While many know and love the late Bo Diddley as a world-famous, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician, many in Valencia County knew him simply as a friend and neighbor — Ellas McDaniel.
Diddley, who died on June 2, 2008, lived in a lot of places, but for about seven years in the 1970s, he call New Mexico — in particular Peralta — home. He moved here in 1971 after making a movie in New Mexico with Dennis Hopper, telling the News-Bulletin at the time he “was very impressed with the people, the climate and beautiful scenery.”
In a later interview, Diddley told the newspaper, “Everything’s just kind of groovy here, you know? Everybody’s not running and ripping, knocking each other down.”
As someone who inspired other musicians, such as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Diddley inspired so many others in different ways — his family, his friends and his neighbors. He gave of himself, of his talents and his wisdom.
Diddley and his family, his then-wife, Kay, and their children Terri, Tammy and Anthony, moved to Peralta from California after a large earthquake. During his time in Peralta, he served for 2 1/2 years as a reserve deputy in the Valencia County Citizens’ Patrol. While working as a deputy, he personally bought and donated three patrol cars to the sheriff’s department.
For his children, Bo Diddley — who was just plain Ellas McDaniel when he lived in Peralta — he was just Dad, a man who taught them life lessons and gave them his love and legacy.
Terri, who grew up on the family farm in Peralta, remembers the area fondly, saying she and her siblings attended Peralta Elementary School and was involved in the local 4-H program.
“I don’t remember the name of the road we lived on, but it was on a dirt road, off an irrigation ditch, that curved around and had a long driveway,” said Terri, 57, in an telephone interview from her home in Florida. “I remember the big weeping willow tree.”
Despite owning 11 show and quarter horses, cows, several chickens and other farm animals, Diddley told the News-Bulletin in a 1975 interview he really wasn’t into being a rancher.
Terri said Diddley’s passion for music led him to build a recording studio made of adobe on the farm, where he helped some of the local musicians.
He also performed in several benefit concerts in Valencia County to help raise funds for local organizations.
“Living in New Mexico was great,” Terri Diddley remembers. “I remember going to the mountains often — maybe more often than going to school. I remember we had a great time there; it was beautiful.
“We had a lot of fun. I had my own lamb, and we had chickens and ducks,” she remembers. “I used to have 200 pigeons that followed me everywhere I went.”
As for her dad, she said he enjoyed living in Peralta and was more than willing to support and contribute to the community.
“He loved it,” Tammi said. “He loved playing sheriff, he loved the community. He just wanted peace and quite.”
When asked why her father joined the Valencia County Citizens’ Patrol, she said, “He was a kind-hearted man. He did the same thing here in Florida. He had a soft spot for law enforcement.”
Diddley also wanted to make a difference in the lives of the youth of Valencia County, always educating them about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
Encouraged and inspired by their father, Tammi and her sister, Terri, and their friend, Kristi Hinds, formed their own band named The Diddley Darlings while living in Peralta. Tammi was the drummer and lead singer, while Terri played the keyboard. Even though they were “just kids,” Tammi said they performed at different horse shows from Belen to Bosque Farms.
Saying she is her father’s biggest fan, Tammi said she’s collected everything Bo Diddley touched.
“I’m not just saying that because he was my father but because he was the greatest entertainer that I’ve ever worked with,” she said.
While out on the road and performing in front of thousands of fans, Bo Diddley knew exactly who he was and the influence he had in the music world. But when he was home with his family, he was a different person — he was Dad, Tammi said.
“Dad was a loving dad,” she remembers. “Every time he came home, he brought us presents, no matter how good or bad we were. We were just so spoiled.”
Tammi remembers one incident while living in Peralta when she didn’t feel so spoiled. Her mom, Kay, bought and had a swing set set up in the yard. But one morning, when Tammi woke up, she discovered her dad had disassembled the swing set and made it into a dune buggy.
“Tammi’s best memories of her father was simply that he was a loving father, a dad who always encouraged and supported her.
“I just miss him and he’s always on my mind. I miss the times we had out there,” she said of her time in Peralta.
Diddley returned to New Mexico in the 1990s living in Albuquerque’s South Valley. There, his third oldest child, Steven Jones, lived with his father for several years.
“I remember he would come home and tell us fun stories about Little Richard or Chubby Checker,” said Jones, 61, who still lives in Albuquerque. “I remember I was the one who told him that Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash, which he was shocked.”
Jones remembers his dad was always afraid to fly, calling planes, “them raggedy planes.”
Jones lived with his father in Florida from 1983 to 1988 before moving to Chicago. He remembers a phone call he received from Diddley, who told him he was moving to Albuquerque and wanted him to join him.
“We loaded up and had a caravan,” Jones remembers. “We had horse trailers, about 12 cars and an RV. We just drove straight here. He said I would like it here, it’s nice and it’s desert. I like the seasons here.”
While Jones wasn’t raised by Diddley, he knew him better as an adult. He remembers his father would wake him up early — at 4 o’clock in the morning — just to go get a cup of coffee.
“He knew he wasn’t supposed to have sugar because he had diabetes, but he didn’t care. He would say, ‘This is my life and I’m going to eat whatever I want,’” Jones said. “There was one time when we were driving to some insurance place and he stopped to get some ice cream. I told him he shouldn’t, and he gave me that look over his glasses and I just said ‘nevermind.’”
Both Steven and Tammi said Diddley just loved being on his tractors, whether it be in Peralta or in Albuquerque.
“He was real cool; he would come home and get on his tractor and dig holes,” Jones said. “He had 80 acres in Florida, so he would go and buy used cars, including about 12 hearses. He had his own little car lot. He’d buy them and fix them up and let them sit there.
“He was very creative,” Jones remembers. “He even did pottery. He even had his own pottery studio.”
One of the perks of being Diddley’s son, Jones was able to watch his father build a guitar, which could take him three months. Jones said he would go to different pawn shops and buy guitars to use parts for his guitars.
Jones, who has eight of his father’s guitars, said most of Diddley’s famous items, including his square guitar, his hat and his glasses are now housed in museums.
Growing up, Jones didn’t realize how famous his father was. He said he didn’t know until he was older and able to attend Diddley’s shows in Chicago.
“That’s where I met The Coasters, The Shirelles, Chubby Checker, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis,” he said. “I wish I still had all those posters that I had got signed. I don’t have even one of them.”
During that time when Jones would tag along to Diddley’s concerts, he remembers his dad gave him permission to sign the posters in his name and sell them for $5.
“Chubby Checker would go to the house and my dad would have cookouts,” Jones said. “(Diddley) was one hell of a cook. He would cook on the ground. He would get the ribs, put all the spices on them, wrap them in aluminum foil and put them under the ground. When he’d pull them up, it was good eating.”
He remembers one time when his father went to Albertsons on Rio Bravo and Isleta and bought cases upon cases of ham. He cooked them at his home on Sorrel Lane near Gun Club in Albuquerque and just handed them out to whoever wanted or needed them.
Having Bo Diddley as his father, Jones said he was very fortunate, saying he was a phenomenal dad.
“He would go on the road, come home and put on his work clothes and say, ‘Let’s do it,’” Jones remembers. “That’s the way he was. He was a good dad. I really miss him. I didn’t get to know him as well as I should have.”
Like his siblings, Jones got the music bug from his father and continued his music legacy. His friends call him “Little Bo Diddley,” and he has performed in various venues.
Jones said his father cherished his time in New Mexico, especially in Peralta. He hopes one day, the town’s council and mayor would name something in his honor for the good works he did when he lived here.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.