Record Review

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

15th April
written by Matt The Cat

Muddy Waters – Authorized Bootleg: Live at the Fillmore Auditorium – San Francisco Nov 04-06, 1966

While the other major labels have all but abandoned releasing new back catalog titles, Universal Music continues to surprise with new releases of old music that surpass general expectations. Recently, I was shocked that Universal would even consider releasing a five CD box set of Little Walter’s historic Chess Recordings, but it appears that the label knows what they have and they’re not afraid to reissue it. Good news for blues fans, indeed.

Their latest blues release comes out on Universal’s Geffen imprint and features a slew of incredible concerts from the “King Of Chicago Blues”, Muddy Waters. These shows were recorded at Billy Graham’s Fillmore West Auditorium in San Francisco from November 4 th – 6 th , 1966 and they find the 51 year old Muddy in top form. Since many of these songs are repeated several times over the course of the three-night stand and many of them also feature drawn out jams with Muddy’s incredible band, I would not recommend this album to the casual Muddy Waters fan. However, if you’re like me and consider any live recording by one of America ‘s great bluesmen that was recorded before 1970 to be like finding buried treasure, then this is the live Muddy album for you.

The set begins with a nice, heavy groove in the form of “Forty Days And Forty Nights”, then moves into the signature “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”. His band features George Smith blowin’ a mean harp and Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson offering up some tasty licks. When I interviewed Luther Johnson in 1996, we talked about his time playing in Muddy Waters’ band. He shared a story about how he used to watch the bald spot move on the back of Muddy’s head whenever he played “Rock Me”. I, of course, could think of nothing but that story as I listened to the two great versions of “Rock Me” included on this live set. The band is rounded out with Sammy Lawhorn on guitar, Mac Arnold on bass and Francis Clay on drums. The band sounds loose and relaxed, but they never miss a beat. If it’s possible for a band to be both loose and tight at the same time, then these guys have got their bases covered. Their eight minute jam on “She Moves Me” from the November 5 th date will blow your mind.

Muddy sounds powerful, playful and full of life and seeing that he’s actually 19 years into his career at this point, it’s not that surprising. All these versions of his classic songs from “Baby Please Don’t Go” to “Honey Bee” to “Long Distance Call” are great, but the feel is very much the same on this entire disc. That’s completely understandable since the surroundings and musicians didn’t change at all over these three live dates. However, I found that it was better to break up listening to this CD with other cuts, as it does tend to drag a little bit from song to song.

Think of “Authorized Bootleg” as a historical document of what it would have been like to hear the great Muddy Waters at the top of his game, but at the end of his golden period. There would be other high points in the future, but this CD will now stand as one of Muddy’s greatest live performances.

You can find this CD at and other fine retailers.


18th March
written by Matt The Cat
Little Walter – The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967)

Hip-O Select has done it again! Here is another box set that will surely satisfy the blues lover in all of us. This week, Hip-O Select released “Little Walter – The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967). Click that link for a complete track listing. It’s available at the Hip-O Select website and also on

Even though Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs joined Muddy Waters live band in 1947, the Chess Brothers didn’t let him begin recording with Muddy until the October 23, 1950 session. This set begins with that very session and a fantastic blues harp instrumental complete with Muddy’s yeps called, “Evans Shuffle”. Muddy wrote it and it was released as a Muddy Waters single by Chess, but it was pure Little Walter.

Walter scored his own session on May 12, 1952. With Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Little Walter blew one of the most infamous and infectious harp solos of all time when they cut “Juke”. It was one of the biggest selling R&B; hits of 1952 and it became Chess Records best seller up until rock n’ roll blew up a few years later. This set includes the alternate version of “Juke”, which is a completely different take on that amazing riff. It’s definitely worth hearing both versions of this classic tune back to back.

It’s hard to imagine disciples like Mick Jagger and Magic Dick blowing a blues harmonica if it hadn’t been for Little Walter’s ground-breaking phrasing and sound. He took a beat-up microphone, amplified it through a cheap PA amplifier and created a distorted, but powerful sound. On his records, the harp is not an after-thought, it’s as up-front and important as a blues guitar. But Walter was more than just a great harmonica player, he could also sing with a great deal of feeling. Included in this 5 CD box set, are all of his 14 top 10 R&B; hits, including his 2 #1’s “Juke” and “My Babe”. I love his vocal style on “Blues With A Feeling”, “Hate To See You Go”(which also features Bo Diddley on guitar), “Too Late”, “Mellow Down Easy” and “Boom Boom Out Go The Lights.”

You will find all of the great Little Walter instrumentals that I used to play nightly on “The Night Prowl Show” as well as weekly on “Harlem”. Songs like “Roller Coaster”, “Fast Boogie” and “Off The Wall” bring back fond memories of giving Little Walter the radio exposure that he’d been missing for a generation.

Walter’s 1963 classic, “Dead Presidents” never made the charts, but it came back again in 1972 when it was covered by The J. Geils Band (featuring Magic Dick, a great blues harp player in his own right). Little Walter’s influence is still felt today whenever a young blues player picks up a harmonica and pairs it with a bullet mic and heavy reverb. I think Tony Glover, Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines put it best in this set’s liner notes when they say, “In blues harmonica, there have been many great players, but only two distinct eras: pre-Little Walter and post-Little Walter.” Yes, he was THAT good and THAT influential and FINALLY we have a box set that proves this beyond refute.