"Keeping the Blues Alive Award" Achievement for Blues on the Internet Presented by The Blues Foundation
Two things you know about Bo Diddley is that he is a survivor who's had his share of tough times but keeps bouncing back, and he loves to put on a good show. This night he demonstrated both, as well a musical diversity that covered everything from blues, rap, classical, reggae, calypso, rock, and just about everything in between. I was waiting for the polka, since he was playing in Minnesota, but apparently he hasn't ventured that far yet. Above all, Bo put on a show of nearly two hours that had the enthusiastic crowd's constant attention, dancing a great deal, and wondering what the veteran blues man was going to pull out next from his bag of pleasing musical surprises. Fortunately, he also took time to explain to his fans where his experimentation was coming from and where he was hoping to go. But no matter what he played, no matter how he sang, the music was rooted in the blues and delivered with style and confidence.
Bo started out playing raw, distinctive guitar licks, slowly strumming to produce raw, held, echoing chords on "Black Cat Bone." His experienced backing band on rhythm guitar, bass, drums and Hammond B-3 organ did a solid job following him, as they did all night. Then the musical adventure started, with Bo rapping lyrics in his rich, strong, deep voice, playing heavy, reverberating, synthesizer inflected guitar chords on "Let Me Tear It Up." Bo constantly was adjusting his guitar and turning back to adjust the synthesizer he was feeding his guitar output through. Right away he had people up and dancing to his bass and drum heavy, rapping blues. Bo produced incredibly thick, rich held and howling notes as he strummed and picked away. For fans used to a few simple, raw, heavy chords delivered with his distinctive style, this was quite a departure. Yet it worked and people loved it. Bo rhymed and rapped with style and confidence. I'd hazard a guess that with his instrumental and vocal talents that if Bo put out a CD of music like this he might hit the top of the Rap or Dance Charts.
Bo moved on back to the blues on the grinding "If I Could Find Some Happiness." His high pitched, howling synth-guitar licks took on the rich, chromatic sound of an excellent harp player as he held and bent notes with seeming ease. All the while his band, especially his B-3 and guitar players, followed and fleshed out the music as his bass player and drummer kept the beat going. Bo kept the crowd off balance by doing a slow, emotional cover of "Hootchie Cootchie Man," his slow, heavy, echoing guitar licks rippling out and combining with his rich bass vocals for a raw and powerful blues experience. Exhorting the crowd with "Let's have some fun. Come on you'all!" he went right back into the rapping blues, again playing slow, heavy, expressive bent notes over a heavy, steady beat.
Then it was classical time as Bo played his synthesized guitar like a violin, over a steady drum beat, to create an orchestral sound. After that, it was revival time with the heavy, spiritual yet funky gospel stylings of "Religion, Religion." Bo created a revival tent feel with many dancing believers crowding the floor. The ethereal guitar sounds on this song and Bo's rich voice somewhere between soul and gospel would have been truly a unique experience at maybe any other time, but just part of the show this wild musical night.
Bo then took a break on stage to tune-up his guitar and explain the roots of his experimentation with an 18 year old synthesizer he had bought, packed away, run across two years ago, and finally managed to incorporate in combination with his guitar. He said it took him a while to put it all together and how to tune his guitar so he could play "classical stuff." He said he had 12 years of violin training as a young man, but with his meat hooks for hands, his fingers became too large for proper fingering. But now, on guitar, with a synthesizer, he could create the classical sound he wanted. Bo added that "Bo's Concerto" would be on his next CD, My Eagle is Pissed, alluding to America's response to terrorism. Bo added you would only find his CD on his web site, because those record companies "would rip you off."
Then Bo proceeded to play some reggae with vocals somewhere between rap and reggae. "Take Me to My Car Please" was a raunchy, playful rapping blues with lyrics mixed between scripted, improvised, and explaining to the crowd between raps about wine, a bad woman, being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong neighborhood, and just trying to get home safe. Bo played a fairly straight-up "Hey, Bo Diddley" with spirited guitar licks and vocals, ending in a rich, wandering wash of synth-guitar. Then it was calypso time, where Bo made his synth-guitar ring out like steel drums as he picked and strummed fast over a heavy, steady beat by his backing band.
The amazed crowd hollered for more and Bo ended with his signature "Who Do You Love," finally standing up, playing, gesturing, and posing to the crowd. It was obvious that Bo was having a great time, and that he still has a whole lot of music that will really surprise people when he gets it recorded. The whole night was like a fast, wild yet fun ride with good friends with pleasant sounding surprises around each bend. I can't wait to hear his new CD when he gets it done.
Before he started playing, Bo first announced that he was putting to rest rumors he had had a heart attack. He declared he had been ill, because he found out he has diabetes and high blood pressure. He urged everyone in the crowd to be sure and get their selves checked out if high blood pressure or diabetes runs in their family. He added that he was sitting down to play because he had stepped wrong at the airport, hurt his leg, and the cold had stiffened it up. "I don't like winter up here," he added. He got no disagreement with that.
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