In honor of the late great Bo Diddley— who died today of heart failure at the age of 79— we present this little gem from the Voice archives. The article, first published in June 28, 1973, relates how Bo reacted to a song request made at gunpoint during a performance at the Stardust Room on Boston Road in the Bronx. Rest in peace, Bo.
By Josh Mills
This was going to be about why a rock star like Bo Diddley was performing in a remote bar in the Bronx last Saturday night. Then, near the end of Bo’s first set at the Stardust Room on Boston Road, a heckler pulled a gun on him.
Bo had asked for a volunteer to come up on stage and sing with him. A blond woman in an orange jump suit with white polka dots jumped up to the mike, let out a yodel, and started shaking it. Bo started shaking it back.
“Watch it,” the heckler yelled, but they couldn’t hear him up on the stage, even though he was in the first row. So he pulled a .38 revolver from his waistband, where it had been tucked beneath his t-shirt, and waved it in the air. (One week before, a man waved a gun in the air at a Harlem bar, and when it was over three men were dead and seven wounded.)
His friends reached for his arm and yelled, “Put it down, Tony.” I think his name was Tony. Instead he leveled it, in the classic Clint Eastwood pose, right at Bo Diddley.
Bo reacted coolly. He backed up a step in mock—at least it looked like mock—horror. Bo, the woman, and Tony froze. The backup band kept playing. The spotlight reflected off Bo’s guitar. No one in the audience was reacting. I felt like I was the only one who saw the gun. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone else. Then Bo put his right hand into his pants pocket. Oh no, he’s reaching for the derringer he told me he used to carry. Instead he brought out his wallet, with a Nevada sheriff’s badge pinned to the outside, and grinned.
Tony smiled and reached into his pants pocket and flipped his wallet open in Bo’s direction. “FBI,” he said, though I couldn’t see what he was showing. He held the gun steady.
Bo looked at him for a few seconds, then rolled his eyes. “What was the song you wanted to hear?”
Tony, who’d been screaming out requests all night, yelled “Hey Bo Diddley” and Bo swung right into it. The band followed and the tableau broke. The woman got off the stage. Tony tucked his gun back into his waistband and pulled his blue mesh shirt over it. I could see its outline clearly.
I think Tony was just fooling around. But I kept recalling that other bar shooting, and all the bar-shooting stories I’ve written in five years as a newsman. I was sitting behind Tony. It flashed on me that I had a good angle for breaking a chair on him when he pulled the gun. But I was afraid. I thought I might get shot. But what if he had pulled the trigger? I don’t know if I could have done anything.
Bo and the band kept beating out “Bo Diddley.” The woman in the polka-dot suit jumped back on-stage. So did another woman at the table, while her husband looked on grimly. This time Tony jumped up with them and started shaking it too. The audience applauded.
They closed the set that way. Bo headed for the bar, brushing aside offers to drink at several tables, including Tony’s. I came up to him, but Bo didn’t want to talk about the gun incident.