Archive for June, 2009

5th June
written by Matt The Cat
Bo Diddley – Ride On: The Chess Masters 1960-61

Bo Diddley was a true artist. Maybe not all of his recordings are classic or completely developed, but you can never say that Ellis McDaniel didn’t have a vision and didn’t work hard to fulfil it. Hip-O Select has put out the third volume in its series of 2 CD sets gathering all of Bo’s recordings for Chess’ Checker imprint. This one is called “Ride On” and it focuses on the recordings he made in 1960 and ’61.

I’ll tell you up front that this is not a collection for the casual Bo Diddley fan. Not many of the tunes here fall into the class of “essential” Bo Diddley material, but if you really dig Bo and love music history, then this collection has a lot to offer you. “(Bo Diddley’s A) Gunslinger” is the only track on this compilation that made the national charts (Cash Box #34, it didn’t make Billboard for some crazy reason). No matter, as there are plenty of blues, doo wop ballads and just plain ol’ Bo Diddley craziness to keep your toes tappin’ and your ears exlodin’.

Remarkably, all 54 of these songs were recorded in the basement of Bo’s home on Rhode Island Ave. in Washington, DC (not too far from where I live now, by the way). He set up his own studio as he was becoming more and more frustrated with the control Chess had over his music, so he left Chicago to record his own way on his own schedule. This was unheard of for any artist at this time, let alone an African-American artist to set up his own facility. The music was laid down on a crude 2 track tape machine, but it sounds amazingly good, considering. He took his great band with him to DC. It featured Bobby Baskerville on bass, Clifton Jones on drums, Jerome Green on maracas and the fantastic and much underrated Peggy Jones on guitar. The legendary Otis Spann even drops in to play piano on a few tracks. Bo is of course the star, but it must be said that on many songs Peggy Jones simply steals the spotlight. She is amazing and can play as well if not better than Bo himself.

Disc one kicks off with a great unreleased burner called “My White Horse”, that’ll get you in the mood to rock. “Love Me” is a beautiful doo wop ballad that was featured on the LP, “Bo Diddley In The Spotlight”. It has one of the sweetest melodies you’ll ever hear on a Bo Diddley record. “Love Me” is followed up by one of the strongest cuts on the entire compilation, “Walkin’ And Talkin'”. Originally this song was edited down for its inclusion on the “Bo Diddley In The Spotlight” LP , but thankfully, we get the unedited version here. If you’ve never heard Bo Diddley cover Frankie Laine’s 1949 classic, “Mule Train”, then you’re in for a surprise. Four different takes of the song are included here, which ends up being a few takes too much, but it’s fascinating to listen to them all for an insight into Bo’s recording process. “Say You Will” is a previously unreleased burst of call and response, right out of the church “soul”, that reminds me a little of “Shout” by the Isley Brothers.

“Ride On Josephine” begins a string of songs that appeared on Bo’s great 1960 LP, “Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger”. Some of the songs from that album appeared at the end of the previous 2 disc Bo Diddley compilation that Hip-O Select put out last summer, Road Runner: Chess Masters 1959-1960. It was a superb LP on its own, but the unreleased tracks featured here make it all that much better. The great Billy Stewart, Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows and Johnny Carter and Nate Nelson of the Flamingos drop in to sing backup vocals on a few tracks, but I’m going to let you discover those yourself.

The first 20 songs on disc 2 are all previously unreleased in the USA. Many of them are crudely recorded, but you must remember that Bo probably never intended for these songs to be released. I love “Hey, Hey (What Are You Going To Do” and we get two versions of it here (one fast and one slow-er). You can tell that Bo is having a great time recording these raw tunes. There’s lots of call and response, nonsense lyrics and tremendous guitar playing by both Bo and Peggy Jones throughout these tracks. Peggy really shines on the instrumentals”Mess Around” and “Doodlin'”. If you liked “Say Man” and “Say Man, Back Again”, well there’s plenty of craziness and bad jokes on “Funny Talk” and “Bring Them Back Alive (Funny Talk)”, with Bo playing his partner’s voice under the name Frank Jive.

The set is rounded off with several tracks that would appear on the LP, “Bo Diddley Is A Lover.” Also included are great photos and wonderfully insightful liner notes by George R. White of York, England. Overall, it’s a fantastic set for the Bo Diddley fan, but not a necessity for the casual Bo Diddley collector. After almost 2 years of chart silence, Bo would come raging back in 1962 with “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover”, but that’s a story for another day and a future Hip-O Select Bo Diddley compilation. I’m just going to settle down, put on the great Bo Diddley instrumental, “Shank” and groove!

-Matt The Cat

5th June
written by Matt The Cat
Sam Butera

1927 – 2009

On Wednesday, June 3rd, the legendary sax man, Sam Butera passed away in Las Vegas.

Anyone who considers Butera “just a sideman” knows nothing about music and showmanship. Sam Butera was an act in himself. He was the “ying” to Louis Prima’s “yang”. An accomplished saxophone player in his own right, Butera played in bands fronted by Tommy Dorsey and Paul Gayten, just to name a few. As the big bands faded, jump blues became all the rage. Louis Prima was transitioning to a smaller, jumpier combo when he asked fellow New Orleanian Butera to join. Sam dubbed the new band, The Witnesses in 1956 and they played to sold out crowds in Las Vegas for 20 years.

Sam Butera is heard alongside Louis Prima and Keely Smith on most of their great Capitol releases during the 1950s, including “Just A Gigolo – I Ain’t Got Nobody”, “Oh, Marie”, “That Old Black Magic” and “Sing, Sing, Sing” (which Prima wrote). In 1958, Butera put out a solo single with The Witnesses on Capitol called “Bim Bam”, which is a song I used to play all the time on the radio. What a jumpin’ little record that was.

Here is a clip of Sam Butera playing up to Louis Prima on stage during the classic, “Oh, Marie”.


And so as we lose another talented musician, the best we can do is remember them and honor their work and with Sam Butera, we’ve got plenty to remember him by.

3rd June
written by Matt The Cat
Koko Taylor

1928 – 2009

It is with a heavy heart that I must report that one of the true “Queens Of The Blues”, the great Koko Taylor (born Cora Walton) has passed on at the age of 80. She died the afternoon of June 3rd while recovering from surgery to repair gastrointestinal bleeding.

In 1966, she struck blues gold with the incredible “Wang Dang Doodle”, which was released by Chess’ Checker imprint and hit a stunning #4 on the R&B; charts. Since then, she’s toured constantly, helping to keep the classic brassy female blues singing style alive. Though she never had another hit single, she had many successful LPs on both Chess and Alligator labels.

She was born in Memphis on September 28, 1928 and earned her nickname “Koko” over her love for chocolate. Her mother died when she was just ten years old, so Koko and her brothers and sisters had to help their father work the fields to support the family. She started singing in the church and didn’t turn professional until after she moved to the South Side of Chicago in 1953. She met Chess Records A&R; man, Willie Dixon in 1962 and he signed her to Checker, a Chess subsidiary. Willie sang the harmony on and wrote Koko’s 1966 classic “Wang Dang Doodle”, which sold over one million copies and hit #4 on the R&B; Charts and an impressive #58 on the pop chart.

Koko was nominated for a Grammy Award for her debut album for Alligator records, “I Got What It Takes” in 1975. Her final album, “Old School” was issued by Alligator in 2007.

There aren’t many women today who sing in the classic style of Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton and we have now lost another. Koko Taylor was certainly a Force Of Nature and will be greatly missed.

Here is a clip of Koko performing her hit, “Wang Dang Doodle” live with Little Walter on harp.