SONG: I’m a Man
ARTIST: Bo Diddley
Listen to it here:
I’m a Man was written and recorded by Bo Diddley in 1955, so this is the original recording of this song, and was one of Bo Diddley’s first hits. Bo Diddley would become more known for his other hit, recorded the same day as I’m a Man, entitled Bo Diddley. This song was inspired by a Muddy Waters song from 1954 called Hoochie Coochie Man. Then, to continue this influence trend, Muddy Waters recorded an answer song to I’m a Man called Mannish Boy, which was jab a Diddley’s younger age as it related to I’m a Man.
Recording the song proved to be very difficult because of some confusion regarding the timing of the “M….A….N” chorus. To this day, there are also conflicting accounts of who the backing musicians were for the song.
I’m a Man was released as the B-side of Bo Diddley’s first single, and became what was called a two-sided hit.
Shockingly, Bo Diddley is not his real name – Ilas McDaniel was born Ellas Otha Bates and later acquired the nickname Bo Diddley. His importance in rock history can not be overstated with artists like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Clash all listing him as one of their influences. In fact, there is a super ubiquitous guitar strumming pattern that is known as the Bo Diddley beat. You’ve heard it, I promise. Imagine being so influential that this BASIC building block of guitar is named after you. If you don’t know the strumming pattern I’m talking about, here’s a little demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsSEGTq29cc
Let’s back up a bit though. Ellas Otha Bates was born in McComb, Mississippi, where he was adopted and raised by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel. Eventually he assumed her surname. When he was 6, the family moved to Chicago, and Bo Diddley became an active member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and through which he studied the trombone and violin. He even joined the church orchestra on violin for years, but he was actually much more interested in the more rhythmic music he heard at the local Pentecostal Church, and so he eventually took up the guitar. He was working as a carpenter and a mechanic and supplemented his income by playing on street corners with friends.
This playing pick-up gigs on the streets led to a regular spot at the 708 Club on Chicago’s South Side, and this in turn led to the opportunity for Bo Diddley to record the demos of I’m a Man and Bo Diddley. Both sides of this record became hits, and Bo Diddley’s career was born. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, though something about his performance infuriated Sullivan, and he was quoted saying that Bo Diddley wouldn’t last six months. Of course, this was one that Ed Sullivan got wrong. Bo Diddley continued to record, perform, and play with other groups all the way up until his death and had a profound impact on the music world.
To this day, the origin of his stage name remains unclear. Bo Diddley claimed that his peers gave him the name, which he suspected was an insult. Others have said it was a name of a musician his adoptive mother knew or that it was a local comedian’s name. Author Zora Neale Hurston wrote a short story called “Black Death” which features a character named Beau Diddley in 1925, but it was never published in her lifetime.
Ok, as soon as Bo Diddley started singing I thought to myself “George Thoroughgood has listened to Bo a few times in life!”. I mean, it sounds like he lifted Bad to the Bone directly from I’m A Man. Anyway, I know Bo Diddley more for his signature rhythm/lick thing and less for his blues songs, so this one is new for me and I don’t love it. I’m not a huge fan of the blues to begin with, and this song reinforces it. Bo has a great voice and a great delivery, which is my one shining part of the song. But I felt it was needlessly long, even though it was standard song length, and I think I would attribute that to the chords and rhythm being the same thing over and over again. I found it quite boring. At one point I found myself saying “is this song 8 minutes long?” only to see that I was 1 ½ minutes into the song. Another thing I’m not crazy about – the drums. That egg shaker makes it sound sloppy as hell, like they had a extra union musician there that they needed to give something to do, so they handed him the shaker. And is that even a bass drum? It sounds so hollow and airy, like if you hit a Rubbermaid plastic bin with a shoe. I was excited to listen to this one, but all in all disappointed with what I heard.
Because this song employs LITERALLY every blues trope that exists, it’s incredibly hard to listen to this song and think it was ever original or ground breaking in any way, but that’s what Kelly and I are trying to do – listen to songs we know, songs we don’t know, and songs that we feel like we’ve heard a million times like this one. I can confidently say I’ve never heard this song before, but I’ve heard Bad to the Bone, so….like….
Ok, for a real review, I HATE the prominence of that stupid egg shaker or whatever it is. I also hate the way the drums are miked. I once adjudicated a band where the drums were a big hollow suitcase being hit by a bass drum foot pedal, a snare, and a hi hat. This reminds me of that. The thing I always think with blues songs, this one included, is how everyone else in the band must be bored. The bass, guitar, piano, and harmonica are just so repetitive. As for Bo Diddley, I really like his voice, and he draws words out in a really cool way. I also know there are songs by him I like better. With all this in mind, I just can’t give this a great review! Sorry, Bo!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
The Yardbirds version
The Black Strobes:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: