Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man" (information, examples, lyrics, & comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

[latest revision - August 25, 2016]

This post provides information about Bo Diddley's song "I"m A Man" and showcases two examples of that song. The song's lyrics and selected comments are also included in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Bo Diddley for his musical legacy and thanks to all those who also performed in these featured clips. Thanks also all those who are quoted in this post and the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

Click for a pancocojams post on Muddy Water's "Hoochie Coochie Man".

Also, click for a pancocojams post on the Muddy Waters song "Mannish Boy".

"This classic Blues song is filled with Diddley's swagger. He sings about his sexual prowess, literally spelling out that he is indeed a man. The song is famous for its riff, which was used by many Blues and Rock musicians, notably George Thorogood on "Bad to the Bone."

This was influenced by a 1951 Muddy Waters song called "She Moves Me." Later in 1955, Waters released "Mannish Boy," which was essentially a rewrite of this song".
"This song" means Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man".

"I'm a Man" is a rhythm and blues song written and recorded by Bo Diddley in 1955. A moderately slow number with a stop-time figure, it was inspired by an earlier blues song and became a number one U.S. R&B chart hit. "I'm a Man" has been recorded by a variety of artists, including The Yardbirds who had a number seventeen pop hit in the U.S. in 1965.

"I'm a Man" was released as the B-side of "Bo Diddley", his first single in April 1955.[3] The single became a two-sided hit and reached number 1 in the Billboard R&B chart. "I'm a Man" was inspired by Muddy Waters' 1954 song "Hoochie Coochie Man", written by Willie Dixon.[4] After Diddley's release, Waters recorded an "answer song" to "I'm a Man" in May 1955, titled "Mannish Boy",[4] a play on words on Bo Diddley's younger age as it related to the primary theme of the song."...

The article that is quoted above highlights the central theme of Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man" song- "He sings about his sexual prowess". That song- and "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Mannish Boy", "Bad To The Bone" and countless other Blues & R&B songs are self-bragging songs". And what the men are bragging about is how good they are- and the women know they are- "in bed".

Read this excerpt to add context to the "sexual bravado" theme that is found in all the songs that are mentioned above: Muddy Waters – I’m a Man, M-A-N By Gary Burnett, November 27, 2013
...."Muddy Waters first recorded Mannish Boy back in 1955. He and Willie Dixon had previously written Hoochie Coochie Man, which had inspired Bo Diddley‘s I’m a Man,and which in turn provided the basis for Mannish Boy. The song is credited to Muddy Water, Mel London and Bo Diddley, and features a repeating lick based on one chord.”...

The song is basically a raunchy number, both musically and lyrically, full of male sexual bravado. When Muddy sings “I’m a natural born lover,” and “I passed 21, I want you to believe me baby, I had lots of fun,” and “I’m made to move you honey,” there’s really no doubt as to what he’s talking about. He also says he’s a “hoochie coochie man” – the hoochie coochie was a sexually provocative dance that became wildly popular in Chicago in the late nineteenth century. The dance was performed by women, so a “hoochie coochie man” either watched them or ran the show.

Despite the clear sensuality of the song, there’s something more going on in the song. In the Southern states under Jim Crow, including Mississippi where Muddy Waters grew up, a black man was never recognized as anything other than a “boy.”...

Such were the attitudes that Muddy Waters experienced growing up in Mississippi. As a black man, he was considered and treated as less than human, and one of the ways in which this was reinforced was in the way in which he would never be referred to as a man – always as “boy.” Blacks at best were children, to be looked after, provided of course they knew their place, behaved and did not become “uppity.” At worst black men were considered a source of danger to white womanhood, ready at any opportunity to act as crazed, ravishers of pure white women. On this basis, many of the atrocious lynchings that mark the Jim Crow period in the South took place.

Muddy Water’s song, then, takes on a new meaning in this context. Now that he’s free of Southern racism and oppression and is a successful musician in Chicago, Muddy can assert his black manhood – “I’m a man, I’m a full grown man,” sings Muddy, “I spell M-A, child, N.” And free from the accusations of sexual misconduct, the sexual bravado of the song becomes at least understandable."...
That song- and "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Mannish Boy", "Bad To The Bone" and countless other Blues & R&B songs are self-bragging songs. And what the men are bragging about is their sexual prowess with women.

The men who brag about themselves in those songs are defying at least one American rule- that men (and women) should be monogamous. Isn't it therefore likely, that those men would also be defying other mainstream American rules even though that's not addressed in those songs?

"Stealing chickens from the White man's yard" is an example of a Black man during slavery and immediately post slavery who breaks the rules. While that behavior was illegal and therefore "bad", Black men who could successfully do this helped stave off malnutrition for themselves and their families. It's therefore likely that those actions were considered much more positively by Black folks than by White folks. The "Wild Ni&&er Bill" folk songs are other examples of "a good bad Black man" - and there are many more examples of from "Shine" to "Superfly", and beyond. These men could be considered anti-heroes, although those considering them as such would more likely be Black than non-Black. But it's not just Black Americans who admire anti-heroes.

One trait that those "bad men" who bragged about themselves in "I'm A Man" and those other songs have in common is their sexual attractiveness to women and their sexual prowess with women. Although "Mannish Boy" and those other sexually bragging songs don't mention any other examples of those men defying other mainstream morals, it seems likely to me that these men were badass in more ways than one.

(Elias McDaniels, aka Bo Diddley)

Now when I was a little boy
At the age of five
I had somethin' in my pocket
Keep a lot of folks alive

Now I'm a man
Made twenty-one
You know baby
We can have a lot of fun

I'm a man
I spell M-A-N, man

All you pretty women
Stand in line
I can make love to you baby
In an hour's time

I'm a man
I spell M-A-N, man

I goin' back down
To Kansas to
Bring back the second cousin
Little John the conqueroo

I'm a man
I spell M-A-N, man

The line I shoot
Will never miss
The way I make love to 'em
They can't resist

I'm a man
I spell M-A-N, man

Read the quote included in the pancocojams post about Muddy Water's song "Mannish Boy" whose link is given above about the social meaning of calling a Black man a man and not a boy.

Explanation about the referent "John the conqueroo":
"John the Conqueror, also known as High John the Conqueror, John de Conquer, and many other folk variants, is a folk hero from African-American folklore. He is associated with a certain root, the John the Conqueror root, or John the Conqueroo, to which magical powers are ascribed in American folklore, especially among the hoodoo tradition of folk magic...

The root known as High John the Conqueror or John the Conqueror used as one of the parts of a mojo bag. It is typically used in sexual spells of various sorts and it is also considered lucky for gambling.".

These examples are presented in chronological order based on their publishing date on YouTube with the oldest example presented first.

Example #1: I'm a Man

Organizedblues, Uploaded on Nov 14, 2008

Muddy, Bo, and Little Walter

Some Good Blues
selected comments from this sound file's discussion thread:

HendrixPrinceFlea89, 2009
"It doesn't have to be twelve bar blues to be blues, this is great. RIP Bo Diddley."

THEMOJOMANsince1959, 2010
in reply to JBerg4723
@JBerg4723 Hoochie Coochie Man and I'm a Man are two different songs. You better read the credit under the title of Mannsh Boy and I'm a Man,,,,sez ELIAS McDANIELS. Willie Dixon had nothing to do with I'm a Man. he may have been there when it was recorded as he was working at CHESS at the time. I'm a Man predates Mannish Boy."
Elias McDaniels = Bo Didley

unkameat74 .unkameat77, 2011

Anita Jeppesen, 2012
in reply to unkameat74 .unkameat77
"This is not black folk music, it's the blues. I'm a white woman who loves Muddy Waters and the blues. Shame on you for thinking the blues is black folk music. The blues is full of soul not color."

Nacho Bidness, 2012
in reply to Anita Jeppesen
"I'm also a white woman who loves the blues. And...the blues IS (or at least WAS) black folk music. In its original form it was black folk music that influenced the rest of American music and that lots of white people either started participating in or just appropriated. Obviously no genre is open to only one race, but black people started blues music."

"Bad to the Bone song by George Thorogood and the Destroyers can be traced back to rock and roll musician Bo Diddley's song "I'm a Man"! Which uses a similar guitar riff and vocal rhythm, and has a similar overall structure!"

TheOfficialPSPHacker, 2012
"So Bad to the Bone ripped their stuff from this song? I'm feel ashamed :("

Nacho Bidness, 2012
in reply to TheOfficialPSPHacker
"oh dear...i'm sorry babe but you're in for a big shock. the stones, dylan, elvis, the beatles, so many big groups have ripped off the blues. caveat to debaters out there: I know it's complicated and musical innovation requires combining influences, paying tribute etc but you can't deny the blues has been appropriated."

1blastman, 2012
"This is my favorite cut off my favorite blues album of all time - Super Blues. Three blues legends gettin' it on."

MrArghhhh, 2012
"wrote by bo diddley in the 55's, inspired by muddy waters' hoochie coochie man from the 54."

Example #2: Bo Diddley - I'm A Man (live 1959)

TerryLDaniels, Uploaded on Dec 23, 2010

Live at Cornell University. Bo really embraces the "mayygn" pronunciation here and stops singing after two verses, filling the rest of the performance with atonal slides and "mumbles" in addition to standard blues licks.

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