Bo Diddley and Friends bring real roots rock to the Sunset.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The Internet was already God’s gift to procrastinators, but the rise of the Web site YouTube.com, which allows anyone to post video, is probably responsible for setting back the nation’s productivity rate by itself. If you haven’t already checked it out, and you grew up in the era before MTV, when live footage of musicians became ubiquitous, YouTube offers many an hour of guilty pleasure and sundry revelations.
My latest epiphany came after watching a two-minute clip of Bo Diddley playing his eponymous hit from 1955 with his classic quartet featuring Jerome Green on maracas. Scrolling down I found another Diddley clip, captured last July by some fan with a video camera at the San Javier International Jazz Festival in Spain, and there’s Diddley again, still working the primal, chugging groove that provided half the impetuous for rock ‘n’ roll.
Diddley is one of those artists who created an entire, self-sufficient world in a brief span, and has spent the rest of his career mining the same mother lode. At 77, he’s still riding his trademark locomotive beat—bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp—and though he looks hearty enough, there’s no telling how much longer he’s going to feel like enduring the rigors of the road, which is what makes his performance at the Sunset Center on Wednesday such a welcome visitation. He’s on the first leg of a soul-drenched 40-city tour billed as Bo Diddley and Friends, a triple bill that includes the charismatic blues guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart, and gospel/blues singer Ruthie Foster.
Born Ellas Otha Bates McDaniels in McComb, Miss., Diddley started his musical life studying classical violin, but hearing John Lee Hooker set him on a new path. By the early 1950s, he’d created his signature sound, defined by Green’s expert maraca work. Signed to Chess Records, he became a popular act with a handful of (often self-referential) hits, such as “Pretty Thing,” “Diddley Daddy,” “Diddy Wah Diddy” and “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover.” His influence was far vaster than his record sales, however, as countless artists borrowed his groove and distortion-laden guitar sound. Maybe the tour will provide opportunities for Youngblood Hart and Foster to join Diddley on stage, as the old man still has plenty to teach.
While Hart has only been a solo artist for the past decade, he appeared on the scene with a sound steeped in blues wisdom. Born in Oakland and raised around the country, the well-traveled guitarist first gained attention in the mid-‘90s as part of the Further Festival, a Grateful Dead spin-off. His 1996 debut album Big Mama’s Door announced the emergence of a powerful new talent, gaining five W.C. Handy nominations and winning him the Best New Artist award. With a repertoire of folk tunes, Delta blues and original pieces, Hart has released a series of albums cementing his status as a blues original, unconcerned with categories dictated by the marketplace.
In much the same way, Foster is an artist who blithely ignores stylistic imperatives. Her music draws on blues, gospel, folk and various American roots styles, but it’s her rich, throaty voice that first grabs your attention. She first gained widespread notice in 2002 with her album “Runaway Soul.” More recently, her live album Stages captures riveting performances of gospel standards such as “Death Came a Knockin’ (Travelin’ Shoes)” and “Walk On.”
One can only hope that the spiritually-charged Foster and the jivey trickster Diddley have a chance to perform together. It would be a perfect meeting of the sacred and the profane, with Hart occupying the middle ground embracing both sin and soul.
BO DIDDLEY AND FRIENDS play the Sunset Center, Eighth and San Carlos in Carmel, Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 8pm. $57. 620-2048 or sunsetcenter.org.