't make much money this week did you?' I said it was an honor and learning experience for me to play with him. He said, "The club wants us do do another week for them in the near future." He said, "Ask for more money", because he told the club he wouldn't do the gig unless he got my band to back him up.
We played the El Mocambo together at least five times Monday through Saturday. Later on we played the CNE at a vintage car show for the weekend and the Palais de Congress in Montreal, The Bruce Inn in Kincardin, Ont., The Nags Head North, Acton Festival, and numerous other engagements.
One time he was playing the Royal York in Toronto for a week and he asked if I could get a gig for him on the Sunday but it could not be advertised. I thought about it for a while and we ended up playing to a full house at a speakeasy that I used to frequent. The last time I played with him was in Thunder Bay two years ago. We were supposed to play together at the Phoenix Club in Toronto last year in May, but he had stroke a week before the show .The show was postponed not canceled and I was hopeful he would recover.
When I backed up Bo I felt it was my gig to give him solid ‘A’ backup so he could do his thing. I must have done about 100 gigs with Bo over the last four decades and watching him perform made me want to be more than just a singer guitar player and songwriter. It made me want to be an entertainer like him. He had a great sense of humor both on stage and off and always reached back to musicians to lend a helping and offer sincere encouragement and advice.
In 1984 when I released my first Album 'Almost Crazy' he came in the studio and added his voice and percussion on a tune that we wrote together, "The Ugiest Girl in Town". It was a tongue in cheek song about a shotgun wedding. He was releasing his own cassette album called 'Ain't It Good To Be Free', and encouraged me to release my own album as an Independent record company. I was going in that direction anyway and it was good having someone that I admired giving me the nudge of approval.
In 1986 he wrote the liner notes to my second vinyl album ...
"From the beginning of his young career, I predicted that Paul James would be a big star one day and that time is right now! The man is a true professional and dynamic! Listening to Paul James is listening of a new thing, and he is a new thing. Paul James is a great musician. He is a great tribute to Rock ‘n’ Roll. BO DIDDLEY"
PJ: Bo Diddley has been a great friend, my mentor, an inspiration, to me for the last four decades. I am still constantly influenced by his music and words of advice and inspiration. I don't think I play a gig with my band or solo that I don't play at least one of his songs. He will be in my good thoughts forever. He was the ‘KING OF THE BEAT’, prolific songwriter, one of the originators of rock 'n' roll and a truly nice guy. I'll miss seeing him terribly. I loved the man. Hail Bo Diddley!"
Blues connoiseur and DJ Eddy B (of Eddy’s Place on CKLN FM), had this to say about Bo Diddley:
"Back in the late ‘70s I worked at the House of Stein (stereo store) on Yonge St. Bo comes in and wants to buy a tape deck. So, I showed him the best one we had, and he says, "That’s it ... that’s the one I like!" So, he took it away with him, and the next day comes back with a cassette in his hand, and says: "Here’s a tape of my show last night at (Albert’s Hall or El Mocambo)." That’s my favorite story of meeting Bo Diddley, although I have a lot of photos of him on my website, Blue Heart Archive." http://www.blueheartarchive.com/
Toronto publicist/promoter Jim Zeppa had this to say about Bo:
"Certainly an icon … certainly influenced many people, had a sound before anyone had a sound … had a different sound all his own, a signature sound. It worked well, many people copied it … he was a great player … he had a feel, he had a rhythm, people would say: ‘Wow, What the hell is that?’ He might have been 80-something but he’s still influencing people even now!"
Photo by: © Courtesy of Ronnie Hawkins Private Collection, 2008 (b&w).
I thought I’d leave the last quote about Bo, to one of his longest friends and fans, and a living legend of rock ‘n’ roll himself, the great Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. http://www.ronniehawkins.com/
Ronnie shared a few memories and trivia about Bo, over the phone with this writer shortly after Bo’s passing. This is what the Hawk had to say:
"I was in touch with Bo Diddley for over a year before he died. I wanted him to come up and do a show in Toronto – my ‘50 years in Canada’. I was going to fly him in.
I’m probaby his biggest fan. He wowed me with his sounds, the rhythms of his guitar. He was an electronics wizard!
Back in the late ‘50s around ’58, we did everybody’s songs that were big then. Bo kept us up for hours and hours trying to figure out how he did them. I had him up here more than 30 times. On my TV show ‘Rolling on the River’, and at The Hawk’s Nest on Yonge St. Bo recorded his hits in ’55, ‘56. Back then I was one of Bo’s biggest fans. I still am. Bo could do things that Segovia couldn’t do! But then, Segovia could do things that Bo couldn’t do.
B&W Photo at right © 1998 by Tom Asp, all rights reserved.
He’s up there in Heaven, with all those other guitar players … And they’re still tryin’ to figure out how he did it!" You can’t say it better than right from a straight shooter like the Hawk! Who’s beein tellin’ it like it is, since Bo was in his heyday, and knew him back then!
The mystery, the magic and the irreplaceable greatness of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s best loved and most admired legends and icons from the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll’s real golden era of the fabulous ‘50s -- and still going strong until his recent passing … Bo Diddley!
I hope you like the trip down ‘Memory Lane’ with special stories of Bo Diddley from Paul James, Jim Zeppa, Eddy ‘B’ Brake and Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins.
Bo Diddley Official Website: http://members.tripod.com/~Originator_2/