Q: In “Hotel California”, there’s a line that says, “her mind is Tiffany twisted”. I’ve always wondered what that means.

A: The Eagles’ “Hotel California” was once described as “a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America” by Don Henley, one of the song’s composers. As such, the woman in the song is preoccupied with thoughts about the world-famous jewelry store, Tiffany & Company. Founded in New York in 1937, the store is famous for its diamonds. It is also the namesake for the popular 1961 movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Q: Was Bo Diddley’s name really “Bo Diddley”? If it isn’t, what is the origin of that name?

A: Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates in McComb, Mississippi, on December 30, 1928. He was adopted and raised as a young child by Gussie McDaniel, his mother’s cousin, and his surname was legally changed to McDaniel. When he was seven, the McDaniels moved to Chicago’s South Side and it was there that the young Ellas McDaniel developed an interest in music. As a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, he learned to play both the trombone and the violin, earning a spot in the Chicago orchestra as a violinist until he was 18. According to his biography at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, he decided to learn to play guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” during a concert in 1949. The rest, as they say, is history. McDaniel married traditional African 4/4 rhythms with his own form of blues and R&B. It featured a distorted, muted-string, choke-neck style of guitar playing he said was influenced by his years of playing the violin, and it was to have a profound effect on the fledgling genre that was known as rock and roll. It would become the foundational basis of this form of music. In 1955, Chess Records released his debut single, which featured his songs “Bo Diddley” and “I’m A Man,” both of which reached No. 1 on the R&B singles charts. The song “Bo Diddley” prominently featured this new rhythm and style of playing, which was soon to be known as the “Bo Diddley Beat”. Recognizing a good thing when he saw it, McDaniel took the song’s name as his stage name. There is some disagreement as to the origin of the name Bo Diddley. According to one source, he said that it was the name of a singer that his adoptive mother was familiar with when he was younger. Another source reports that it was the name of a local comedian that Leonard Chess borrowed for the song’s title.

Q: Who is the “Richard” referenced in Joni Mitchell’s song “The Last Time I Saw Richard”?

A: Although Mitchell has never publicly commented on the title character in the song from her 1971 album, Blue, “The Last Time I Saw Richard” is believed to be a reference to her former husband, Chuck Mitchell. He was a folk-singer who often performed with Joni on the coffeehouse circuit. The two were married in early 1985 and divorced in 1967. He continued performing after the divorce and is recognized today as a successful singer and actor.

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What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums, and the musicians who make them to MusicOnTheRecord@gmail.com. Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, NC.

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