Bo Diddley – The Black Gladiator

by admin  16th Jun 2012 Comments [2252]

(Future Days) CD

Recorded and released in 1970, The Black Gladiator was Bo Diddley’s first album of all new material since 1965’s 500% More Man. In the intervening half-decade the music scene had been through some pretty radical changes, and the astute and forward-thinking Diddley wasn’t about to be left behind. “I just decided to do somethin’ different,” he told biographer George R White. “Everybody was wearin’ funny lookin’ crap—Isaac Hayes had come out with chains an’ stuff on, an’ it was kinda flowin’ in that area at that particular time—so I got me some belts an’ stuff, an’ said I was The Black Gladiator.”

The resultant album is one of the overlooked gems in the Diddley catalog, showcasing a freakier, funkier sound that was in step with the times, while retaining the raunch and swagger that defined his earlier work. Bo goes balls-out on the very first track, “Elephant Man,” whipping up a torrid, wall-shaking guitar riff over which he hollers some of his craziest rhymes yet, about how he constructed this bizarre animal, called the elephant (maybe you’ve heard of it?), piece by piece, naming its various body parts, then letting out a blood-curdling scream every time he gets around to not quite mentioning its ass. Such profundity was in short supply at the time.

The album never quite scales the elephantine heights of its monster opening number, but there’s still much to enjoy. The backing band cooks throughout—plenty of wailing organ, rattling tambourines and crisp, funky drumming—and Bo is clearly having a ball with this new, different sound. “Black Soul,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Funky Fly” all boast tough, memorable grooves as well as plenty of muscular guitar work. “You, Bo Diddley” is one of Bo’s archetypal self-tributes, as is “Power House,” a virile boast built around his trusty “I’m a Man” riff, while the strange but wonderful “I Don’t Like You” is one of Bo’s trademark signifying pieces in the tradition of “Say Man,” with Bo trading insults with backing singer Cornelia Redmond (a.k.a. Cookie Vee) and also showing off his abilities as an opera singer—was there no end to this man’s talents?

There’s been a vinyl boot doing the rounds, but this digipak CD with liners by Scott Schindler is a legit, from the masters, reissue on Light in the Attic’s new Future Days imprint. (MS)

(Originally published in Ugly Things #33, Spring/Summer 2012)


FLYING SAUCERS ROCK’N’ROLL

by admin  1st May 2012 Comments [313]

FLYING SAUCERS ROCK’N’ROLL: Conversations with Unjustly Obscure Rock’n’Soul Eccentrics edited by Jake Austen (Duke University Press, US; 2011; 282 pages)

For the past couple of decades, Jake Austen and his ragtag team at Roctober have been engaged in some truly outstanding work in the field of rock’n’roll writing and research. If for some reason you’ve missed one—or any—of the almost 50 issues they’ve put out in that time, you could do a lot worse than pick up this book which compiles some of their most memorable interviews.

Roctober’s coverage has always been all over the map, taking in ’50s rockabilly, country, vintage soul, R&B, blues and funk, ’60s garage rock, ’70s and ’80s punk rock and new wave, heavy metal, and a range of unclassifiable species that might be loosely defined as novelty acts. A cross section of those styles are represented in the ten meaty interviews selected here, which include career-spanning conversations with Sam the Sham, David Allan Coe, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Oscar Brown Jr, the Fast, and the Good Rats.

Among the highlights are Ken Burke’s lengthy and absorbing chat with Sun rockabilly giant Billy Lee Riley, Jonathan Polettia’s disturbing voyage into the dark world of Hollywood glam weirdoes Zolar X, and a wonderful chat with the late, great Claude Trenier by a team of Roctoberists headed up by John Battles.

Each chapter is headed up by artwork by King Merinuk, illustrated with rare photos, and features a brief update on each artist. In several cases, the update turns out to be an obituary, a stark, poignant reminder of just how important it is to document the personal stories of these rock’n’soul innovators and eccentrics. (Mike Stax)

From UGLY THINGS #32 (Fall/Winter 2011)

 


WILD ABOUT YOU!

by admin  30th Apr 2012 Comments [1441]

WILD ABOUT YOU! The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand by Ian D Marks and Ian McIntyre (Verse Chorus Press, US; 2010; 352 pages)

For decades I was fascinated by, but short on information about, the ephemeral Australian band the Black Diamonds, ever since I somehow snagged a copy of their mind-boggling, double-sided classic 45, “See the Way”/”I Want, Need, Love You” in an auction. Then last year I stumbled on a bootleg DVD containing actual videos of both songs, set amid crashing waves. And now there’s an entire chapter on the small-town New South Wales band in this gem of a book. (Now if I could get hold of the Diamonds’ second single…)

The book’s subtitle pinpoints its subject matter, which it surveys in 35 chapters on 35 bands. First-hand recollections from band members are the rule, with expert authorial interjections to provide context, so you get not only a musical chronicle but a cultural immersion—even more valuable for readers who didn’t grow up in ’60s Oz or NZ and know little about the youth cults, official harassment, and showbiz exploitation that challenged the bands.

Not every antipodean ’60s band of note is covered; omissions, such as Larry’s Rebels or MPD Ltd, lean a little toward the pop side. A few of the acts in the book achieved homeland pop success—the Easybeats, the Twilights, the Masters Apprentices, Ray Columbus. But most of the others—the Throb, the Bitter Lemons, the Mystrys, and the Others themselves—struggled briefly, left a record or two, and dissolved.

This handsome paperback, replete with terrific photos, discographies, and listings for anthologies containing the records discussed, makes a fitting memorial for these undersung heroes and is indispensable for anyone with an interest in one of the planet’s most exciting ’60s scenes. (Ken Barnes)

From UGLY THINGS #32 (Fall/Winter 2011)