FOR THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE: By Buddy Blue
Food for thought: a roll call of dead rock stars from the '60s - '90s would fill an entire book, but most of rock & roll's actual founders from the '50 are still here with us, including but not limited to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, James Brown, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lloyd Price, Johnny Otis, Etta James, the Everly Brothers, Ruth Brown, Wanda Jackson, Link Wray, Billy Lee Riley, Duane Eddy - and, of course, big, bad, bodacious Bo Diddley.
The phenomenon of the architectural rockers' longevity isn't lost on Diddley, who remains an extraordinarily hale and hearty figure at age 76. In an interview last week, Diddley, who appears at the Belly-Up Tavern tonight, railed against the fact that he and many of his fellow founders remain underworked and underpaid in modern times.
"None of them get their just, and I'm upset about it," he says. "I don't know what this crap they're playing is today, but it ain't rock & roll. Somebody jumped on the bandwagon that was already rolling, and they getting a free ride. You got cats that ain't got but a few years in the business and they're big shots, but a lot of them just copied my stuff."
And so let us now pause to bestow propers upon the venerable cabeza of Bo Diddley, for this is the right thing to do. Of all the rock & roll originators, his sound was most unique. The Bo Diddley jungle beat -- chunka-chunka-chunka...ka-chunk-chunk! -- was an audio autograph, identifiable two measures into most any of his records. Diddley's tremolo-and-reverb-drenched guitar sound anticipated both surf rock and psychedelia; his warts-'n'-all primitivism and manic energy provided a map for punk rock, and he's rivaled only by Berry in how many of his compositions went on to become endlessly-covered classics in the rock & roll canon.
And why not? Aside from Diddley's throbbing sound, his lyrics exude wonderfully oily braggadocio of his prowess as a man, spelled M-A-N, chile! A perusal of his album titles over the years tells the story: "Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger," "Bo Diddley Is a Lover," "500% More Man," "Boss Man," "The Black Gladiator," "Big Bad Bo," "A Man Amongst Men." Dozens of artists have appropriated the Diddley design to score hits of their own (see sidebar), but none of them were nearly so mannish as Bo about it all in the process.
"Some of 'em did a really good job of copying my music and some destroyed it," he says. "It's all okay. I love everybody who did them. I don't wanna say who I thought did a good job, 'cause that's not fair to the other people."
How Diddley arrived at his sound, though, is something even the man himself can't precisely describe.
"I dunno man, but it's like this: I grew up playing classical violin and then I started beating around on the guitar when I was about fifteen," he says. "My music teacher didn't think that was so cute, and my mother hated it. I listened to John Lee Hooker when I had a chance, but Mother didn't allow that mess. She was a Sunday school teacher and a hardcore Baptist: 'Don't you turn that stuff on in here, boy!' She listened to gospel music and I get that religious feel in some of my stuff.
"I couldn't play like Muddy Waters so I had to leave him alone and figure out how to do my own thing. Muddy Waters was too rough for me, he was a bad man! I didn't have no idea that I was gonna become who I am, man. I was just going my own way. I wanted to be different, that was all I knew. I figured one Roy Rogers was enough and one Muddy Waters was enough, so I wanted to create something I could say is mine."
But was it really his? For years, Diddley has been embroiled in unsuccessful litigation to receive royalties from his classic Chess recordings of the '50s and '60s, not to mention the crowded catalog of unauthorized Diddley re-issue albums that have been released over the years. It's a battle that's left him understandably embittered.
"I ain't never seen a dollar from any of that mess," he storms. "America has got a sickness, a disease.
This is a beautiful country and I love it and I'm an American, but there's a lot of stuff that's unjust going on. Ain't no equal justice for all. It's economics, it's the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is for thugs. If you didn't do something, you don't deserve to be rewarded for it -- period."
Diddley remained amazingly prolific throughout his career until the past decade; he hasn't released a new album since 1996 due to his distrust of record labels, but he's hoping to make a recorded comeback soon, on his own terms.
"It's my own choice not to do any recording right now," he says. "I don't wanna sign anything with no label. If I'm gonna put my name on a piece of paper, it's gonna have to be a big piece of paper, know what I'm saying? But I'm coming back. I can't say exactly when, but I have a website I'm gonna launch, and I'll probably be doing all my stuff through my website. If I don't sell my records, I'll know they're right there in the back room, dig?"
Yep, the old-timer is taking a page from the DIY ethic of today's indie rock and rap scenes. In fact, Bo's a big fan of hip hop - with one glaring caveat: "I don't like the dirty lyrics in rap," he says. "We have a code of decency and morals here in America, and our morals are being shot to hell. I don't care who doesn't like me saying this, it's just not right. I'm not being old-fashioned - right is right and wrong is wrong."
Ironically, Diddley's own music was frequently damned as indecent back in the day, but Diddley says the difference is that he never used a single word of profanity in any of his recordings. There's still that undeniable little matter of sexual innuendo that runs throughout most of his music, though.
"What, songs like 'I'm A Man?'" he asks incredulously. "Well, I sure 'nuff ain't no chick, okay?" Bo Diddley, June 23 at Belly Up Tavern, 143 Cedros in Solana Beach, 8 PM, $35, (858) 481-8140. Sidebar 1: BO DIDDLEY'S FIVE GREATEST SONGS
1.) "Who Do You Love"
I walked 47 miles of barbed wire, use a cobra snake for a necktie Got a brand new house on the roadside made from rattlesnake hide, Got a brand new chimney made on top, made out of human skull, Now come on take a walk with me, Arlene Tell me -- who do you love? If there's ever been a cooler rock & roll lyric than this, I don't even wanna think about it!
2.) "Say Man"/"Say Man (Back Again)"/"Signifyin' Blues" In this knee-slapping trilogy of Bo and maraca-man Jerome Green playing the dozens to a hypnotic/psychotic voodoo beat, the world is graced with such immortal lines as: "You look like you got whooped with a ugly stick!" "That's alright; my momma didn't have to put a sheet on my head so sleep could slip up on me!" And best of all: "I heard you got a new job - standing outside a doctor's office, making people sick!"
3.) "I'm A Man" The first song released by our hero (as a B-Side to "Bo Diddley") later became a career-making hit for the Yardbirds, not to mention being covered by Jimi Hendrix, the Who, MC5, Iggy, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, among others. Most telling of its greatness, though, is that the tune also became a signature number for Bo's own hero, Muddy Waters, who re-titled it "Mannish Boy."
4.) "Hey! Bo Diddley" A reprise of "Bo Diddley," sped up to demented mach speed and harboring a chaotic call and response vocal that sounds like a church choir pumped full of amphetamines.
5.) "I Can Tell" The greasy groove of this blues stroll is so filled with the scent of lust and rage and paranoia, it's all enough to make Otis Rush beg for mercy.
Sidebar 2: FIVE ESSENTIAL BO DIDDLEY KNOCK-OFFS
1.) "Willie & The Hand Jive," by the Johnny Otis Show Otis' career pre-dates Diddley's by a decade, but he knew a good thing when he heard it: JO's "Hand Jive," a 1958 hit, sounds as much like Diddley as Diddley himself; it didn't hurt that, very much in the spirit of Bo, "Hand Jive's" lyrics were sodden with sex, even if the sex in question was with one's own self.
2.) "Not Fade Away," by the Rolling Stones Buddy Holly's 1957 original was a clear nod to Bo; the Stones' 1964 cover upped the Diddley-fication quotient with a roaring version much closer to the master's muse than Holly's more gentle translation.
3.) "Mickey's Monkey," by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles Smokey's 1964 hit was cleverly disguised as a soul rave-up for the ages, but listen carefully and the Bo Diddley beat becomes as unmistakable as it is omnipresent.
