The Day I Met Bo Diddley
“The date was the 3rd of March in 1967. The location: the Fillmore West in San Francisco, CA. The troupe consisted of me, my girlfriend Betty, and my best friend Jebediah. This was the day that I met Bo Diddley in person.”
Hank Colt’s voice wavers, but his conviction is strong. Last year, Hank was diagnosed with end stage brain cancer, exacerbated by gestational diabetes. His doctor has been nagging Hank since he was a young to man to stop the smoking, drinking and carousing, but Hank never listened to his doctor.
“That old fool, he’s been telling me not to have fun my whole damned life!” Hank laughs, but his laugh quickly deteriorates into a coughing spell that practically rattles the walls. He narrows his eyes and looks around him, “I know the devil is out there, waiting on me.”
Hank is dying. He has known this for quite some time, when his old friend and nemesis the doctor gave him the bad news a year ago, telling him he had a few weeks at most. A year later he is still here, but is visibly weak and carries his oxygen tank wherever he goes. But all Hank wants to talk about when reflecting on his life is the day he met Bo Diddley.
“I didn’t get no picture or nothing, and my girl Betty ran off with someone else a long time ago, and my best buddy Jebediah passed a couple of years ago, so I got no proof that I met Bo, but I did! I most certainly did.” Hank’s eyes drift off again towards the darkened corners of the room, where it does indeed feel like something is lurking.
Hank laughs and this time there is no cough. Suddenly the room feels lighter somehow, and if one listens really hard, you can almost make out the strains of music drifting in. His niece, Janice, aged 14 and wise beyond her years, fluffs his pillow and checks his water glass. The music is louder, and it’s suddenly clear that it’s coming from the other room rather than from another dimension. The song playing is, aptly, You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover.
“Hank Colt is dying. But all Hank wants to talk about when reflecting on his life is the day he met Bo Diddley.”
Growing up in Oakland, California, Hank remembers there being a lot of music in his life. “The whole neighborhood liked music. Our folks worked, so the grandmothers who stayed home would keep an eye on us kids. Everyone’d have their radios on and the windows open. Back then there wasn’t no violence like there is today. Us kids would roam around and play wherever we felt like it.”
Each person on the street had his or her own favorite singer – Billie Holiday, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, even Elvis. “Us black folks didn’t care too whit about whether Elvis was black or white; he had a good sound. Although some folks was downright angry that he got the most of the attention but most of the black folks didn’t.”
At age 17, Hank finished school and wondered whether he should join the military. His father put his foot down and said no, but his mother was proud of him for “being a man” and secretly took him to the recruiting office and signed his paperwork. The next week he showed up for his physical but his overall health wasn’t good enough and he was rejected. The doctor who gave him the rejection was not the family doctor, so they went to him for a second opinion, but he agreed with the military doctor and even pulled Hank’s mother into another room so they could have a private conversation. When she came out, her eyes were wide and she never would tell him what the doctor said, but after that she never mentioned the military again.
Hank started working in the docks, unloading the freight, and banging around the streets of Oakland with his friends at night.
“We’d hit up the jazz joints, the clubs, and try to meet some fine women.” Hank’s best friend Jebediah was also rejected from the military, and the two of them would try to hit as many clubs during the weekends as they possibly could, looking to meet young women.
“A lot of the boys had been called up to serve in Vietnam. Me and Jebediah after a time felt mighty lucky to be missing that mess. Lots of folks coming back with they’s arms and legs torn off and messed in the head. We was having fun running around the city and trying to impress the girls.”
Hank took a liking to blues music and Jebediah kept towards his jazz inclinations. When they heard Bo Diddley was going to play, Hank was much more excited than his friend, and invited the girl he’d been seeing, a pretty young thing named Betty who’d grown up three streets over from the boys.
They got to the venue, and settled in their seats to watch the show, which was, in Hank’s words, “the best damned show I EVER seen!” During the show Betty slipped off for a while – they just assumed she’d been waiting in line for the ladies’ room when she came back excitedly and told them that she’d sweet talked her way behind stage. And that one of the roadies told her how she could get back there. He of course wasn’t thrilled to see her with two additional males, but Betty worked her charm and suddenly the three of them found themselves backstage, with Bo Diddley busting up his guitar not more than 15 feet away from them. They were transfixed.
After finishing his set, Bo walked over towards them, eyes on Betty, and someone brought him a drink, which he slugged down.
Hank was nearly busting out of his skin he was so excited to see his favorite singer, and his two friends teased him for months later that he “just stood there with his mouth gaping open like a dog on a hot day.” Hank got to shake the great musician’s hand and say a few words, although to this day he doesn’t recall what they were. The singer politely made some small talk with the trio and then was called away by some of the backstage workers and he ducked away.
Betty ran over and planted a big kiss on the backstage roadie’s cheek who’d let them back there, and blushing he smiled as the three friends squealed and repeated over and over that they’d just met Bo Diddley!
“Did you see him man? I mean did you SEE him?”
“I was right there brother; I saw with my own eyes!”
Hank went on to see Bo Diddley perform probably another 20 times in his life, and although he never had the pleasure of speaking to the musician again, he carries this day as one to remember.
As Bo Diddley used to sing:
Tombstone hand and a graveyard mine,
Just 22 and I don't mind dying.
-Who Do You Love lyrics
Thank you, Hank, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Adara Bernstein and Story of My Life