BO DIDDLEY: WHERE IT ALL BEGAN (1972)
1) I've Had It Hard; 2) Woman; 3) Look At Grandma; 4) A Good Thing; 5) Bad Trip; 6) Hey Jerome; 7) Infatuation; 8) Take It All Off; 9) Bo Diddley-itis.
Well, we have just very narrowly escaped from making the review for Britney Spears' ...Baby One More Time conclude the reviewing season of 2012 — a fairly creepy omen would that be. Instead, we are concluding it with something much more solid, if about three hundred times less known — the finest record that Bo Diddley got to cut in the studio over the third, and most underrated, decade of his artistic career.
By all means, Another Dimension was not a bad album, but neither was it really true to the Bo Diddley spirit, and after it predictably failed to sell, the people at Chess showed enough glimpses of intellect to let Bo go on and do his own thang once again — and that he did. Where It All Began is really a misleading title: usually, we expect them to be reserved for archival albums of early outtakes, or at least for straightforward nostalgic throwbacks. However, if there is a nostalgic throwback here, it is not too stretched out — the album returns to the steam-funk of Black Gladiator, and builds up from there. If anything, the title is rather an indirect hint that Bo Diddley, in 1972, if he really puts his back to it, can be just as kick-ass as he used to be fifteen years earlier. And you know what? I'm almost convinced.
The record is a little more polished and a little less noisy than Black Gladiator, and we see the classic old Bo Diddley beat return on a couple of numbers, so overall, Bo is taking fewer risks here. But the overall sound of Gladiator — heavy, deep, echoey, and quite modern — remains stable, and now it is being supported by cleaner, sharper production; guest appearances by drummer Johnny Otis on one track and guitarist Shuggie Otis on another; and fabulous backup vocal arrangements, with Connie Redmond at the head of the team, and she is good enough to even take the lead on ʽA Good Thingʼ — and bury poor little Bo deep in the ground in the process. (The man was careful enough not to let his backup singers take the spotlight most of the time — but every once in a while, still let down his guard).
Each side of the LP is dominated by a lengthy jam: ʽBad Tripʼ, true to its name, is a devoted exercise in acid funk, whereas ʽBo Diddley-itisʼ is somewhat more traditional — faster, sloppier, and tribalistic. Both, however, are excellent by their own standards. ʽBad Tripʼ features six minutes of aggressive and surprisingly complex guitar pyrotechnics (courtesy of Bo himself and second guitarist Tom Thompson) — if played sufficiently loud, the track compares quite favorably to contemporary Funkadelic workouts. And ʽBo Diddley-itisʼ is just a wild party freakout — now, in 1972, Bo can finally allow himself to stretch out without any serious limits in the studio, in a manner that, in the 1950s and 1960s, had to be reserved for local club gigs.
In between, we have lots of shorter, catchier, sunnier «funk-pop» numbers, often with interesting guitar themes — so interesting, in fact, that one cannot help but wonder how in the world did Bo manage to stay away so completely from exploring new note sequences throughout most of the 1960s. Yes, so ʽI've Had It Hardʼ starts things out on a more than familiar note of «chug, chu-chu-chug-chug, CHUG CHUG», but even there the second guitar plays something more melodic and curious over Bo's basic rhythm, while the girls in the back invent a new way of chanting "diddley bo diddley bo diddley bo diddley bo diddley".
Then there is ʽWomanʼ, pinned to a wobbly «post-bluesy» riff that would not be out of place on a Television record (yes, they did something quite similar for ʽMarquee Moonʼ); the fantastically catchy, hilarious ʽLook At Grandmaʼ, again dominated by the girls' harmonies; the gritty twin-guitar jam on ʽHey Jeromeʼ; a not-half-bad take on the sunny soul side with ʽInfatuationʼ; and Bo strutting his macho stuff with ʽTake It All Offʼ — again, a song not at all memorable for its «dirty» vocalization, but rather for the excellent guitar/bass/back vocals interplay.
In fact, amazing as it seems, there is not a single weak cut on the record. Perhaps it cannot really compete in flimsy terms of «relevance» with the big black music of the day — perhaps it is nohere near as far out as Funkadelic, really, and perhaps the rhythms and the riffs are mostly «old-school», because, well, one cannot demand of a Fifties idol that he completely re-learn his craft with every new decade. But on its own terms, Where It All Began shows no signs of weariness — every note is punched out with religious enthusiasm, and the entire team shows wonders of group coordination. A heavily underrated groovy jam masterpiece here — dig it out and learn how to surprise your local hipster parties. Thumbs up.