Clifton James

Bo Diddley's drummer


Clifton James, drummer: born Chicago 2 October 1936; married (one son, five daughters); died Chicago 16 February 2006.

One of the stars of early rock'n'roll, Bo Diddley recorded several of the genre's defining songs and influenced everyone from Buddy Holly to the White Stripes via the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. The drummer Clifton James provided the primal beat and criss-cross rhythms on nearly all of the singles and album tracks Diddley recorded for the Chess label between 1955 and 1970.

Not content with backing Diddley on sides such as "I'm a Man", "Diddley Daddy", "Road Runner", "Who Do You Love", "Cops & Robbers" and "Mona", and, alternating with Frank Kirkland, on tour, James was a mainstay with Chess Records. In that capacity, he toured and recorded with Willie Dixon, the Flamingos, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf.

Born in Chicago in 1936, Clifton James drove his mother and 13 siblings crazy with his drumming. "I first started learning to play drums on chair bottoms, tin cans, and anything you know, I could find to beat on - even a few heads," he told Mick Vernon on a UK visit to appear with Bo Diddley on Ready Steady Go in 1965. As a teenager, he played with Memphis Slim and Elmore James. He met Diddley in 1953.

James's drumming fitted the percussive nature of Diddley's music perfectly. Having moved from Mississippi to Illinois as a child, Diddley had been playing in Maxwell Street, Chicago, with Jerome Green shaking a primitive type of maracas - actually ballcocks filled with black-eyed beans - and Roosevelt Jackson on washtub bass. He recalled,

It was just the three of us originally - Roosevelt Jackson, Jerome Green and me. I play the guitar as

if I'm playing the drums, I play drum licks on the guitar. Later we added Clifton James on drums. He was the man who did the original Bo Diddley beat on the drums. When I made the record "Bo Diddley" in 1955, it turned the whole music scene around."

Recorded on 2 March 1955, "Bo Diddley" and its other side, "I'm a Man", received much airplay and helped the 45 reach No 2 on the rhythm'n'blues charts.

James played drums with Diddley for the singer's historic television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in November 1955. Off air, the host argued with his guest, who had performed "Bo Diddley" rather than the less primal "Sixteen Tons", the Tennessee Ernie Ford song which had been requested by the presenter. When Sullivan called him "a coloured boy", Diddley thumped him.

In 1956, James made an important contribution to the much-covered "Who Do You Love" when he suggested the "for a necktie" lyric to complete the "I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, use a cobra snake . . ." opening line. He also played on "Say Man", Diddley's biggest US hit, in 1959, as well as his belated 1963 UK chart entries, "Hey Good Looking" and "Pretty Thing" - one of many Diddley tracks which inspired the names of British groups in the Sixties - and the albums Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger, Bo Diddley Rides Again and Bo Diddley's Beach Party.

In January, James took part in an event to launch the book TV-a-Go-Go: rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol in Chicago. He watched the clip of his appearance with Bo Diddley on The Ed Sullivan Show with great amusement before accepting an award.

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice