Updated: Feb 10
If you search Google for ''first rock guitarists'', you will most likely find men. The reality is that if we focus on an era, in this case, this would not be a question of patriarchal inequality. In truth, when rock was born, the scene consisted of more men than women. However, there is a list of female artists who just because they were there at the time remained in the shadow of famous rock singers like Bo Diddley, an artist who is rightfully credited as a true luminary in the history of rock. An innovative guitarist, clever lyricist, and energetic live performer. Often overlooked, however, are the contributions to his band by one of the most talented women to ever have picked up a guitar.
If you go to YouTube and look for some of Diddley's live performances, you will see her, looking like "The Roonets" with her Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird, (guitar designed by Bo Diddley himself): Peggy Jones, also known as "Lady Bo".
“Little did I know that a female playing any instrument was like a new thing. I was breaking a lot of barriers.”
Born in New York in 1940, Peggy Jones was a child who had music in her blood and soul. She studied ballet, was trained in opera, and even performed at Carnegie Hall at the age of nine. She started playing the ukulele but when she discovered that no one needed a performer with a ukulele, she bought her first guitar and started playing when she was 15 - something quite unusual for a woman in the 1950s.
As she grew and perfected her skill, her undeniable talent matched and often surpassed the best guitarists of the time. So in 1957, she had a chance meeting with Bo Diddley at a performance of the musician at the Apollo in New York. He was instantly impressed to see a girl with a guitar case - and yes, a woman and a guitar at that time, for many were just as curious as to the idea of watching a dog fly. After that meeting, Diddley became her mentor and gave her a job in his band. She immediately became one of the first and few guitarists to break away from various musical stereotypes by becoming known for accompanying other musicians which earned her the nickname "Lady Bo".
“I don’t think I went in with any attitude that ‘Oh, oh, I’m a girl, they’re not going to like my playing.’ So probably that might have been my savior because I just went in as a musician and expected to be accepted as a musician.”
Peggy recorded and produced her own singles, working as a session musician in several recording studios. In the 1960s she left Diddley's band and formed her own R&B group known as "The Jewels", a band made up of men and women, which was very unusual for the time. Even more unique, the band included both black and white members. The Jewels went on to become a top R&B band on the New York – Boston east coast club scene in the 1960s and 1970s.
Furthermore, Peggy also established herself as a percussionist, collaborating on several albums by musicians of the time such as "Eric Burdon & the Animals", as well as touring with great artists such as James Brown. In 1970, she re-joined Bo Diddley’s band, bringing The Jewels with her. Jones was known for playing the Roland guitar synthesizer, an experimental instrument not typically heard in rhythm and blues music.
Lady Bo remained musically active well into the 21st century. She died in September 2015 at the age of 75.