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Monday, October 29, 2012

Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley & Company


1) (Extra Read All About) Ben; 2) Help Out; 3) Diana; 4) Bo's A Lumber Jack; 5) Lazy Women; 6) Mama Mia; 7) Rock­'n'Roll; 8) Gimme Gimme; 9) Put The Shoes On Willie; 10) Pretty Girl; 11) Same Old Thing; 12) Met You On Saturday; 13) Little Girl; 14) Cookie Headed Diddley.

In the footsteps of Peggy Jones, we welcome Norma-Jean Wofford, a.k.a. «The Duchess», a.k.a. «The Sister», as Bo used to present her on tour, even though she was in reality more like a god­daughter; apparently, Bo taught her his playing style himself when she was still underage. The two cut a fine, dashing pair for the European market — the cover photo alone does the job nicely, and even The Animals were so impressed that they included a Duchess reference in their tribute (ʽThe Story Of Bo Diddleyʼ — they, apparently, did fall for the «sister» story). And yes, indeed, few things on Earth were hotter than watching Norma-Jean swing that axe next to her mentor, in some provocative outfit or other, on a mid-1960s TV show.

In the studio, though, it did not work out that well: The Duchess was about as good as Peggy Jo­nes, offering steady choppy support whenever it seemed appropriate to Bo to go off on a wild tangent, but she never had any ambitions (or, perhaps, any ability) to go beyond whatever she was taught by the main man. Their interplay on such numbers as ʽHelp Outʼ sounds fabulous, but not exactly fresh, and the same goes for the overall judgement on the record.

The only song here that really swung over some of the British fans was ʽPretty Girlʼ, later co­vered by the Yardbirds on Five Live — good choice, one of the fastest and catchiest ditties here, completely guitar-driven, rather than, for instance, ʽLazy Womenʼ, which gives the piano a more prominent function. Bad news is, Bo seems to finally be running out even of variations on the old chord progressions; and his overseas fans were hardly ready to fall under the charm of songs that emphasize the lyrics and the comic vibe over the music.

Modest successes and surprises would include ʽDianaʼ, sort of a wild, over-the-top revival of ʽMonaʼ (actually, more of a vocal / instrumental cross between ʽMonaʼ and ʽBo Diddleyʼ); ʽBo's A Lumber Jackʼ, a swaggery, swampy rap punctuated by atmospheric tricks — evil laughter, per­cussive imitation of falling trees, wild screams of "TIMBER!" and other stuff that was sort of far out for the likes of 1963; and ʽRock'n'Rollʼ, which honors its title by limiting itself to just one line ("I love myself some rock'n'roll") — then, at some point, Bo launches into scat singing and gets himself rudely interrupted ("hey baby, that's not rock'n'roll, that's JAZZ!..") Diddley humor. No, I mean, it was funny back in its day, honest. With some reservations, it's even funny today.

Other than that and minus a couple lowlights (such as the rote balladry of ʽMet You On Satur­dayʼ), this is just another reliable, but less and less memorable Bo Diddley album. Which is a little sad, because if only the man's rambunctious spirit could still be tied to inventive songwriting in 1963, he could easily have become that one particular rocker to survive the transition into the early 1960s — virtually no one in the States rocked as hard at the time (admittedly, that was the reason why he preferred Europe). But somehow, «the originator» must have thought that he had totally paid his dues in «originating» — or, perhaps, that bringing in such a hot figure as The Du­chess could count as «originating» in itself. Well, who knows.

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