BO DIDDLEY: BO DIDDLEY IS A GUNSLINGER (1960)
1) Gun Slinger; 2) Ride On Josephine; 3) Doing The Crawdaddy; 4) Cadillac; 5) Somewhere; 6) Cheyenne; 7) Sixteen Tons; 8) Whoa Mule; 9) No More Lovin'; 10) Diddling; 11*) Working Man; 12*) Do What I Say; 13*) Prisoner Of Love; 14*) Googlia Moo; 15*) Better Watch Yourself.
The first of several «Bo Diddley is a...» type of records, starting out in an almost «conceptual» manner and then proceeding in whatever non-conceptual directions the original concept might have pushed the music. In other words — a nice pretext here for Mr. Bo to show off in some nice Western gear on the front cover. But whaddaya want, The Magnificent Seven came out that year, after all, and why shouldn't Afro-American rock'n'rollers have loved it, too?
The good news is: Ennio Morricone was not yet working with Sergio Leone, so there is no danger of hearing Bo try out his own interpretation of ʽThe Good, The Bad, And The Uglyʼ. The bad news is that the proposed scenario might have been — who knows? — more exciting than hear Bo slap on a lyrical, attitud-inal, and, sometimes, musical country-western sheen on everything we'd already heard before. The ugly news, then, to dispense with the trio, is that this album contains what might be the worst cover of ʽSomewhere Over The Rainbowʼ ever recorded by a human being. (At least, in the pre-1980s era.)
But cheer up: in the end, Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger is a pretty funny concept, and a fairly exciting musical ride. What I mean is, anybody who appreciates, say, Weird Al Yankovic's bag of parody tricks, has no reason to cringe at the idea of Bo Diddley expropriating other people's ideas, adapting them to his own playing style, and coming out with something that is a shameless rip-off and a hilarious parody at the same time. The most important thing, though, is the humor and the playfulness of it all. If you have something against playing with Uncle Bo, stay away. If you're willing to accept the Gunslinger's rules, though... excitement awaits, crude as it may be.
The title track ever so slightly modifies the Bo Diddley beat (actually, the drums play without syncopation, whereas the guitars still syncopate, and this creates a slightly irritating, but clever aural effect) to give us another episode of ʽThe Story Of Bo Diddleyʼ, this time set at the «O-K Corral». After that, Western references float away, only to resurface on ʽCheyenneʼ, which is basically a synthesis — literally! — of the Coasters' ʽAlong Came Jonesʼ (again!) and LaVern Baker's ʽJim Dandyʼ, taking the "and then?"s from the former and the "waaah-oooh"s from the latter. Both are classics of the comedy-R'n'B substyle, and the synthesis works much better than a separate cover of each would have had — and what is that «bubbling» percussion? Sounds just like certain patterns of electronic drums circa early 1980s. Later on, it reappears on ʽWhoa Mule (Shine)ʼ, a stop-and-start blues-pop account of a Southern mule, where its clippity-clop does resemble a mule's slow, steady pace, instead of the light horsey gallop on ʽCheyenneʼ. Clever!
The most often covered songs on the record would probably be ʽRide On Josephineʼ (George Thorogood had a version) — a Diddley-style rewrite of Chuck Berry's ʽMaybelleneʼ, with a different chorus but essentially the same verses; and ʽCadillacʼ, done by the Kinks on their debut album — here, with a saxophone-adorned arrangement, which Gene Barge contributes in well-imitated King Curtis style. Again, though, it is not the saxophone itself that matters (we can all just go listen to the real King instead), but its interplay with the distorted lumps, shards, and splinters of sound spluttered by Bo and his second guitarist (Peggy Jones) in all directions. And then there is ʽSixteen Tonsʼ by Merle Travis, a track that Ed Sullivan, for some reason, once expected Bo to perform on his show, and got pretty upset when the man played ʽBo Diddleyʼ instead. Don't worry, Mr. Sullivan — Bo Diddley takes his responsibilities seriously. A five-year wait period is actually quite a sign of respect. And it's a nice cover, too.
Overall, the only true misfires are the ballads — once again, Bo proves that he's no ladies' man when it comes to wearing your heart on your sleeve: ʽNo More Lovinʼ is clumsy, rotten doo-wop, and ʽSomewhere...ʼ ... oh my God. (Then again, I never even liked that song in the movie — and I never really liked the movie — and I never ever liked a single cover of that song — and for some reason, Eric Clapton performed it live during my only live Eric Clapton experience — okay, I'm probably not the right person to pronounce judgement in this case).
But apart from that, Gunslinger is an oddball of an album in that it is not all that different in scope or freshness from the two that precede it, but somehow, is still hammered together in a more concise, exciting, and intriguing manner. Not surprisingly, unlike those two, Gunslinger has been remastered and issued on CD, with a bunch of bonus tracks (of which the wannabe-ancient road workin' song ʽWorking Manʼ is the finest), and is well worth locating. Thumbs up.
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