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Monday, September 24, 2012

Bo Diddley: Have Guitar Will Travel


1) She's Alright; 2) Cops And Robbers; 3) Run Diddley Daddy; 4) Mumblin' Guitar; 5) I Need You Baby (Mona); 6) Say Man, Back Again; 7) Nursery Rhyme; 8) I Love You So; 9) Spanish Guitar; 10) Dancing Girl; 11) Come On Baby.

This is where things start getting a little stale. To flesh out Bo's third LP, they had to reach as deep down as 1956 — and what they brought out was ʽCops And Robbersʼ, a wannabe-hilarious blues shuffle with mostly talking vocals that tell a story about... well, look at the title. Perhaps in 1956 it was still a novelty, but in between 1956 and 1960 we had ourselves The Coasters, who, with the aid of Leiber & Stoller, took that whole «comedy / R&B» fusion to a level against which Bo Diddley could not hold up. Uninteresting musically and not very funny, the song is one of Bo's ultimately failed experiments, and the fact that they had to resuscitate it in order to complete the album is quite telling.

The other «oldie» is the much better known ʽI Need You (Mona)ʼ, mostly due to having been covered on the Stones' first album (as well as Britain's sexiest, but completely forgotten, band of the early Sixties, The Li­verbirds, who seem to have covered almost all of Bo's catalog in their microscopically short heyday) — which is, of course, merely a variation on the classic Diddley beat, and was covered mainly due to its lyrics, since UK bands narrating the peculiarities of Bo's biography (had they stuck to the original ʽBo Diddleyʼ) naturally felt a little odd.

Another relatively recent single, from 1959, is even less exciting: a straightforward follow-up to ʽSay Manʼ (ʽSay Man, Back Againʼ) with another bunch of crude jokes exchanged between Bo and Jerome, and its B-side, ʽShe's Alrightʼ, a loud R&B rave-up along the lines of Ray Charles or The Isley Bro­thers — except that neither Bo himself, nor his backing band really had the vocal qualifications; the crudeness of the execution may not be quite as embarrassing as his struggles with doo-wop (after all, this is at least a rousing number, and one wouldn't expect Bo Diddley to completely miss the boat on anything «rousing»), but it is still a relative failure.

Stuff gets a bit better when Mr. Otha Ellas Bates struts into the studio in a focused state of mind and starts recording a chunk of new material tailor-made for the LP itself. ʽMumblin' Guitarʼ is an instrumental built around one sole gimmick — make the guitar «mumble», as you guessed — and the result is a dirty, sludgy piece of controlled chaos that could seriously compete with Link Wray on a certain level. The other instrumental is ʽSpanish Guitarʼ: here, the Bo Diddley beat is indeed combined with an amusingly amateurish «Spanish guitar» part, although he still slips into blues and rock'n'roll modes every now and then. Not a masterpiece, but at least hearing Bo try out un­familiar musical styles on his guitar is more exciting than hearing him sing in unfamiliar music styles; I'd rather listen to him «ineptly» incorporating flamenco elements than lending his voice to doo-wop and soul interpretations.

Good stuff also includes ʽRun Diddley Daddyʼ, a fun pop-rocker that is not a musical sequel to ʽDiddley Daddyʼ, and ʽCome On Babyʼ, another fun pop-rocker that makes the best possible use of about five piano notes and three bass notes, or something like that. But there is also ʽDancing Girlʼ, with a much-too-easily recognizable variation on the Diddley beat (actually, it sounds like the exact mathematical average of ʽBo Diddleyʼ and ʽDiddley Daddyʼ), and a couple more re-writes... overall, the sessions did help to save face a bit, but not a lot. Two decent instrumentals, a bunch of scraps, re-writes, and variations does not a good album make, and it is little wonder that this particular one is rather hard to find on CD — and that the only song off it to regularly appear on compilations is ʽMonaʼ — and that we probably have Mick Jagger to thank for that — so thank you, Mick Jagger, but the album overall still gets a thumbs down.

1 comment:

  1. The other instrumental is ʽSpanish Guitarʼ: here, the Bo Diddley beat is indeed combined with an amusingly amateurish «Spanish guitar» part, although he still slips into blues and rock'n'roll modes every now and then.
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