By Andrew Gilhooley / 411
These days, we take it for granted that women play the guitar. We take it for granted that women sing the blues, or play rock and roll. We are so used to seeing and hearing artists like Bonnie Raitt that we forget that until relatively recently many areas of music were an exclusive, men-only club. One of the people who paved the way for today’s female rock and blues musicians is playing at Henfling’s this Friday. Her name is Peggy Jones.
Peggy Jones, otherwise known as Lady Bo, has the distinction of being the first female lead guitarist to be hired by a major recording artist, in this case Bo Diddley. Jones is credited with helping to develop Bo Diddley’s signature sound both live and in the studio. She was born in 1940 and grew up in the Sugar Hill district of Manhattan to musical parents (her mother was a dancer and singer and her father a saxophonist). By the age of four, her parents noticed that she had a natural gift for pitch and rhythm as well as movement. In other words, she was a child prodigy.
By six years old, Jones had appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall as well as making several TV and radio appearances. She was already studying tap, ballet and modern dance, and at age 9 began to take formal voice lessons and appear in school operettas. When she was 12, she learned to play ukulele, an instrument which was popular with female performers at the time, and at age 15 bought her first guitar. She went on to attend the New York High School of Performing Arts on a dance scholarship. At around this time, she had a chance meeting with Bo Diddley which changed her life. She recalled, “He was playing at the Apollo Theatre, and I ran into him on the outside when he was on a break. I had a guitar with me… I was playing a little, and he wanted to know, did I play, and I said, ‘Yeah, why? Who are you?’”
Bo Diddley coached Jones in her guitar playing, and she learned to play in his style and using his unique guitar tunings. Soon, Jones was drafted into Bo Diddley’s band to replace his regular guitarist Jody Williams, who had been drafted for military service. Jones went on to work with Bo Diddley from 1958 until 1993, at the same time working as a session musician, nightclub singer and fronting her own band Lady Bo and the Family Jewel. In 1993 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the South Bay Blues Awards in recognition of her contribution to the Blues. She has also received a United.States Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award & Recognition for her music contributions.
Peggy Jones continues to tour all over the world with her current band Lady Bo and the DC Horns. Friday’s show at Henflings is a chance to see one of rock and blues’ real pioneers, and an artist who has arguably done more than any other to further the cause of women in music.
First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, December 18, 2003
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