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Monday, September 10, 2012

Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley


BO DIDDLEY: BO DIDDLEY (1958)

1) Bo Diddley; 2) I'm A Man; 3) Bring It To Jerome; 4) Before You Accuse Me; 5) Hey Bo Diddley; 6) Dearest Darling; 7) Hush Your Mouth; 8) Say Boss Man; 9) Diddley Daddy; 10) Diddy Wah Diddy; 11) Who Do You Love; 12) Pretty Thing.

I must  say that I have never been a huge fan of the «Bo Diddley beat». When it comes to rocking the very foundations of my existence, Chuck Berry's riffs, Jerry Lee Lewis' piano assassinations, and Scottie Moore's rockabilly backing of Elvis' legend have always taken precedence over this somewhat rigid formula — essentially just an electrified rendering of a traditional Juba dance. At first, of course, it was a magnificent invention: ʽBo Diddleyʼ (the song), recorded in 1955, soun­ded like nothing else at the time. The numerous variations that followed, though, rarely, if ever, improved upon the original impression — so that even most of the British fans of Bo Diddley were usually quite content with covering just one of them (the Stones only did ʽMonaʼ; the Ani­mals only did ʽPretty Thingʼ, and then wrote ʽThe Story Of Bo Diddleyʼ as a joke response).

What is much harder to realize — not until you decide to seriously immerse yourself in the man's creativity — is that there is much, much more to Bo Diddley than the proverbial, and occasional­ly tiresome «Diddley beat». For instance, this here «debut album», which is not really a proper al­bum but rather just a collection of several of his A- and B-sides from 1955 to 1958, only has three out of twelve tunes following the D.b.: ʽBo Diddleyʼ, ʽHush Your Mouthʼ, and ʽPretty Thingʼ. Of the others, some could have had the D.b. (ʽHey Bo Diddleyʼ, for instance, predictably sung to the same vocal melody as ʽBo Diddleyʼ), but don't. Others are altogether quite removed from the for­mula, and follow different paths of inspiration — many of them, in my own view, far more inspi­rational than the D.b.

Like Chuck Berry, Bo was somewhat of an anomaly for Chicago's Chess Records, specializing in less explicitly dance-oriented electric bluesmen, from Muddy to Wolf to Little Walter to Buddy Guy. But they hooked onto him pretty hard all the same: rock'n'roll was becoming a household name, and these astute Chicago businessmen needed their own rock stars to stand the competition. Not that Bo couldn't or wouldn't do straightahead blues. There is at least one example on this re­cord — ʽBefore You Accuse Meʼ, although even here Bo could not resist speeding up the tempo so that the final result looks like a cross between old-fashioned blues and new-fashioned boogie. (The 1970 cover version by Creedence is appropriately more sharp and polished, but the song still firmly belongs in 1957).

But Bo's biggest blues-based hit was anything but straightahead — ʽI'm A Manʼ takes Muddy's ʽHoochie Coochie Manʼ and basically just deconstructs it; it's as if Bo heard the song and said, "that first bar, man, that's the shit, do we really need anything else here?" As dumb as the deci­sion sounds, in its own context it's a fine example of brutal genius, right out there vying for first place with ʽLouie Louieʼ and the like. The Who were the perfect band to cover this symbol of mythic-status virility; the Yardbirds, slight less so; too bad it was too slow for Mötörhead. Muddy actually retorted with his own ʽMannish Boyʼ, which was essentially the same song with slightly different lyrics — and maybe Muddy made a finer job with that one, because his singing captured the spirit better than Bo's, but Bo was there first — «The Originator» strikes again.

What else is there? Well, the idea of stringing the entire song on one chord, for instance, which, since we already mentioned Mötörhead, is the genuine precursor to the «jackhammer» method of headbanging. ʽHey Bo Diddleyʼ is done that way, but the more fabulous instance is ʽWho Do You Loveʼ, with its aggressive lead lines scattered along the road — and those beautiful lyrics: "I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, I use a cobra snake for a necktie... I got a brand new chimney made on top, made out of human skull..." Not a lot of black lyricists used that sort of voodooistic ima­gery as lightly as old Bo. But the gamble paid off — even The Doors covered the song during their live shows. (How does one get Jim Morrison inside a telephone booth? Write "cobra snake" and "human skull" on the walls).

And that still ain't all. There's ʽDiddley Daddyʼ, opening with one of the simplest, yet most ele­gant guitar figures of the decade — one which Billy Boy Arnold, present at the session, nixed from Bo and quickly inserted in his own ʽI Wish You Wouldʼ, and that is how all of us British Invasion fans know it (from the Yardbirds cover; ʽDiddley Daddyʼ itself evaded hit status in the UK, although the Stones and others did play it live). There's ʽDiddy Wah Diddyʼ, which takes a «dance-blues» pattern of Muddy's, adds a playful, poppy melody resolution, and makes for a great single that's bluesy, funny, catchy, and weird at the same time — an ideal fit for a young, teeth-cutting Captain Beefheart in 1966. And there is ʽSay Boss Manʼ, a lesser known tune that shows Bo perfectly at home with ʽJim Dandyʼ-style danceable R'n'B.

