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Monday, November 12, 2012

Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley's Beach Party


1) Memphis; 2) Gunslinger; 3) Hey Bo Diddley; 4) Old Smokey; 5) Bo Diddley's Dog; 6) I'm All Right; 7) Mr. Custer; 8) Bo's Waltz; 9) What's Buggin' You; 10) Road Runner.

Few of the great rockers of the 1950s lived long enough, to put out a great live rock'n'roll record. Not surprisingly, Bo Diddley's first live album was recorded almost at the same time as Jerry Lee Lewis' — with about a year's difference — and both were lucky enough to capture them still in their performing prime, even if no longer a vital critical and commercial presence. Bo Diddley's Beach Party certainly sounds like a crap name for a great rock'n'roll record, but what can you do if it was, actually, like, recorded at the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina? (At least it wasn't really recorded directly on the beach, as one could suggest from looking at the cover). The important thing is, it is actually Bo Diddley's finest album of the decade — worth every ounce of praise that has slowly, but steadily accumulated over it through the efforts of historically-oriented critics, like Ritchie Unterberger, Bruce Eder, and that annoying hipster next door.

Anyway, the sound is shitty (come to think of it, if this were recorded on a beach, right after a volleyball party, I wouldn't actually be surprised, but then again, this was 1963), the songs are nothing new, and neither Bo nor The Duchess have bothered to learn any dazzling new moves for the show, but that doesn't matter one little bit. What does matter is that this is the most «triba­l­istic»-sounding LP released up to that date — James Brown, fine as he is in so many other re­spects, does not even begin to come close. This is Mr. Bo doing his thang, leading the audience in a cult dance around the bonfire, never minding the melody as long as the groove is enough to keep the spirit (and the spirits) properly agitated. In fact, he doesn't even mind the lyrics — half of the songs have no words other than scattered howls, yells, and hollers, and even those that are supposed to have had some words, forget all about them (ʽRoadrunnerʼ). And who cares? We all know Bo Diddley can't sing anyway. That's not exactly why he was born into this world.

The setlist has practically nothing to do with Bo as a hitmaker — other than ʽRoadrunnerʼ, depri­ved of its lyrics (but featuring a funny little intro tidbit on the origins of the song), and ʽHey Bo Diddleyʼ, which is certainly not included here because it was a hit, most of the songs are not too well known, and, in fact, most of them just function as excuses for setting up a twin-guitar groove where, typically, The Duchess keeps up the grinding rhythm, and Bo either sends down his cas­cades of machine-gun fire against it or joins his «sister» in perfect, or intentionally non-perfect, sync. The approach does not differ much regardless of whether he is working on well-rehearsed chestnuts like ʽHey Bo Diddleyʼ or ʽGunslingerʼ, leading a «diddlified» take on fellow Chuck Berry's ʽMemphis Tennesseeʼ, or choosing a less distinctly African, but equally raucous power level on the rearrangement of ʽOld Smokeyʼ.

One tune that most people probably know off here is ʽI'm Alrightʼ, since the Stones got that one from Bo early on in their act, and turned it into one of their own live highlights throughout 1964-65. The difference is amusing, although, unfortunately, not exactly in Bo's balance: Bo does in­deed sound like «he's alright», simply giving himself and his listeners one more feel-good kick, whereas Jagger would often turn the song into something overtly psychotic, sometimes bordering on desperate — maybe not intentionally, but that's the way it turned out. Still, there is no getting away from the fact that the riff is pure Bo, and also that Jagger couldn't credibly «parrot» the way Bo does all that amicable hollering; in any way, it is more fun to just compare and spot the dif­ferences than to draw subjective judgements.

Bo is, first and foremost, an entertainer, and he does everything in his power to entertain — how­ling (quite authentically) on ʽBo Diddley's Dogʼ, luring the audiences into silly, «slumbery» wal­tzing before unexpectedly crashing back into the Diddley groove (ʽBo's Waltzʼ), slipping in jokes and anecdotes, making whatever funny guitar noises he can think of in 1963, etc. etc. But enter­tainment comes in different flavors, and this one is wilder, more reckless, and far more targeted at the «beast within» than just about anything there was at the time. Come to think of it, the natu­ralistic lo-fi sound is actually on Bo's side here — clean, clear sound separation would only help reveal the technical weaknesses; when it all sticks together, the guitars, bass, drums, and even Jerome Green's maracas become a testosteronic monster.

It is too bad that practically none of this was captured on film — Bo's TV appearances from the late 1950s / early 1960s are scarcer than hen's teeth, and he was notoriously «tamer» inside the TV studio than when hidden from the camera's eye. This particular show, on the contrary, is rumored to have been broken up by the cops when tension got too high (with Jerome Green all but stagediving into the crowds), and that certainly seems believable, as the whole show is no­thing but one large, crude, effective audience provocation. Total thumbs up to this little glimpse of the «rock'n'roll underground» in the pre-garage rock era (which it definitely influenced).

Check "Bo Diddley's Beach Party" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Bo Diddley's Beach Party" (MP3) on Amazon

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