Friday, April 30, 2010

The Black Gladiator

Before him, there was none. After him, none will be. We give you the great Bo Diddley.

When I first heard “I’m a Man” and other early Bo Diddley songs as a little kid, there was something about him that set him apart from folks like Chuck Berry. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly that was until years later. Then it hit me that, unlike Chuck Berry, Bo never really attempted to write songs that were palatable to typical white kids. Since we weren’t really the typical whitebread family, there was little chance of my relating to songs about being at school or riding around in my automobile with no particular place to go. I never learned how to goddamn drive anyway. Although I respect Chuck Berry’s influence and place in rock ‘n’ roll history; his approach has always been too whitewashed for me. In that respect, Bo Diddley was far more honest. He was unapologetically black at a time when being so would prevent airplay. The music had a primitive quality that most well-known rock bands of the time would probably prefer to avoid, lest the critics refer to them as “jungle music.” Many of the stories told in songs depicted his varying larger than life personas. Bo Diddley was the Gunslinger. The Lumberjack. He was 500% More Man. To me, he was the True King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, far more than Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and everyone else you could think of.

By the late ‘60s, it must have seemed like the ol’ Gunslinger’s time was passing by. Rock music was going psychedelic and it seemed like the whitebread teenagers who had grown up into hippies no longer had room on their radio for Bo’s primitive rhythms. So four years after his previous album, Bo Diddley entered the studio and reinvented himself for the a-changing times. The result was The Black Gladiator, in which the legendary guitarist adapted his patented “shave and a haircut, two bits” brand of blues to the funky grooves of newer bands like Sly & the Family Stone. Despite the idea that this album was merely following the trend of the time, I think The Black Gladiator is a musical example of an artist expanding one’s repertoire. Just to see what happens. For a true artist would not try to paint the same picture for the rest of a lifetime…and why not see if you can do it better than the rest?

Does Bo feel the funk better than Sly or P-Funk? Honestly? No, in the sense that he doesn’t deliver as many memorable musical moments as they have. Yet it is quite interesting to hear him catching up to artists that he obviously influenced. Unless you’re some snobby rock critic asshole, The Black Gladiator is fine residing in the second tier of funk albums. Don’t be one of those dudes here.


abdul alhazred said...

Excellent post, friend, I love this album and the similar stuff by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, etc. Many many people do not like this album but they are fools, with narrow minds and asses.

Roger Camden said...

I'm with abdul on this record and similar. Electric Mud is great. This is Howlin' Wolf's New Album and After the Rain are great. Even the psychedelic Chubby Checker album was pretty good.

Just as above: fools, asses.

The Evil Eye said...

I also really like the song "I'm High Again."