Bo Diddley - lead guitar, lead vocals; Lady Bo (aka Peggy Jones) - guitar, vocals; Wally Malone - bass, vocals; Fred Below - drums
When one analyzes the early days of the rock 'n' roll era, three men emerge as having the most profound effect: Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley. Less acknowledged or celebrated than the other two, Diddley's contribution is no less profound, but considerably more difficult to categorize or explain. His music may strike some as less complex, but Diddley was always more direct and edgier than his contemporaries. He avoided the teenage fantasies of Chuck Berry's music and didn't embrace the youthful adrenaline rush of Little Richard. His music was more primal and seemed to come from another place entirely. Often cited as a key figure in the transition of the blues into early rock 'n' roll, his classic rhythmic innovations and heavier hard-edged approach to guitar had a profound influence on the likes of Quicksilver, the Grateful Dead and countless other bands. Also, unlike most of his contemporaries, Diddley wasn't just regurgitating his hits during the 1960s. Instead, he continued developing his sound, using a variety of rhythms and incorporating early effects processing and tone innovations on his trademark rectangular-bodied Gretsch guitar. Even when performing his trademark hits, he embraced improvisation, making every performance a new experience suited to the time.
While this 1970 performance doesn't contain any revelatory moments, it does clearly show Diddley's open- ended approach to performing. Recorded at Jamaica Pond Park in Boston, when Diddley opened a concert by The Byrds, this performance features a stripped down quartet that knows how to engage an audience. With only half an hour of stage time, here Diddley focuses on some of his best known material, beginning appropriately enough with the song he'll forever be associated with: "Bo Diddley," with its unmistakable rhythm permeating much of this set. Apparently, audience members were flinging projectiles during this song and he encourages them to settle down and respect each other before taking off into another extended romp through "The Bo Diddley Chant," reinforcing the rhythmic focus of the opening number. What is most interesting here is Diddley's guitar solos. He is obviously embracing psychedelia and funk, as his use of distortion and particularly his wah-wah pedal point in a direction that would be embraced and fully realized by the likes of Parliament-Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel during the decade to follow. Next up is a prime piece of contemporary Bo Diddley, "Don't Want No Lying Woman," a standout track from Black Gladiator, his 1970 album. This clearly has roots in the blues he grew up on while taking his sound into the new decade. His cover of Willie Dixon's "You Can't Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover" is a fairly straightforward reading that is unfortunately cut due to the tape stock running out. When the recording resumes, it is just to capture the tail end of his closing song, "Hey Bo Diddley." Those end of set flaws aside, this remains a fine example of where Diddley was heading with his music.
Although Black Gladiator would at the time be derided as a self-indulgent attempt to bring a traditional artist to the psychedelic rock audience, it has since acquired a devoted following by R & B-flavored garage rock audiences with a taste for distortion. Diddley's music of this era can even be seen as a precursor to heavy metal and punk as it often has no chord changes at all. The musicians often play the same chord throughout a song, so that excitement is created by the rhythm alone, rather than by harmonic tension and release. This, as well as Diddley's unwillingness to stay in one place, is what sets him apart from the other 1950s rock 'n' roll pioneers.