Me and The Bo

Bluesman Little Walter was the troubled genius of Chess Records.  But when it came to just plain crazy, it was hard to top Walter’s label-mate, Bo Diddley, who recorded some of the most demented sides in rock ‘n roll history.  A half-century later, those recordings still manage to startle us… Bo’s Guitar

Here Bo’s band locks into a groove that could have easily gone on for another 15-20 minutes at a typical Fifties juke joint. Pretty Thing

These two songs alone make the case that Bo — who signed his name “The Bo” and was referred to by The New York Times as “Mr. Diddley” — was the most original of all the early rockers.  He clearly shared Walter’s restless spirit and drive; a constant need to test the very limits of his equipment… and his audience.

Like the vast majority of people on this planet, I never had a chance to see Little Walter perform.  But I did play with The Bo – me and about 10,000 other bar-band veterans around the world.

bo_diddley_gunslingerYou see, it became standard practice for the original rock royalty like Chuck Berry and Bo to hire pick-up bands in various towns to back them up for their gigs.  It went something like this: Bo’s manager would call a local promoter, who would recommend a local band, and said band would spend several hours (or days, depending on the band’s level of confidence) rehearsing Bo’s tunes – with no idea what Bo would unleash on them when he hit town.

Well, our band (The Warsaw Falcons) got the nod for several of his gigs in the Cincinnati area, and the first one was a custom car show at the old Cincinnati Gardens in 1983.  We figured that Bo would show up early and spend about an hour with us going over the set list and running through a few tunes.  No such luck.  We met Bo about 10 minutes before the gig, and the only direction he provided was telling our hapless drummer not to play the patented Bo Diddley beat (if you’re not familiar with it, please exit our site now)… “Only I play that beat, buddy!”

Things went better than expected, though, as Bo quickly whipped us into shape by barking out a few commands during the opener.  And we hung on tight for the rest of the set, doing our best to follow his every move and not get in the way.  It was an unsettling experience, looking out at an audience of classic cars on the floor of the Gardens (“I’d like to dedicate this one to that pretty little Chevy in the third row”)… but it was a huge thrill for me to play with the one and only Bo.  He even brought me to the front of the stage and made me kneel down – the only time I’ve ever done that outside of church.  I felt like I’d joined the sacred order of Bo sidemen… sort of the blues equivalent of the Masons.

It was also the only time anyone asked for my autograph (at least in a deep and meaningful way).  Apparently, a few of Bo’s overeager fans thought we were part of his traveling extravaganza, rather than semi-employed schlubs who only lived a few miles away.

We did two more gigs with The Bo – including one opening for The Drifters at Miami University.  The absolute best part of that experience was drinking beer in our dressing room and hearing The Drifters warm up in the room next door by singing their hits a cappella.  Needless to say, we all wept openly.

The Bo with The Warsaw Falcons, 1983

The Bo with The Warsaw Falcons, 1983

Bo never had much to say to us.  He was bitter about the small amount of money he made from his hits while the next generation of rockers made millions.  And he would’ve rather been back home in Florida than feeding white folks’ hunger for nostalgia.  But he snapped out of character long enough to make me the butt of a very elaborate joke involving a baby peeing itself (when the punch line came, he squeezed a wet paper towel hidden in his fist, and the water ran over my outstretched palm… many laughs at my expense).

The Bo left this world on June 2, 2008, but his beat goes on in hundreds of bars on any given Saturday night.  I’ll leave you with these few examples of his power and glory… Amen!

Here’s a video clip of Bo in his prime, working out on You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover with the very sexy Duchess on second guitar (clearly he was ahead of his time by sharing the stage – back in the early Sixties, no less – with such a strong and capable woman!)…

The Warsaw Falcons’ intrepid sound man taped our gig with Bo right off the board.  But given the 26 years that have gone by since our 50 minutes of fame, I wouldn’t call this hi-fidelity.  Still, it’s worth sharing.  Here Bo gives a shout-out to all his main men and women from the Fifties (including himself!): Bo Testifies

This might be my favorite Bo artifact… Since he never brought his own amp with him, he always was at the mercy of someone else’s crappy equipment.  Apparently, he didn’t care much for the one we brought! Jack It Up

4 thoughts on “Me and The Bo

  • Mary Quine Auerbach, 28 October 3:40 pm

    I’m so glad you’ve put that episode down for posterity. I remember hearing little stories over the years, but now we listeners know better than to rely on our poor memories of family snippets for when we want to reminisce in our old age!

  • Mark Johnson, 30 October 4:14 pm

    I can attest to The Bo story having attended one of those shows in Cincy. If I remember right, it was 1983 afterall, The Falcons certainly held their own that night. Great blog Tim.

  • Tashika Hayes, 12 November 11:05 pm

    i was filled with an immediate and enormous envy after reading that you played with Bo Diddley. i certainly am no blues/guitar/rock n roll scholar by anyone’s stretch of their imagination but i know good music. and to be perfectly honest, my most vivid memory/knowledge of Bo Diddley is as Bo Jackson’s co-star in that “bo knows” nike commercial. i hope that’s forgivable. i was always at least remotely familiar with the usual suspects of his repertoire (“hey bo diddley”, “who do you love?”). but it turned out that i was crushing on his music long before i ever knew it myself. i first heard “love is strange” by way of the movie dirty dancing & it has remained 1 of my all-time favorite songs, especially the guitar parts. after reading a rolling stone article on bo diddley, i learned that authorship (arguably, for some) of that song belonged to him. i thought that i already loved that song as much as i could but learning of his affiliation with its creation gave me a new appreciation for it. and totally helped me connect the dots as to why i love it so much. one of my loftiest pipe dreams was to somehow/someday get to sing it with bo diddley. my heart sank to my stomach when i learned of his passing. yet another aspiration evaporated by procrastination.

    electric blues has always been somewhat of an enigma to me, mostly because i find it terribly intimidating. blues fans are some of the most fiercely purist & i hate to be the biggest dummy in any conversation. i have a genuine & deep affinity for many blues songs (both acoustic & electric) but by no means can i claim being significantly influenced by them. or maybe i just don’t know it yet. it wasn’t until i heard “i’ll be your man” by the black keys (as if i have to reference them!) that i felt like i finally get electric blues. something about their translation resonated with me & i never got that from anyone else trying to do it these days. then again i’m not the most musically sophisticated among us. for whatever reason, that song parted the clouds for me. anyway, thanks for dedicating yourself to educating the rest of us & fighting the good fight for those who deserve our attention. now i think i can almost identify bo diddley’s signature beat. which means i’m almost worthy of entering your site. =)

  • sara, 22 March 5:09 am

    Just wanted to thank everyone involved for starting up The Rubber City Review, it’s fantastic.

    Cheers

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