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.

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
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
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
Latest stories from i100
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

Business Project Manager

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Marketing Executive, London

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Charter Selection: This highly prestigious luxury b...

SAP BPC Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BPC Consultant - 6 Months - London ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor