Hey, Bo Diddley

By Greg Seitz

One of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll made an appearance in Louisville on an otherwise dull, rainy Monday night. None other than Bo Diddley, early idol of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, arrived in town on June 28 to display his unique R&B sound to a packed house at Coyote's. With a sound developed in the south side of Chicago in the early '50s, Bo was an enormous influence on the early Rolling Stones. A club owner near London even named his place The Crawdaddy because when the early Stones covered Bo's song "Doing the Crawdaddy" the crowd always went crazy. One wonders what might have happened to rock 'n' roll if there had never been a Bo Diddley.

The crowd appeared ready for action and the opening act certainly delivered. Blonde Johnson tore through a two-hour set that included several tremendous solos by guitarist Paul McGarry, while bassist Jimmy Gardner provided the deep bluesy lyrics and the droll humor. They covered everyone from Howlin' Wolf to ZZ Top with their bare-bones 3-piece band, including drummer Ray Dunaway. As a friend said after their set, "That will be a tough act to follow."

Bo finally took the stage about 10:15. I was surprised to see Blonde Johnson joining him (talk about stamina). The only addition was a keyboard player. Bo looked just as I had seen him on the tube: black hat, shades, dark clothes and, of course, the patented rectangular guitar. He quickly launched into a tune called "Pretty Baby" and the first thing I noticed was that his guitar does indeed have a very strange sound. The only way I could describe it would be to imagine some distorted Jimi Hendrix licks with a weird high-pitched reverberation. I thought of '50s Chicago and how exciting it must have been back then to the converted.

The show continued with Bo covering two of his old classics, "Roadrunner" and "I'm a Man." During the latter song, Bo did a jerky little step across the stage in sync with a bizarre frog-like noise. I don't know how they did this (probably the keyboard), but the crowd loved it and the Blonde Johnson guys seemed to enjoy it more than anyone. Bo explained his next tune before playing it; the title was "Gimme Some of That," and he said that someone might perhaps want some cake, maybe a ham sandwich or some ice cream, before he stepped back, laughing, and began the simple blues number whose main lyric was "Not too lean and not too fat, c'mon baby gimme some of that." The crowd cheered and a gang began forming on the enormous dance floor.

In general, Blonde Johnson played a soft rhythm while Bo paced and danced about playing his unique guitar licks. He teased and taunted the audience and twice invited people up on stage to dance and sing. He played "Cracking Up" and "Mona," two old classics, and then a rather odd song containing the repeated lyric "my name is Johnny and it sure ain't Pee Wee." Bo's bawdy sense of humor was evident all night in his songs and interplay with the crowd. He never missed an opportunity for a double entendre or sexual innuendo.

The highlight of the show was perhaps a rendition of a new song called "Baby, Put Your Suitcase Down," which had the characteristic humor, including a reference to a pooper scooper as well as a good Las Vegas-style imitation of Frank Sinatra. After that, Bo ripped through a vicious version of "Hey, Bo Diddley" in which he popped two strings. He used his time while restringing to explain his patented guitar design and state emphatically that he wouldn't consider using anything anyone else had constructed.

The show ended with a second attempt at "Gimme Some of That," with a slight twist at the end. Bo took the drums from Dunaway and hammered out a pretty good beat himself as Ray stood by smiling. All told, it was an entertaining evening with a pioneer of rock 'n' roll.

I had to see this guy before it was too late. Now bring on Chuck Berry.