Bo Diddley, Long Beach Blues Festival (1997). Photo: Masahiro Sumori.
The world of rock ‘n’ roll was full of Little Sixteens, Suzie Qs, Pretty Things, Donnas, Bette Jeans, Little Queenies, Peggy Sues or Lucillas. Rock ‘n’ Roll was mainly a male business and you could find women only in song titles and in the audience – but not on stage. Well, maybe as background singers, but certainly not on guitar.
Rock ‘n’ roll innovator Bo Diddley (1928-2008) was the exception to the rule. Throughout his long career he worked together with female instrumentalists. Let’s have a closer look at them.
Guitarist and singer Lady Bo (Peggy Jones).
In 1957 Peggy Jones aka Lady Bo replaced Bo Diddley’s guitarist Jody Williams, who had been drafted for military service. Jones played with Diddley until 1961 in the recording studios and on stage. Her contribution to Bo Diddleys music was essential.
She played electric guitar on classic songs like “Hey, Bo Diddley”, “Mona”, “Say Man”, “Crackin’ Up”, “The Story of Bo Diddley”, “Say Man, Back Again”, “Road Runner” and “Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger”. She not only played electric guitar, but sometimes she also sang or played piano. Besides working with Bo Diddley, she performed and recorded with many different groups and singers. From 1962 on Lady Bo concentrated on her own career, but she still played with Bo from time to time until 1993. (Sources: Lady Bo… Rock & Roll’s First Lady of Guitar and Allexperts, both by David Blakey).
The Duchess (Norma-Jean Wofford).
Guitarist Norma-Jean Wofford (1942? – 2005) took over Lady Bo’s position. Soon she was named “The Duchess” by Bo Diddley. There’s not much information available about Norma-Jean Wofford. According to Spectropop and Wikipedia she accompanied Bo Diddley on his first England tour in 1962 and played on following Bo Diddley albums: “Bo Diddley & Company”, “Bo Diddley’s Beach Party”, “Hey! Good Lookin’”, “500% More Man” and “The Originator”. Norma-Jean Wofford left the band in 1966 when she got married. See also her biography on allmusic.
Bo Diddley and Debby Hastings at Central Park Summerstage (1990). Photo: Andi Deily.
Another important collaborator of Bo Diddley was Debby Hastings. She stayed much longer with him than the Duchess and Lady Bo. The electric bass player joined him around 1984 and worked with him until his death in 2008. From 1994 on she was also his music director. She played with him live and in the studio. You can hear her on Bo Diddley’s Grammy nominated album “A Man Amongst Men”.
Debby Hastings started her career in Wisconsin and then moved to Memphis, TN where she opened for Muddy Waters and recorded at Stax Records under Isaac Hayes. She later settled in New York before joining Bo Diddley. Besides Bo Diddley, Debby Hastings played with many soul, rock ‘n’ roll, blues and rock legends like Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave), Willie Dixon, Edgar Winter, Dr. John, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. She toured with Ron Wood and Bo Diddley playing for both of them on the Gunslinger Tour and the subsequent DVD and live album called “Live At the Ritz”. In 2005 she played with Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Debby Hastings was with Bo Diddley in May 2007 when he had the stroke that ended his performing career. At the memorial for Bo Diddley she said: “He was the rock that the roll is built on.” (Sources: Beat lives On at a Memorial for Bo Diddley, Debby Hastings – The lady still rocks with the blues and Bo Diddley, email from Debby Hastings).
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