Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger / Bo Diddley Is a Lover

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It is basically impossible to listen to Bo Diddley and not smile. And if Bo Diddley can make me smile, well, then he can make anyone smile. It’s also basically impossible to listen to any rock music and not understand that it wouldn’t exist but for Bo Diddley. And Bo Diddley is notable for a lot more than the well-known beat that carries his name. Ellas Bates was born in Mississippi in 1928; he was raised by a first cousin, once removed, and he took her last name, McDaniel. Still a young boy, the family moved to Chicago, where McDaniel played trombone, violin, and eventually, guitar. There is no consensus on where the name Bo Diddley came from, and that’s about the least interesting thing about him anyway. He released ten albums on Chess Records subsidiary Checkers between 1958 and 1963. He hired women guitarists in his band, including Peggy Jones (also known as Lady Bo; she grew up studying ballet, tap, and opera) and her replacement, Norma-Jean Wofford (known as the Duchess). He designed his own guitars and effects (which he built into the body of the guitars); he used Sebastopol/Open E tuning on his guitars. Marvin Gaye was his valet for a while. He opened for the Clash in 1979. Diddley died in 2008.

What I Think of This Album

Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger

There is so much to love about this album. The title track is all rhythm (including a descending bass line by Willie Dixon and Jerome Green on maracas) and ridiculous boasting – the perfect Bo Diddley song. “Cadillac” adds uncredited saxophone (perhaps by Gene Barge) to the trademark beat; the Kinks covered this. “Ride On Josephine” is like a mashup of Chuck Berry and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, with fine backing vocals, an excellent piano part (by either Lafayette Leake (Chuck Berry) or Billy Stewart), and an irresistible guitar riff.

“Somewhere” and “No More Loving” are surprisingly part of the doo-wop tradition, while “Cheyenne” recalls the Coasters (especially the “and then?” vocal part, which is straight from “Along Came Jones.”) The cover of “Sixteen Tons” (written by Merle Travis) is phenomenal. Diddley reaches back into African-American folklore for “Whoa Mule (Shine).” More saxophone enlivens the jaunty instrumental “Diddling.”

This is apparently the end of the album proper, and tracks “Working Man” and “Do What I Say” are bonus songs, though there is no mention of this in the extensive liner notes. “Do What I Say” is particularly effective, with hypnotic guitar parts from Diddley and Peggy Jones.

This was recorded at Diddley’s home studio in Washington, D.C.

What a great album cover; the guitar is “Cadillac,” designed by Diddley.

Bo Diddley Is a Lover

It may be that “Hong Kong, Mississippi” is a tiny bit problematic, but what a fucking great vocal (“she’s from Hong Kong . . . MISSISSIPPI”), not to mention the guitar playing!

There are some not so subtle suggestions of cuckoldry in the back-and-forth of “Bo’s Vacation,” a conversation between Diddley and, I assume, Jerome (though the other person is referred to as Joe), during which Diddley strongly recommends that Joe/Jerome give his wife advance notice that he is going to be returning home (“You know, you’ve been gone a looooooong time / . . . / If I was you, I’d call home” / . . . / But if I were you, I’d sure call her – she might tell you to hold it up for a few days”).

There is some impressive guitar on instrumental “Congo,” with effects that could easily be from a song from the 2000s. The second instrumental is “Aztec,” on which Diddley drops in some flamenco guitar (which of course, is a continent away from and about three hundred years after the Aztecs . . .). “You’re Looking Good” marries doo-wop vocals to Diddley’s rougher approach, with a great lead vocal. “Bo Diddley Is Loose” is excellent from both the lead guitar and vocal perspective.

The rest of the album is fine: Diddley gets a blues workout on the predictably titled “(Call Me) Bo’s Blues,” and of course the title track is full of the braggadocio that makes Diddley so endearing. Comedy informs “Not Guilty,” while there is some fine guitar work against that familiar beat on “Back Home.” The short “Quick Draw,” based on its title, should’ve really been on Gunslinger, and it’s a surprising little instrumental with some impressive guitar work.

This was likewise recorded at Diddley’s home studio in Washington, D.C. The five bonus tracks feature Otis Spann (Chuck Berry) on the piano, and are mostly instrumentals (though “Lazy Woman” would have been better off not recorded at all).

This cover art is less interesting, but it does have the box guitar, at least, and I like the reverse lettering.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Ride On Josephine” and “Hong Kong, Mississippi”

Release Date

December, 1960 (Is a Gunslinger); February, 1961 (Is a Lover); 2012 (compilation)

The Cover Art

I don’t blame them for just sticking some extra text on the original Is a Gunslinger art. I would have done the same damn thing.

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