4.) "I Want Candy," by Bow Wow Wow Brooklyn garage rockers the Strangeloves originally recorded this BoHomage in 1965; it somehow seemed even more apropos as sung by Bow Wow Wow's Lolita-like Annabella Lwin on the group's 1981 cover.
5.) "Bad To The Bone," by George Thorogood & the Destroyers If you're gonna go ahead and brazenly cop "I'm A Man" and re-title it "Bad To The Bone," I suppose the only decent thing to do is hire Diddley to appear in your video, as Thorogood did in 1982. That said, I'm not too sure anyone was buying into the concept of Thorogood besting Diddley at pool - or anything else, for that matter.
>>>>>>>>> By Buddy Blue
"Who's this Donovan?" demands a surly Bob Dylan. "He's a very good guitar player - better than you," replies the Animals' Alan Price. "I hate him already," Dylan says. Donovan-bashing runs throughout "Don't Look Back," the film documentary of Dylan's 1965 British
tour. Donovan's debut album, "What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid," was new on the stands, and the young folksinger was widely being proclaimed the New Dylan of the hour by the media.
In an ugly but climactic scene later in the film, Donovan, Dylan and a very starstruck, inebriated cast of Dylan-toadies lounge in a hotel room. Donovan croons his slavishly Dylan-derivative ditty, "To Sing For You," for the assemblage; Dylan counters by picking up the guitar and performing an intensely scornful rendition of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" while smirking directly at Donovan, whose own facial expression and body language betray a sort of degradation to make all who witness it feel exceedingly ill at ease.
It's to Donovan's eternal credit that he ever recovered from this personal, professional and very public humiliation; it certainly would have been easier to crawl into a hole and disappear forever. Yet recover he did, summarily moving on from the early Bob-shtick to record a long string of hits which included classic folk anthems ("Catch The Wind," "Colours" "Universal Soldier"); lilting pop sonnets ("Jennifer Juniper," "Lalena," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven,") and starry-eyed psychedelia ("Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow," "Hurdy Gurdy Man").
Perhaps more importantly, Donovan remained a very likeable sort throughout the years, which is more than can be said of the musical schoolyard bully Dylan; truly a jerk's jerk. Guess what else? Donovan was a better guitar player than Dylan all along; this was borne out when I saw him in concert in 1996, to be surprised and delighted by the man's undervalued musicianship, engaging stage presence, knack for yarn-spinning and continued excellence as a singer/songwriter.
Yet for all his success in the '60s and '70s, Donovan - nee Donovan Leitch in 1946 - has been underestimated and all but forgotten since his commercial glory days; buried in the sands of time like some elfin, embarrassing relic of the hippie era that the collective pop consciousness would just as soon disregard.
This is partially Donovan's own fault - his fey, mystic flower-child posturing, replete with flowing robes and daisies in the hair, was difficult to endure in contemporaneous times; with modern hindsight, his image seems evermore the ludicrous cliché - and extra curious when taking into account that Donovan hails from Glasgow, a city perhaps rivaled only by Tijuana for the premium its male denizens place on machismo.
At the time I saw him in concert, Donovan was touring in support of his wonderful album, "Sutras," a Rick Rubin-produced reclamation project that went unnoticed in the wake of Rubin's concurrent Johnny Cash renovation; for all its merit, "Sutras" wasn't gonna compete with the Man In Black's comeback.
So what to make of the reasons why Donovan's latest, "Beat Café," hasn't generated much juice despite being arguably his career-best effort? Dark, jazzy and funky; experimental yet oddly cohesive; it's the sort of album that wunderkinds like Beck and trendy elder statesmen like Tom Waits receive slavering critical hosannas for producing, yet as a Donovan release, it's been predictably ignored.
Perhaps Donavan shall simply never be forgiven his past dorkiness or the mortal sin of his advancing age, but "Beat Café" is a release to cherish and marvel at. In fact, I'd go so far as to assay it as an equally listenable yet less derivative album than Dylan's celebrated "Love And Theft" of a few years back; who's smirking now?
In short, it ain't all over yet, baby blue; check out Donovan with Dick Dale Tuesday night at the Del Mar Fair and re-discover one of the most neglected yet still valuable artists of our time.
Donovan, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; Grandstand Stage, San Diego County Fair, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar; free with fair admission; (858) 755-1161.
BLUE NOTES By Buddy Blue
It's a fine week in San Diego to check out a pair o' smokin' bluesmen who should be world-famous but ain't. Unfortunately - it always seems to work this way - both perform Friday at different venues. G'head and flip a coin; you win either way.
Kenny Neal, who'll appear at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge, is often billed as a "swamp blues" act, but while the Baton Rouge-bred singer-guitarist (Neal also doubles on harp, piano and lap steel) indeed excels at the sort of balmy vibe that originated on his home turf, Neal is hardly a one-trick pony; he shines in any number of blues dialects, from a more modern, funk-steeped sound to the kind of deep, urbane soul that characterized the prime output of Brook Benton and Jerry Butler.
Neal is a very fit 47 years old, but since the dawn of his solo career nearly 20 years ago, his huge, booming baritone has always made him sound like some hefty-framed, grizzled old veteran. "When people come out to see me who've heard me on the radio, they think I'll be a 70-year-old, 300 pound black man," he once told me with a laugh.
Neal's often stunning guitar playing -- heavily influenced by Albert Collins -- is tradition-steeped and simmering-hot. He came to his style from direct early exposure to some of the genre's masters: his father, the recently-deceased Raful Neal, was a respected Louisiana blues singer/harpist in his own right; several others from the Neal clan are professional musicians as well.
As a child, Neal studied blues at the feet of his dad and such family friends as Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester and Buddy Guy. After moving from Baton Rouge to Chicago at age 17 to play bass in Guy's band, Neal never looked back. He's worked with a huge array of blues giants, toured the world as a bandleader and released ten solo albums.
If music alone ain't enough to float yer boat, check out Guitar Shorty at Stagecoach Park in Carlsbad. The diminutive, 65-year-old Texan, active since the '50s, has been known to perform while executing somersaults, back flips and other acrobatic feats; he even took top prize on The Gong Show back in the '70s for performing a tune while balanced on his head.
Adding to the absurd nature of his muse, Shorty sports an appalling Jheri curl/mullet morph atop his dome, which I'd personally pay a cover charge just to marvel at in person (be a bluesman; be a walking fashion felony; that's the law, son). More to the point, though, the little fella positively rips the guts out of his poor li'l axe. A rich, enormous tone, thrilling vibrato trills and an alley-prowling ferocity hallmark Shorty's sorties, which coalesce to marvelous effect on his latest CD, last year's "Watch Your Back," a crunching debut for Alligator Records and certainly his career-best.
Renaissance man Oscar Brown, Jr. passed away on May 29 at age 78. Brown was a man of myriad hats - civil rights activist and would-be politician; writer, poet and playwright; actor; businessman - but he'll probably be best remembered as a dynamic singer/performer (his vocal style was sometimes closer to spoken word than actual singing) and songwriter. Among his most renowned compositions were the Beat Generation anthem "But I Was Cool," "The Signifyin' Monkey" and "The Snake" (both adapted from African American folklore, the latter a hit for Al Wilson), "Brown Baby" (which was recorded by
performers such as Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone and Toni Braxton), plus lyric/vocal adaptations of such instrumental jazz standards as "Watermelon Man," "Afro Blue," "Dat Dere" and "Work Song."
>>>>>>>>>>>> FOR "WOOD & STEEL" (Taylor Guitar's in-house magazine)
Mike McAdoo GUITAR TEXAS (independent release) Taylors used: 314 CE and Baby Taylor www.mikemcadoo.com
For serious students of classic country guitar and fans of clean, expert picking in general, this little gem of an instrumental CD will come as soul-nourishing listen. McAdoo is a gifted technician and his obvious love of the instrument oozes from the eleven tracks on this, his third CD.
McAdoo, 47, grew up in Oklahoma, where he received fingerpicking lessons from Taylor clinician Doyle Dykes as a teen. He spent much of his career in Branson, MO, where he was sideman for the likes of Mel Tills, Boxcar Willie, the Moffats, Rex Allen Jr, and - curiously -- the Osmonds.
McAdoo more recently moved to Wichita Falls, TX, where he's currently working as a high school guitar teacher and salesman at Taylor distributor Tarpley Music, but his invaluable experience as a sessionman extraordinaire serves him well on "Guitar Texas."
Abetted by guest star Lloyd Maines - Maines, of course, is among the most notable steel guitarists extant, as well as father of the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines - McAdoo serves up a wonderfully listenable ode to several six-string greats who preceded him, mixing it all up in own distinctive fashion.
In the opening cover of Merle Travis' "Cannonball Rag" alone, one hears the sway of Travis and Chet Atkins, before McAdoo switches to electric and peels off some hot, Danny Gatton-esque rockabilly licks. The similarly 'billy-infused title track and "Tippytoes" feature sections that sound like Jimmy Bryant, Don Rich and Jerry Reed trading licks, while Maines percolates happy magic on the steel throughout.
McAdoo switches gears and delves into more introspective, jazz and classical-infused material elsewhere. "Baby Taylor" - an ode to his beloved ! size Taylor axe, natch - calls to mind the dulcet mood of Earl Klugh, while his cover of "Hotel California" begins as a subtle, eminently musical interpretation before cranking up into a more familiar rock & roll crescendo.
Tradition-minded but eclectic, virtuoso but oodles' o' fun, "Guitar Texas" is highly recommended.
- Buddy Blue
EG Kight TAKE IT EASY (Big South Records) Taylor used: 312 CE www.egkight.com
Whenever a blues artist comes along with something fresh and personal to say, it's cause for celebration. Let us now celebrate EG Kight, a woman who eschews the clichéd methodology too often endemic to the genre in lieu of her own uniquely rural, deeply personal sound and style.
This Georgia peach is a former country singer whose head turned towards the blues after first hearing veteran Chicago vocalist Koko Taylor in 1995. Since that time, Kight's work has taken a striking turn towards the sensibility - if not the literal method - of her hero; it's to her lasting credit that Kight developed her own voice rather than merely aping her new guru.
Kight's vocals more closely resemble such county-tinged swamp-pop singers as Bobbie Gentry, Dusty Springfield and Jackie DeShannon than the Kokos, Ettas and Shemekias on the scene. Where many white blues singers deign over-the-top histrionics that border uncomfortably on minstrelsy, Kight is comfortable just being her naturally soulful self; you can take the country out of the girl, but.....
On this mostly acoustic album, Kight's material runs the gamut from the sort of hooky, pop-friendly R&B Carloe King used to specialize in ("I'll Believe It When I Feel It," "Takin' It Easy") to playful, dance- happy jump material ("I Don't Wanna Start Over"); from sultry torch jazz ("When You Were Mine") to greasy, gutbucket back-porch blues ("Nothin' Ever Hurt Me," "Peach Pickin' Mama"). Kight's tasty originals are complimented by her astute cover selection: how can you go wrong with Duke Ellington and the Allman Brothers Band?
The cast of musicians on hand includes Ann Rabson, pianist for Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women; Greg Piccolo, former longtime saxophonist with Roomful Of Blues and Chris Hicks, guitarist with the
Marshall Tucker Band. The warm resonance of Kight's own tight rhythm comps on her Taylor 312 CE is evident throughout,
but she's since switched to a 512 CE with an Expression System. "It's got a bigger, warmer, more acoustic sound," she notes. "And I really enjoy playing the smaller 512." - Buddy Blue