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[whitespace] Bo Diddley Bo Ties It On: Blues great Bo Diddley's influence can be felt in the beat of every new hip-hop record released.

Fountain of the Blues

Bo Diddley headlines this year's Metro Fountain Blues Festival at SJSU

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

IF YOU DON'T KNOW Bo, you don't know American music. Chicago blues legend Bo Diddley, who headlines the Metro Fountain Blues Festival at San Jose State University this weekend, has been banging out guitar licks and hard-driving lyrics since before most valley residents have been on the planet.

Miss this rare chance to see a national music legend in live concert and you'll miss a high-octane performance from a man who traces his musical roots back to the dawn of human history and whose influences can be heard and felt on every new hip-hop video on MTV or BET. No joke.

Mississippi-born Diddley starting rocking audiences on the streets of Chicago in the 1950s. He first recorded with Chicago's Chess records in the mid-'50s alongside such blues giants as Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry. He is credited with the popularization of the "Bo Diddley beat," a happy-foot rhythm that is one of the oldest known rhythms in music history. Diddley's interpretation was later incorporated into cuts by such songwriters as Johnny Otis and Smokey Robinson.

Diddley, whose carnival-type rhythms are difficult to put into any category other than "unique," also had a huge influence over such British rock greats as the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. In 1987, when ZZ Top inducted Diddley into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, they credited him with teaching them "to put the fur" on their guitars, whatever the hell that means. Coming from ZZ Top, though, it must be good.

Like most of the old-time blues musicians, Diddley's popularity waned in the late 1960s when African-American audiences abandoned the blues form for the Motown sound and beyond, but Diddley's career rose again with the cresting wave of the blues revival among white audiences in the '80s and '90s. He now qualifies as an authentic legend, still stroking after all these years.

Of course, there's more than Diddley at the Metro Fountain Blues Festival. South Bay audiences are long familiar with San Jose's own Tommy Castro, who plays the South Bay often but is still a treat.

Another local light, though lesser known, is Santa Cruz resident and former high-tech headhunter Sista Monica. An Indiana native with the traditional black background in gospel, Sista Monica has played with Bobby "Blue" Bland, Dr. John, Etta James, Koko Taylor and Keb Mo. Hey, if anything from those experiences rubbed off, Sista oughta be smokin'!

The best thing that can be said about 2120's Murali Coryell is that he manages to sound like a black blues singer without sounding like a white guy trying to sound like a black blues singer, and that is meant as a compliment. Coryell's raspy, dirt-road voice, his rolling mule-wagon ballads and his band's backup rhythms recall the best of the '60s Memphis sound, when artists like Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Rufus Thomas were bridging that gap between black music's rural past and its urban future.

There's more at the festival, but you're just going to have to go to see it for yourself.

The Metro Fountain Blues Festival (with Bo Diddley and the Debby Hastings Band, Tommy Castro, Sista Monica, Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, Murali Coryell and the 2120 Band, Jimmy D. Lane and Blue Earth and the Jimmy Dewrance Blues Band) takes place Saturday (May 13), 11:30am-7:30pm, at San Carlos Plaza, San Jose State University, Fourth and San Carlos streets, San Jose. Admission is free. (408.924.6262) (Full disclosure: Metro is one of the media sponsors of the festival.)

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From the May 11-17, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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