"The Story of Bo Diddley" / The Animals
Like way too many Americans, I only discovered Bo Diddley through the music of British white guys in shaggy haircuts and drainpipe jeans-- that bomp bomp-bomp da-bomp beat still makes me think more of Newcastle than Chicago. Sad but true. And apparently I'm not the only one: Links to the youtube clip of the Animals doing this song have popped up everywhere since Bo Diddley died last Monday.
I suppose I knew the Yardbirds' cranked-up version of "I'm a Man" first -- this song was hard to miss in 1965, though in my musical memory it tends to morph into the Spencer Davis Group song of the same name. (Oh, young Stevie Winwood...) A snappy little number, but it completely missed the laidback sexy confidence of Bo's original. Then there was the Kinks' cover of "Cadillac," but it wasn't until much later that I heard that -- in the early Kinks days I was strictly a singles customer -- and let's be honest, like most of the blues covers on their debut album, it's not all that good. You all know how I love Ray Davies, but a blues singer he wasn't.
The Animals, though, were a different story. Eric Burdon's obsession with American blues leaked into every release the early Animals did, and this song is a crazy fan-worshipping take-off on Bo's first hit, "Bo Diddley," as well as his later song "Hey, Bo Diddley." (The songwriting credit goes to Burdon and Ellis McDaniel, which was Diddley's real name.) That trademark Bo Diddley beat runs through the whole song, pounded out relentlessly by Alan Price on the organ, while Eric -- using his best fake Delta accent, in a sort of talking blues that's damn close to rap -- delineates "the story of Bo Diddley / and the rock 'n roll scene in general." He gives a mini-bio of Diddley; discusses how the payola scandal caused the "death of the rock 'n roll scene" in America; describes the rise of the Beatles, the Stones, the Merseybeats et cetera. It's the best six-minute recap any cultural historian could want.
Then he describes the night he and the band finally met their hero at their home base, the Club a Go Go in Newcastle. I have to believe the evening happened just as Eric tells it: "And the doors opened one night and to our surprise / Walked in the man himself, Bo Diddley / Along with him was Jerome Green, his maraca man, / And the Duchess, his gorgeous sister." The Animals start performing their Bo Diddley material, and Eric says "I overheard Bo Diddley talkin' / He turned around to Jerome Green / And he said, 'Hey, Jerome? What do you think of these guys doin' our material?" [dig Eric's drawling impression of Bo] . . .
"Jerome said, Uh, where's the bar, man? Please show me to the bar...' / He turned around to the Duchess and said, / 'Hey Duch...what do you think of these young guys doin' our material?" / She said, [this time a silly high-pitched voice] 'I don't know. I only came across here / To see the changin' of the guards and all that jazz.'" Priceless.
So now we're holding our breath for the denouement -- and here it comes: "Well, Bo Diddley looked up at me and he said, / With half closed eyes and a smile, / He said "Man," / Took off his glasses," -- it's a gas how Eric draws it out, relishing the suspense -- "He said, "Man, / That sure is . . . the biggest load of rubbish I ever heard in my life!" Only I'm guessing "rubbish" wasn't the word Bo Diddley used.
This song makes me love Bo Diddley, a man with a gift for telling it like it is. It makes me love Eric Burdon, too, with all that genuine enthusiasm just gushing out of him. These Geordies loved Bo Diddley as he deserved to be loved.