Sunday, June 08, 2008

Greatest Rhythm Guitar Player Bo Diddley died Monday

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Bo Diddley died Monday. There are probably some competitive flamenco cats that I am not aware of - but I would rate him greatest rhythm guitar player of all time. The guitar as percussive motivator in his hands was total banshee force, but full of invention. He also had a lyrical approach that was in its turn incredibly rhythmic and original and also humorous.

Mona, Who Do You Love, You Cant Judge a Book, Road Runner .. so many numbers that were part of my best days. He created a foundational style of rocknroll and he did so by reinventing the instrument called the guitar.

Who would say he did not have his hand on the pulse of his time as much as the Nasa astronauts or the Beats?

Say Man, Mumbles, Ride on Josephine, Cadillac, Cops and Robbers. His super session with Muddy Waters and Little Walter. An all instrumental Checker record of his I used to have. Certainly unique. Some good articles have traced his tremendous influence. Let me add a few: The Doors doing Who Do you Love; the Cryan Shames doing Cadillac; The Shadows of Knight doing You Cant Tell a Book; the complete oo-vra of the the QuickSilver Messenger Service. Eerie the Garage that was Bo!

Bur greatest of all: His influence on the Velvet Underground, the kings of the garage. I know that Sterling Morrison mentioned him as an influence. But no question that Lou Reed too, picked up on his modus.

Bo Diddley was early [1955] to adopt an effect box enhancement to his basic beat often heavy Open E guitar playing. This box was the DeArmond 60 Tremolo Control. Like Les Paul and others he worked dutifully to explored the circuitry of the electronic music domain and found what worked for him.

He applied the tremolo to the Bo Diddley Beat [his shave-and-a-haircut clave beat] and it sort of moved it up a notch. Added echo. Lawrence Welk and a generation of Hawaiian guitar players – not to mention slide players like Elmore James – have applied the tremblin tremolo echo to great effect. Bo applied it wondrous Diddley Bo waves.

We caught Bo Diddley for the fist time at Milwaukee SummerFest on Dick Clark’s 1972 Let the Good Time Roll tour with no less than the Coaster, the Drifters, Little Richard and Chuck Berry sharing the bill. It was a raised stage, about 20 feet fronted by a ditch and a chain link fence and he was talking between sets and singing autographs from his side of the fence. I was into conspiracy in those days. And when he mentioned being hounded by the police for a tryst he’d had: I asked if he thought, given the time Chuck Berry spent in Leavenworth, if the Government was not specifically intent on shutting down rocknroll by any means available. What a dolt was eye.

He looked at me skeptically. Then said. ‘Well I don’t know but where was her mother when she was on the street at 2 am the night before?’ Practical was Bo! His tryst klatch was a conniving mother’s blackmailish trap. I buy that. By this time, yunderstand, Bo had moved to New Mexico and become a Deputy Sheriff, the badge, you can be sure, coming in handy when his Cadillacs were perniciously pulled over.

Last time I saw him – Harpers Ferry, Boston, the late 90s - and his hard earned suspicion was on display as he repeatedly claimed to be the one father of rap. He could still churn the beat and let if fly for long spells, and even still take the time and sit down with the mortified pick up drummer and explain the beat in front of all.

His son said he was working on a gospel record when he died down in Florida. Funny, so was Slim! Ever on a gospel record that wasn’t to be. The great bluesmen’s music contains the chords of the church.. but it can be hard for them to extract that strain and show it full. Bo had played violin, taught by the Ebenezer Baptists in Chicago for 5 long years; so it was in him. Too, he was always in the same land as the Florida Spiritualist Slide players. Celestial Harmonics, while you wait. The gospel record want to be but it was out there.. it was in the music .. in the Bo Diddley mix, wasn’t it?

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