HE SURE HAD a catchy name. But even catchier was the percussive rhythm he unleashed from his guitar - some called it "shave and a haircut, two bits" rhythm - and the electronic distortions he created to accompany the beat.

Bo Diddley was a rock 'n' roll pioneer. He was 79 when his heart gave out yesterday.

Too often in music, the term "icon" is bestowed on artists who are popular and get a lot of attention, but haven't changed, innovated or created anything new.

Diddley was a true icon.

Along with two other black musicians, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, he crafted a style in the 1950s that young whites in the United States and overseas grabbed onto and adopted as theirs.

Over the years, Diddley didn't have to play to be recognized; his low-slung, rectangular guitar, big black glasses and hat became his trademark. And his first single in 1955, "Bo Diddley"/"I'm a Man," introduced him to the world. Since then, his songs have been covered countless times, his playing style ingrained in the rock 'n' roll fabric. Legions of guitar players and performers, like Eric Clapton, Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen, and rock 'n' roll groups such as the Rolling Stones owe a debt of gratitude to Diddley. Two years ago, Diddley said he wanted to reinvent himself. Really, there was no need.

"If Bo Diddley was English, I think he should be knighted," Tom Petty once said. "Elvis is King. But Diddley is Daddy." *