It’s never too late to commemorate the passing of the great Bo Diddley earlier this year. And what better choice than this little-known piece of fuzzed-out gutter funk, “The Black Gladiator.” OK, now the first thing you’re thinking is, “What’s going on with this cover art?” Don’t ask me. Maybe Bo (and not Hendrix, or Miles Davis) was actually the subject of Betty Davis’ infamous tune, “He Was A Big Freak.” But we’re not interested in fogging the memory of the renowned Mr. Diddley here, no sir. Maybe he’s just a gladiator, in addition to being a gunslinger and other occupations, and I’m reading too much into that. I am notoriously guilty of over-interpretation. This record speaks for itself. Is this a desperate attempt for an artist fifteen years into his career to “keep up with the times,” to ‘update’ his sound? Maybe. Do I care? Not really. Recasting his thang in a new musical landscape of black pride and consciousness, of psychedelic funk, does not bother me one wit. And the music is unmistakably Bo Diddley. One thing about the early 1970s, for me the apex of quality of all recorded music in every imaginable genre around the world (I’m not kidding folks.. I will take this claim to my grave and wager money on it) is that keeping up with the times wasn’t such a bad thing. The sounds of the decade age well — if they didn’t, why are the beats, textures, and tones from the 70s continually recycled, resampled, and reinvented, every decade hence? @#$% the 80’s revival. I’m staying in 1975 with my Curtis Mayfield records and this copy of The Black Gladiator. From a Japanese limited edition pressing with LP-sleeve artwork dupes. Enjoy! (My apologies for the misogyny of “Shut Up, Woman.” I tried selling Mr. Diddley on a song titled “Bo Diddley is a Radical Feminist Deconstructionist” but he refused to record it.)
P.S. Some people really hate this record. They loath it alongside Muddy Water’s “Electric Mud,” which I also like. Different strokes.
An “obituary” of sorts that circulated on a email listserv I belong to, upon news of his passing.
“No, goddammit, no. That grouchy genius can’t be dead. He was a
fucking Gunslinger. He fought monsters. He was loose, he was a surfer, he was
a man, he was a lumberjack, he would not be accused, he was looking for a
woman, he could bounce, he could twist, he was cookie-headed, he was powered by
heart-o-matic love, he was bad, he did the crawdaddy, he let them
bring it to Jerome, he shot tombstone bullets, he wore a fucking cobra snake
around his neck, he had a rock and roll nurse who gave him pills, he stopped
mumbling and talked out loud, he was my dearest rock and roll darling.
He was a lot of things, goddammit, but he can’t be dead. There’s no
fucking “Bo Diddley’s Dead” in his catalog.”