J P Ryan | Waltham, Massachusetts United States | 11/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fans (i'm one) have been waiting a long time for Bo Diddley to get the serious attention and reissue campaign he deserves. What a delight it is to find oneself listening to disc one of "I'm A Man: The Chess Masters 1955 - 1958", witnessing previously unheard primal ooze from the very creation of rock 'n' roll, happy as a baby that, thanks to context and previously unheard and historically crucial material - including two alternate versions of 'Bo Diddley ' itself, each surprisingly different from the other AND from the final master we all know and love - it all absolutely sounds so new again, so urgent, and so pleasureable, not the least bit academic or 'interesting' in the way you might expect when you notice a boxed set by a major artist includes several previously ureleased alternate takes. "Hmmm...morally speaking, should I play ALL the false starts of (Charlie Parker's) 'Mr Lee' again, or just program the masters?" The sense of revelation occurs, for me, during track four, the second alternate version of 'Bo Diddley', as Bo lets out a roar - an invocation - whose power and menace clearly is such that it will not survive to the master take, already one of the seminal debut 45s from the rock 'n' roll era. The band, and Bo espececially, dig into the groove and soar.... The story of Bo Diddley is, I presume, familiar to most of you reading this...Born December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, part of the great black American migration north, but ahead of the curve, heading to Chicago when he was only 7 or 8, which makes the depth of 'southerness' in his music all the more remarkable; for many years studied the violin, which influenced his approach to the guitar ("The rhythm guitar sound that I started I call the muted sound. I learned that from playing classical violin...Now they call it funk." Quoted from "The Chess Box", 1991)...Learned to build his own guitars at Foster Vocational Scool. Early groups, from the mid-'40s, include the Hipsters, and the Langley Avenue Jive Cats.. By 1948 - 50 Bo's Jive Cats include Jerome Green (world's all time number one maracas player), Billy Boy Arnold on harmonica, and drummer Clifton James - who all contribute mightily to the music on this set. Having played together for several years, they must have felt pretty confident when Bo approached the Vee-Jay label late in 1954 with a demo tape; rejected by Edward Abner, he took the demo across the street and in early 1955 Bo found his home at Chess, who issued his music for the next 20 years... Even recalling the cultural explosion that was rock 'n' roll, as Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis seemed to burst out of nowhere, Bo Diddley - who did not inspire a movie celebrating his music on his 60th, 70th, or 75th birthdays - stood out as THE major sonic innovator from rock 'n' roll's first generation. Rather than milking the shave-and-a-haircut rhythm of his debut, Diddley evolved a flexible, fresh and sophisticated approach, one that kept his music compelling over the course of scores of singles and 13 or 14 Checker albums issued through the mid-60s....By 1966 Chess was adapting to seismic shifts in popular music, focused on the emerging youth market for soul, with the blues and rock titans that made Chess such an important label during the previous two decades now playing to older blacks and the young American and European white musicians who shaped rock 'n' roll's second generation. After Bo's "The Originator" came out in late '66, Chess issued a few more singles and a pair of minor albums ("Super Blues" and Super Super Blues...", featuring Bo, Muddy Waters and either Little Walter or Howlin' Wolf ad-libbing and half-heartedly bragging through their old hits) aimed at the rock audience, but there were no new Bo Diddley studio albums until 1970. But the sound of these early records is big, raw, and sometimes unbelievably grungey - hoodoo with a big beat. Diddley's most original music manages to sound like nobody else's, and its emphasis on rhythm and ambience prove that he helped shape what was later called funk - a full decade before James Brown broke through with 'Out Of Sight' and 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag'. Rooted in the blues, Bo was 18 and 13 years younger than Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, respectively. Stylistically his roots are just as primal, but from his earliest recordings he was always more interested in experimenting. Like Chuck Berry (two years his senior), Bo was no blues purist, and if he lacks Berry's sly verbal sophistication the intensity and originality of his work reminds us just how unique it seems even today, and his influence can be found in the music the most radical, unique, and important rock 'n' rollers, such as Captain Beefheart ('Diddy Wah Diddy', Beefheart's first single, covered in '66) and Iggy and The Stooges ('Little Doll', from their 1969 debut album is pure Diddley). And what other rockers white or black, aside from Bo, regularly employed women musicians long before Maureen Tucker(major influence: Bo Diddley) became drummer for the Velvet Underground? "I'm A Man" offers a generous eight tracks - four alternates - from Bo Diddley's very first session for Chess, on March 2, 1955, and this session is alone worth the price of admission, for the years playing Chicago clubs allowed his great band to forge a style uniquely their own from the very start of Bo's recording career. Diddley has stated that he wanted to make "jungle music" and these records, cut over 50 years ago, live up to that rich, almost cinematic phrase, which was famously used (its racism not so thinly disguised) to attack rock 'n' roll as it was thrilling young white kids. This set offers for the first time since 1991's "Chess Box", a serious attempt at an in-depth examination of Bo Diddley's body of work, in the form of a remarkable chronological document of those first three years in the studio, beginning with that epochal first session on March 2, 1955 through January 29, 1958. It confirms that the classic double-sided debut single captures Bo Diddley white hot, with a fully devoped and integrated style and persona. The sonic