Monday, March 10, 2014

Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley, Have You Heard?

A few days ago, I left a comment on a cool music blog ("Living in Stereo") that might be worth retelling here.

First, some background: I lived in Izmir, Turkey, from 1956 to 1958. We few American teenagers pooled our small stack of 45s for group listening, and one hepcat brought r&b magic unknown to the rest of us, copies of both "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea" and the staccato, driving "Mona." The latter immediately became one of my forever favorites... which may explain why, when I went off to college in 1960, my first musical move was to swap my Wailers Tall Cool One LP for some other dormie's copy of Bo Diddley's debut album...

In the 1970s I was writing and agency-producing radio, TV, and print ads for Rainier Beer; I was proudest of my specialty, our long series of music parodies, from Tom Waits to the Johnny Burnette Trio, Elvis to DEVO, Los Lobos to the Supremes. When I learned that Chess Records legend Bo Diddley was coming to
Seattle--think "I'm a Man," "Hey, Bo Diddley," "Mona," "Who Do You Love," "Bring It to Jerome," "Say Man," "Pretty Thing," "Hush Your Mouth," "Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover," and other early r&b/rock'n'roll classics--we persuaded the brewery to hire him to cut a radio spot for Rainier Ale, nicknamed "Green Death" for bottle color and alcohol content. (Back then, African-American models were routinely used to advertise extra-strength beer products.)

I wrote some sketchy lyrics, booked studio time, and eagerly awaited The Man.

At the appointed time, Bo breezed in wearing black sunglasses, black shirt and slacks, and a rakish black mini-Stetson, carrying a black electric guitar--no amp, no case--a Telecaster (I think), and not one of his familiar shaped or hand-built versions. He heard the idea, sneered at my lame lyrics, plugged directly into the board, and quickly laid down two minute-long takes of his own instant-substitute
jingle, sung over that trademark shave-and-a-haircut Diddley-beat rhythm. He listened back just long enough to rasp, "Use the second," grabbed up his pre-printed check, and sauntered out of the control room--no chit-chat, no creative critique, just wham-bam-no-thank-you-ma'am!

Bo was usually droll and raucous and deadpan-funny: "You look like you been whupped wid a n'ugly stick"..."Uh, I ain't got nuthin' t' do wid it, but I b'lieve that fella's right!" Maybe he'd been channeling Chuck Berry (cash up front, no discussion).

The ad ran for a few weeks but, sadly, caused no stir. I guess that Boat had sailed.

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