Four days after being stricken by a stroke, rock 'n' roll legend Bo Diddley's condition is steadily improving, according to manager and longtime friend Margo Lewis. Although he's still having trouble speaking, Lewis said she was "encouraged" by Diddley's condition, but adds that it's too early to know whether he'll be able to perform again.
Thinking of Bo I thought I’d share this little story of mine.
A couple years ago I was traveling in Fez, Morocco when a pair of interesting characters approached me and introduced themselves. They resembled the Moroccan version of the old American cartoon characters Mutt and Jeff. Mutt was short of course, with a mustache and dressed in a blazer and loafers. He did all the talking, while Jeff stood beside him, silent and patient. Lanky in his striped djellaba and fez he sort of resembled Boris Karloff in The Mummy with his hollow cheekbones and somnambulant eyes that would occasionally roll back into his head as if he was about to pass out.
“Yes please, I would like very much to discuss with you great American literature. I have read many books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner,” Mutt proudly announced.
Once again I was grateful for my brief stint at prep school where, in my adolescence I was forced to read Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea and uh, whatever Faulkner wrote. “Sure,” I said. “We can talk about those guys,” I told Mutt. “In fact I was just down in Oxford, Mississippi just a few months ago and went to visit Faulkner’s house. He was one of those old southern gents full of bourbon and despair who wrote long flowery sentences that went on and on about the lack of chivalry and the crumbling of his beloved Confederacy. But myself, I love the blues. That’s why I went to Mississippi in the first place. We drove down Highway 61 down to Clarksdale, home of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.”
Suddenly Jeff, the tall guy, seemed to wake up. It was as if something I said splashed cool, refreshing water on his leathery, weathered face. Without a word, he reached his hand into the pocket of his djellaba and pulled out an index card. In perfect penmanship someone had carefully written the names of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf on the dog-eared card. There was no additional information about when they lived and died or the names of their best records or what instruments they played or anything. It was simply a list of four of the greatest bluesmen who’d ever come down the pike. Jeff clutched the card tightly with his long bony fingers as if it was his prized possession.
“Yes! Yes!” I cried. “I know their music very well!” And with that I reached into the pocket of my blue jeans and whipped out a Marine Band harmonica and began wailing the opening line to Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.” Startled, Jeff glared at me like a cobra had just sprung up and was about to bite him on the nose. He spun around on the well-worn heels of his golden slippers and took off for the nearest exit, arms akimbo. I glanced over at Mutt quizzically and wondered aloud, “Did I just insult your friend somehow?”
Ignoring his partner’s wacky antics, Mutt just picked up the conversation where we’d left off. “Do you think maybe I should read J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye? “Oh sure, absolutely!” I said. “It’s a great portrait of American life. Up there with Gatsby.”
A moment later Jeff was back, galloping towards me. Behind him, in tow was a teenage boy carrying a soccer ball under his arm, who a moment later shoved the ball between his knees and began slapping out a fantastic hambone beat. 2000 miles across the Atlantic, in a little Fez rug shop the irresistible syncopation of the Bo Diddley beat suddenly grabbed hold of everyone in the room. I reached for my harp again and began to wail. The Moroccans began to clap in loud, intricate rhythms. The shopkeeper reached for a pair of carcaba (large metal castanets) to add some accents to the beat as I began to sing “Bo Diddley Bo Diddley have you heard? Mama’s gonna buy you a mockin’ bird.” A crowd of people spontaneously started pouring in off the street. Meanwhile the boy’s hands flailed madly on the soccer ball. A handful of children giggled and pointed at me, shouting “Kerd! Kerd!” as I danced like a dervish. Thinking I was about cause an international incident, I suddenly stopped in mid-spin to ask Mutt what they were saying. “They say you are a monkey!” he told me with a big grin. “Yes I am a monkey! Kerd! Kerd!” I shouted and chased the children around the store. At first they laughed and but then they began to scream, half-frightened by this wild stranger.
A moment later the soccer ball drumbeat ended as the carcaba came crashing to a halt and the room burst into applause. “Zahar!” someone shouted.
As everyone began filing out I motioned to Jeff to see his prized index card once more. Taking out a pen, in my best handwriting, I took the liberty of adding Bo Diddley’s name to the list of legendary bluesmen. Jeff looked very serious for a moment as his Boris Karloff mummy eyes slowly scrutinized the new name. “Bo Deedleee” he said, carefully and then cracked a big kif-stained smile.