BO DIDDLEY: BIG BAD BO (1974)
1) Bite You; 2) He's Got All The Whiskey; 3) Hit Or Miss; 4) You've Got A Lot Of Nerve; 5) Stop The Pusher; 6) Evelee; 7) I've Been Workin'.
This one is sometimes called Bo's «jazz album», mainly because some of the session players here were relatively big names on the jazz market, and a very strong brass presence is felt on most of the tracks. However, there are no «jazz» compositions on here as such — most of it is the same old funk that Bo had practiced all over the early Seventies, with a bit of B. B. King-ish «blues-de-luxe» thrown in for good (actually, bad) measure. And there is no need to feel disappointed: Bo Diddley feels at home with funky grooves, yet whether he would feel equally at home trying to make his Bitches Brew remains questionable. Fortunately, perhaps, we shall never know.
There are only seven tracks this time, and it does not help the album that the longest one, ʽEveleeʼ, is a slow 12-bar blues that we really do not need from Bo — the vocals are powerful, but blunt, the harmonica player, walking in the footsteps of Little Walter, seems to be too small to take a peek out of the footprint, and the rest of the arrangement is nothing that B. B. King's backing band could not do just as well or much better. The fact that it takes its time so leisurely is strongly indicative of filler — and bizarre, since danceable funky grooves that take their time are not only more understandable and enjoyable, but are right up Bo's alley as well.
Because, other than ʽEveleeʼ, the other six tracks are all welcome additions to the catalog — particularly ʽBite Youʼ, which could arguably be called Bo's last genuine Chess classic. Playing the big bad (horny) wolf to a snappy funky bassline as the brass machine works it out like a newbuilt factory — this may not be as delightfully psycho-chaotic as the best stuff on Black Gladiator, but it still totally ranks in overall body temperature with whatever James Brown was doing at the time (although, presumably, Bo's backing band is a little less fluent).
There is also a noble, and surprisingly gritty, anti-drug diatribe (ʽStop The Pusherʼ) that sounds totally believable — Bo's "don't buy, and the pusher will die" is probably as straightforward and anthemic as he ever advanced with instructive social statements, and it is tied to a harsh and lean, «we-really-mean-business» bass/guitar interplay that helps drive the point home. Remember this, kids: if you wanna make a musical social statement that bites, make sure it's really a musical social statement, and an interesting one, not just a variation on «Just Say No» set to the melody of ʽHoochie Coochie Manʼ or something like that.
Bobby Charles' ʽHe's Got All The Whiskeyʼ is saved from monotonousness by nice guitar and bass flourishes all over the place (in terms of whatever the bass guitar is doing here, it is probably the jazziest number on here); ʽYou've Got A Lot Of Nerveʼ is optimistic R&B with a bit of a pub flavor — just the kind of music that Ray Davies was pushing for so hard in his Everybody's In Show-Biz period, except that Bo rules it far more masterfully; and ʽI've Been Workin'ʼ finishes the album with a little «bleak soul», on a more ominous and desperate note than everything else — for the most part, Big Bad Bo is either uplifting, or humorous, or both, but this last number lays on some brassy and bass-y darkness; and there is something ironic, I guess, that the last track on Bo's last album for Chess bears the title of ʽI've Been Workin'ʼ and a slight aura of depression — seeing as how it has been more than a decade since he had his last bit of commercial success with the label. On the other hand, it makes no sense to read too much sense in any single Bo Diddley track: the man was not exactly known for being a master of subtle nuances.
Anyway, thumbs up for Big Bad Bo — a winner both in terms of spirit and impressive, if not utterly jaw-dropping, musicianship, and not a bad way to say goodbye to the label that had been Bo's home for twenty years. It is a little sad that, after all, this «funky renaissance» period, so healthy to Bo's own persona and sounding so doggone underrated from the point of view of the 21st century, never caught on with the public back in its own time — but, apparently, playing good music was not enough: you had to build yourself up the appropriate image to go with that, something that James Brown was still capable of doing, but not ol' Bo, whose rectangular guitar and sexy female sidekicks were just about as far as he was willing to go in the visual entertainment department. Maybe a boa constrictor around the neck would have helped — unfortunately, no snake could properly withstand being shook up by the Diddley beat.