By 1970 Bo Diddley was looking lost.His last album ‘The Originator’ had been released four years previously and was by-and-large a weak collection which was reflected in sales. Two subsequent blues super-group efforts (‘Super Blues’ and ‘Super Super Blues Band’) were collections of each others songs recorded by Diddley, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Little Walter amongst others, in what were little more than water-treading exercises. Then in 1970 Bo released ‘The Black Gladiator’, the first of four albums which incorporated much of the current rock and soul influences and gave it a unique spin. Heavy reverb on the guitar, psychedelic Hammond work-outs, a driving, funky rhythm section and Bo’s testifying vocal stylings are the trademarks of this period of his career (as well as the peculiar back cover photo, featuring Bo in some kind of bondage harness!). The first five tracks on this compilation are from ‘The Black Gladiator’ album-as fuzzed-up and filthy a collection of grooves you’ll find this side of James Brown jamming with The Sonics. A particular favourite is ‘I Don’t Like You’, with Bo attempting operatic vocalising.
The follow-up ‘Another Dimension’ had Bo covering John Fogerty (thrice!!!), The Band and even Elton John, not altogether successfully. The production on these tracks is a lot smoother, and even though Bo’s playing is top-notch, the album is as close to middle-of-the-road as you’d want him to get, what with the 70’s-style backing vocals and the polishing of a lot of the rougher, more attractive edges. This seems to be Chess’ attempt to tailor Bo for a mainstream audience, but in doing so they neutered all the things which made him exciting in the first place. For me the best track is the breakbeat-tastic ‘Go For Broke’, a funky instrumental jam with Bo taking on first the piano and then the horns in a battle of skills.
Thankfully by next year Mr Diddley had got his ‘Bo-jo’ working again, with six tracks from the ‘Where It All Began’ album. Kicking off with the, er, Bo Diddley-esque stomp of ‘I’ve Had It Hard’ Bo revisited the groove with his name on it. Shuggie Otis brings some killer licks and a face-melting solo to ‘Bad Trip’ and the overall vibe is much looser and funkier than the previous album: a step in the right direction. Bo embraces his inner metro-sexuality with the transvestite-loving ‘Take It All Off’ and the party vibe of ‘Bo-Diddleyitis’ brings the original album to an up-tempo close.
‘Big Bad Bo’, the last album covered by this comp, contains both the blaxploitation-theme-that-shoulda-been in ‘Bite You’ and the much-sampled brass-driven ‘Hit Or Miss’, and the album ends with Bo’s take on Curtis/Marvin/Baby Huey-style social consciousness with ‘Stop The Pusher’.
While Bo Diddley is rightly regarded as one of the crucial pioneers of rock n roll, the period covered by this album has been unjustly slated by purists in the past: purists who believe that making the same record over and over is the way to do things. If you’re a purist and a snob you miss out on stuff like this: there is only one example of the one thing which Bo originated, the ‘Bo Diddley’ beat used by everyone from Buddy Holly to Johnny Marr: instead it is full of (for the most part) funked-up grooves, primitive guitar riffs and solos, and progtastic Hammond organ.
This is (for the most part) a great compilation by a true original from a neglected part of his career-grab it if you see it and wallow in it’s own brand of funkiness.