picture jumps out on the very first track, an alternate, as you find yourself moving to the sizzle of the maracas and the shimmer of Bo's guitar, and they are always out front, for as Robert Palmer so neatly pointed out, Bo Diddley utterly "reorganized the rhythm section" (the "Chess Box" is well worth checking out, despite its 'early digital' sound, for the inclusion of "Deep Blues" author Palmer's brilliant, illuminating essay) as profoundly as did James Brown a decade later. These sides also feature virtuoso Sonny Boy/Little Walter-infuenced harp from Billy Boy Arnold (and sometimes Little Walter himself); Clifton James' creative drumming, which on so many of these recordings emphasizes tom-toms and snare, rarely the ride cymbal or bass drum; and, often, Chess-stalwart Willie Dixon's swinging bass. And we notice the way the mixes highlight that sizzle, utterly drenching some songs in reverb, especially during the fadeouts - these may by the most creative fadeouts in rock 'n' roll...Other rarities include Bo's original 'Love Is Strange', which Mickey & Sylvia made into a smash shortly after this version was recorded. And check out the claves on the unbelievably raw 'She's Fine, She's Mine', a B-side rarely reissued on compilations... This album is more fun than "The Sun Sessions" and just as important. Bo Diddley's influence on subsequent rock 'n' roll - just ask the Rolling Stones - fans, then friends since Bo toured with the Stones across Britain on their first national tour in 1963. Bo later toured with Ron Wood in 1987 - 88, played a fantastic 'Who Do You Love' onstage with the Stones on their 1995 'Voodoo Lounge' tour (immortalized on video), and utilized Wood and Keith Richards on his last, surprisingly stron studio album, "A Man Amongst Men" (1996). Other descendents, major second generation British rock 'n' rollers deeply influenced by Diddley, include the Yardbirds, Pretty Things (named after Bo's hit), Creation, and the Birds. Over in the States his spirit would be felt in the work of major figures such as Buddy Holly, Chicago soul legend Billy Stewart (Bo's protege), Captain Beefheart, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Quicksilver, or the Doors. Still later, The New York Dolls recorded just one cover on their classic 1973 debut: Bo's "Pills"; a few years later another generation paid homage when Bo was invited to open the first American tour by The Clash in 1979. This profound impact on rock 'n' roll makes the fact that virtually none of his studio albums - "Gunslinger" (1960) was remastered for CD in 2004 - has been reissued for CD in the US perverse. One can only hope "I'm A Man" is just the first blazing installment in a series that will cover Bo's career at Chess, and I suggest writing encouraging words to Hip-O and buying extra copies of this limited edition as xmas presents. Bo Diddley made an awful lot of great, original music well into the '60s, after all, and even issued a solid studio album as recently as 1996's aforementioned "A Man Amongst Men". For now, this set from Hip-O is the motherlode I've hoped for, and a concept that this artist deserves. From that glorious title track, backed by 'I'm A Man' (appropriated by Muddy Waters for 'Mannnish Boy') to the stinging blues 'I'm Bad' to the proto-rap 'Say Man' and the dazzling, four-minute-plus guitar workout 'Spanish Guitar' which must have made a young Jimi Hendrix smile that big, warm smile of his, "I'm A Man" offers Jungle Music for the ages. * PS: Just weeks after Bo Diddley's death in June 2008, Hip - 0 has issued the second volume of complete Chess Recordings, "Roadrunner", covering 1959 - 60. Bo cut some killer dillers in the first half of the 1960s, so let's hope the restoration of his musical legacy continues with future volumes! "
Bo's Incredible 50"s Rock
William Lynd | Poestenkill, NY United States | 11/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This truly is an amazing set of music. I've been a fan of Bo's for a few years now and was a little frustrated about the sound quality on some of the earlier compilations and lack of completness. This set obviously takes care of Bo's first 4 years - definitively! Kudos to Hip-O-Select for doing such a nice job. Nice little booklet with all recording dates and musician info too.
If I could have changed anything, I probably would have just changed the order a bit - I like the chronological approach, but sometimes hearing the same song twice in a row is a little annoying. Maybe disc one could have been the masters and disc two could have been the alternates, but whatever! - I am truly glad to have purchased this set.
I really would like to have another volume or two - 1959-1963 would be awesome as there are some really hard to find(and great!)tracks that have not been easily available in the U.S. for quite a while, and the sound on the imports sometimes leaves something to be desired.
"For a start the sound is brilliant, it leaps right out at you, and even the packaging is top shelf. Which is good stuff, because this is monstrously amazing and unbelievably vital music, so seminal it's damn near obscene: as primitive avant-garde as Beefheart, as much sheer fun as Chuck Berry, and as soulful as Atlantic R&B. Funny, too. Moving even, on the rare ballads. But, oh, that mad guitar! The relentless throb/thump/crash percussion! That wild voice! My God.
I'm sorry I can't really talk about the album in any detail, am a bit incoherent, stunned basically, but there are fine and thoughtful reviews already posted here. I just want to witness that I love it, really love it, and to add my 5 stars to the others, hoping to possibly help sway at least one viewer's mind. I mean, I've owned this CD for less than 24 hours, but no doubt, it's definitely one of the very best things I've ever been lucky enough to get my hands on. Bring on Volume II!
By the way the alternate takes & repetitions are cool, good in themselves, and not tediously "completist" at all. Each track is a gem and the music flows all the way through both discs, generating and sustaining a raw, utterly primal atmosphere that can become hypnotically all-enveloping, not to mention extremely exciting. (You can get even a decent sense of it simply by letting the Amazon sound samples play through while you browse.)