Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Fulminators are back, this time with a homage to Bo Diddley


I'm not sure which came first for me - the Johnny Kidd cover or the Bo Diddley original. Probably the former. They were both great - but the original was nothing short of magnificent: meaty, beaty, big and ever so threatening. 

I suppose Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell" was an odd record for a ten year old to be listening to back in 1963. I suspect we bought it (I had a fellow obsessive to enjoy this stuff with) for the "A" side, the stomping "You Can't Judge a Book By Looking at the Cover" (an important life lesson, I reckon - though I'm not sure that was Elias McDaniel's main purpose in penning it). But the thumping, muscular slowness of "I Can Tell", combined with the minatory atmosphere created by Bo's big, exotic, adult voice and the resentful anger of the lyrics, was so mesmerising, I'm pretty sure both sides of that marvellous Pye Records orange and yellow single got equal air-time at our respective homes.

I have no idea exactly what our emotional response to the record could have been back then - but there undoubtedly was a powerful response of some sort. Odd to think of white middle-class kids in England in 1963 consuming tales of lust and sexual jealousy created by adult working-class black men four thousand miles away - but I suppose it's no different (and probably a lot healthier) than today's pre-teen private schoolboys listening to the hate-filled obscenities of modern rap music.

The really odd thing is that I enjoy this music as much as I did then. And it's odd to find that my voice is now pretty much as deep as Bo's - without, needless to say, the  rich, primal, hollering quality and innate musicality that his possessed.

Bo wasn't that accomplished a guitar player: he didn't really do individual notes. But what he had was an absolutely unique style, from which he wrung every possible advantage. One of the fascinating things about the original, when you try to deconstruct it, is how little is actually going on. It's a testament to Bo's voice and guitar playing - and to the Chess Studios engineers - that the recording sounds so full. No wonder the Stones were so eager to steal some of the magic by recording there.

I once rode the same airplane as Bo Diddley (I think it was from Norfolk, Virginia to Little Rock). The flight was slightly delayed, and, as we all waited , a constant stream of fellow passengers sought the Great Man out to shake his hand. He was extremely gracious, and, it seemed, quietly pleased. I had almost reached him when we were told to board. He turned left, the curtain separating the two classes swished shut - and I didn't see him at the other end. I've always regretted that.  

Anyhow, getting to know a record I've loved for nearly half a century a little better was great fun. (I tried to recreate the way the original starts off in a rather, hesitant low key way, threatening to break down completely before just managing to shift into gear - but when I tried that, inevitably, I broke down completely.)


  1. Baroness Thatcher7 December 2011 at 01:42


  2. My attitude to Bo, whom I always admired, was always influenced by two factors. First, any objective discussion at school of his place in the rock and roll pantheon tended to be Sharmanised, often involving headlocks. Second and more important, as a guitarist too much influenced by the conventional shapes and stylings, I found Bo's home-built box-shaped guitars worryingly non.-conformist. I now wish I'd bought one when I had the chance.

    Great track Scott. Ignore Thatcher's comment below. She never got popular
    culture and to the extent she did, her signing up to the Single European Act must put her more in the Yes to Ibiza Acid House camp. Sadly.

  3. So, now we have proof that the Great Lady is suffering from dementia - nothing else would account for her bizarre reaction to my recording.

    Thank you, ex-KCS - glad you enjoyed it. I remember a lunctime event set up by a history teacher (the tiny young one with the curly hair) where Duncan Campbell and another chap argued about "savage" music and played samples. The first example was some Shostakovich - Campbell chose Bo Diddley. So, there we were, about 40 of us, crammed into a class-room listening to Bo singing "Say What" (I can't remember the Shostakovich - never quite round to him, and now his reputation would - unlike Bo's - appear to have waned). I can only assume someone had dropped acid into the water supply. Strange Days, indeed.

    I can't for the life of me figure out what it was all for, but it was fun.

  4. "Glimpsing wee Alan Dures through the fog of steam,miniature hands deftly removing plates from the monstrous dishwasher as if they were hot coals,which in a way they were,I wondered what had a 'Master'at a good public school done to deserve to have found himself working alongside us,we the fallen,in this benighted place.But it was only Aladdio,who in all things except intellectual prowess,could have been Alan's twin."
    Extract taken from 'Memoirs of a...

  5. Alan Dures! Of course! What a nice chap he was - and, as you say, he really didn't deserve to be landed with the likes of us. Wonder what happened to him - probably turned into a right bastard, purely as a matter of survival. Being a schoolteacher must be hard enough without being shorter than any oif your pupils, and being one letter away from sharing a name with the world's most famous manufacturer of prophylactics. I hope he wasn't put off holding more musical debates - the fact that it has stuck in our heads for over 40 years suggests it was worth doing.