In short, Bo Diddley, like Jimmy Reed, was a sacrilegious blues renegade, which is why we love them both — except that Jimmy Reed was perfectly happy to find one basic formula and stick to it like glue until his last teeth fell out, whereas Bo, as this album shows, was a restless seeker: and in three years' time, he had found more than many bluesmen of the highest caliber had found in several decades. The Diddley beat was just one of these finds, and, as the first one and the one that made him a star, it was bound to become a repetitive trademark; but there is very little that is repetitive, monotonous, or just plain boring about Bo Diddley, an album where I myself knew most of the songs before hearing it. Thumbs up, totally.

Check "Bo Diddley" (CD) on Amazon

12 comments:

  1. Yeah Yeah Yeah this is great music! Bring it to Jerome Bring it to Jerome Bring it to Jerome Bringi it to Jerome Bring it to Jerome Bring it on Home Bring it to Jerome

    Stupid, but clever. What a groove

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  2. I think Bo Diddley inferior to Chuck Berry and Little Richard exactly because his songs are so monotonous. If I have heard the first 10 seconds I have heard the whole song, so I lose attention after say a minute.
    Indeed with Motörhead it's the same. That band is unbearable - and not because they are offensive - as soon as they slow down even a bit. I only like a handful of Motörhead songs, including the hits.
    Chuck Berry and Little Richard both also were faster.

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  3. Bo was an innovator. No one can take that away from him. But his schtick hasn't aged well. One dime in the jukebox and you've heard 90% of his repertoire, unless he went country in later years a la Ray Charles. Still, that one song (take your pick) is a killer!

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    1. Did you read the review, or listen to the album? Of course this isn't diverse-city if compared to The White Album, but as far as a 50's pop music LP goes, I don't know a lot of other people who would try out so many different things over the course of just 12 short songs.

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    2. I've owned the album for 30 years, thanks for your comprehension. Despite the fact that the album (which isn't an album, it's a collection of singles) contains a few different styles of music - all of which are well within the Chess paradigm, the fact remains that 90% of Bo Diddley's famous material involves the Bo Diddley beat. And you can take your pick of which Bo Diddley beat you prefer, as all of the British Invasion bands did. Captain Beefheart may be the only performer who's ever covered a non-Diddley beat number.

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    3. "Which Bo Diddley beat you prefer" is a bit of an oxymoron, since the general assumption is that there is only one Bo Diddley beat - THE Bo Diddley beat. "Who Do You Love" does not have the Bo Diddley beat, and was covered quite extensively. Certainly "Before You Accuse Me", with the well-known CCR cover that was explicitly mentioned in the review, does not have the Bo Diddley beat. 'Crackin' Up', one of Bo's most famous songs, does not have the Bo Diddley beat. And so on and on.

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    4. Malx:
      That about Captain Beefheart is just blatantly false, as George has started to point out and I feel a twitching in my fingers to keep up, but I guess there's no reason to.

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    5. I normally wouldn't have commented at all, since Bo Diddley interests me very little (except in small doses when I feel the need for a bit of primitive pure rock and roll energy). Anyhow, I hereby praise Bo Diddley for being there when it mattered, and I'm prepared to accept there's more to his ouvre than just the few great singles he released from '55 to '58. I simply have no interest in anything any of the original 50's rock and rollers did beyond their glory years. There were these guys from the north of England who absorbed all of this stuff, and then did their own thing, you know.

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    6. I'm sorry, but where do you here the Bo Diddley beat in "Roadrunner", which has been covered countless times (The Pretty Things, The Who, The Animals, The Zombies, etc.)?!?

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  4. I think it's a little unfair to judge Bo Diddley's influence simply on the first 3 years of his recording career. He went on to record several highly regarded albums of funk-based material for Chess Records in the early 1970s and then went on to produce his own unique take on rock & roll, hip hop, rap and reggae etc thru the 1980s, 1990s & 2000s. Ask most any of today's great rock and rap musicians and they will tell you that Bo Diddley was always 25 years ahead of everyone else.

    Only this year, his sound has been present in the charts, thanks to rappers B.o.B and Pitbull both sampling a couple of his songs; (B.o.B sampled "Bo Diddley" for the track "Play The Guitar" and Pitbull sampled Bo Diddley's song "Love Is Strange" for the track "Back In Time") and over in the UK, hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks topped the UK charts earlier this year with their Bo Diddley beat-fueled track "Mama Do The Hump".

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    1. For the record, I am not judging Bo Diddley's influence simply on the first 3 years of his recording career.

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  5. I am sorry but there was Scotty Moore, not Scottie.

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