Bo Diddley’s in Heaven
For obvious reasons, I’m listening to Bo Doddley’s Beach Party today.
I know that Ellis McDaniel has been the subject of some fine compilations (stop reading this and buy The Chess Box immediately), but I want to celebrate this album’s awesome grunge. Forget The Kingsmen on Campus, forget Nuggets. This live album is the most delightfully primitive rock’n’roll album ever. Recorded during two hot nights in July 1963 at the Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Bo Diddley’s Beach Party is Bo at his most brazen and caustic, despite the safe-for-a-white-audience album cover. The sound quality lies somewhere below horrible, with vocals and instruments sliding in and out of earshot; even Diddley’s legendary rectangular guitar settles in the murk from time to time.
But what never sinks from center stage is Bo Diddley’s barbed-wire presence. He never ventures from his unshakable boasts — “Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger,” “Hey Bo Diddley,” “Bo Diddley’s Dog,” and “Bo’s Waltz” suggest the relative breadth of his interests. (No doubt that Universal, which owns the Chess catalog, is sitting on a tape of “Bo Diddley Is God.”) Bo is in love with himself, all right, but he is more in love with music. Specifically, he’s enamored of the electrified shave-and-a-haircut/two-bits stomp that he gave rock’n’roll and which subsequently has been picked up by everyone from Buddy Holly to Chrissie Hynde. Ben Vaughn cut a tune to Bo’s beat called “I’m Not Bo Diddley.” No one argued.
So all here reduces to beat. “What’s buggin’ you?” he asks as a throwaway deep into Side Two. “Well, knock it off.”
Amusing consumer note: Long out of print, the version of Bo Diddley’s Beach Party I have is a Japanses vinyl reissue, including a riotous lyric sheet that translates the line “Bo Diddley at the O.K. Corral” as “My poor Lily and ol’ Greg Morell.” Words don’t matter, though. Bo’s beat speaks in all languages.