Diddley came out with his first single, eponymously and confusingly titled “Bo Diddley”, in March of 1955. The song found immediate commercial success, spending 18 weeks on the R&B charts, including 2 weeks at #1. Ed had seen Bo perform at the Apollo Theater and booked him, along with some other Apollo acts. But it was still the 1950’s, and Ed was reluctant to introduce them himself. So he brought out a black DJ, saying “This is Dr. Jive from the Apollo Theater – he’ll explain this to you.”
Apparently before rehearsal Sullivan heard Bo Diddley performing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” backstage, and asked him to perform that song on the show. Diddley agreed, but when he looked at the set list he saw “Bo Diddley. Sixteen Tons”. Not realizing that the “Bo Diddley” was referring to him and not his hit single, he took that to mean that he was supposed to play both songs back to back. The ensuing performance evoked fury from Ed Sullivan, but delight from the audience.
From the moment Bo played the first note, it was apparent that his act would be different than anything that had ever been played on The Ed Sullivan Show. In what is now widely regarded by rock & roll historians as the first rock and roll performance on national TV, Bo Diddley picked, plucked and strummed his way into music history. With his legendary “Bo Diddley beat,” he captivated viewers who were listening to rock and roll for the first time. However, Sullivan wasn’t too thrilled. He felt that he had been double-crossed by Diddley, and permanently banned him from appearing again.
But that appearance cemented Diddley as a pioneer of rock and roll, and made him a megastar. The revolutionary sound he brought to the stage has provided the foundation for many hit songs and has proved to be one of the most influential styles in the rock and roll history. He was truly a groundbreaking artist, putting out music that no one at the time was coming close to making. As blues contemporary George Thorogood put it, “You listen to ‘Bo Diddley’, and you say, ‘What in the Jesus is that?’”
The Bo Diddley Beat can be heard in songs by Buddy Holly, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones Ed Sullivan Show appearance. His Ed Sullivan appearance was a landmark performance that exposed a national audience to rock and roll for the first time and made Bo Diddley a rock legend.