Bo Diddley
 
Monday, June 02, 2008
 
BO DIDDLEY-ITIS
Bo Diddley
Where It All Began
Chess : 1972
[Out of Print]

Bo Diddley, who died Monday at the age of 79, must have seemed square even in 1960: thick-framed glasses, rectangular guitar, black hat. He was probably the most conservative of the early rock stars who crossed over from R&B or country -- maybe Carl Perkins was -- in part because his persona was slow to evolve, or he was slow to evolve his persona, and in part because his musical formula, at least on the hits that made (and gave him) his name was more hidebound than that of his contemporaries. By the mid sixties, he was done making hits, off the charts for good. And yet, like Little Richard, like Jerry Lee Lewis, like Chuck Berry, some of his most interesting and committed music appeared in the early seventies. There was "The Black Gladiator," on which Bo was refashioned as a funk pioneer, which was not quite true and not quite successful but fascinating enough that the record has become prized by collectors. There were the cover versions of rock hits retrofit with the Bo Diddley beat, including a clutch of Creedence Clearwater Revival compositions. And then there was "Where It All Began," from 1972, overseen by the blues historian and producer Pete Welding and the R&B bandleader and innovator Johnny Otis. Released on Chess at a time when Chess no longer meant much, the record found Bo tearing into a set of new songs with more than simple professionalism, from the slinky and vaguely Latin "Woman" to "Look At Grandma," which is a not-very-poor cousin of Howard Tate's "Look At Granny Run Run." The best song on the album is its last song, "Bo Diddley-itis," which revives the Bo Diddley beat in a funk-freakout context to great effect. Bo lived another thirty-five years; released a number of other studio records, some lackluster, some redundant, some strong; played countless live shows, some seminal; was reintroduced to a new generation thanks to his commercials with Bo Jackson; became a founding father of rock-and-roll with dignity; grew old; grew ill; died. While most of the obituaries will point to "Bo Diddley" or "Bring it To Jerome" or "Who Do You Love" or "Mona," here, we're pointing to the disease, Bo Diddley-itis, which is also the cure. The record, like the man, is out of print.

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