One Bo Diddley cover?
I need to have my head checked.
I’m excluding Bo Diddley covers that weren’t actually Bo Diddley covers, all those hundreds of songs (some as improbable as the Byrds’ cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe,” some as obvious as half of George Thorogood’s career, about which more later) built around the beat associated with his name. Bo may or may not have originated that beat but he certainly inserted it into the American bloodstream, where it has done all manner of good.
From a list of thousands, then, most to mostest, favorite at the bottom, with a little comment on what makes each of these stand out a little:
Warren Zevon “Bo Diddley’s a Gunslinger” (1981)
From Zevon’s monumental live album Stand In the Fire. It’s unleashed at the end, where it reveals Bo as the secret force hiding in the shadows of the album itself and perhaps in the shadows of the performer’s entire persona. Zevon didn’t even have to sing the one that said “I’m just twenty-two and I don’t mind dyin’.” to get the message across. Don’t let his managing to see 56 fool you. He lived that line if anybody did…
The Gants “Crackin’ Up” (1966)
The secret, unholy post-war pact between the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners played out as deadpan comedy, right down to the disturbingly accurate soul scream at the top of the bridge. Just a little Mississippi frat-boy humor ya’ll.
Mike Henderson and the Bluebloods “Pay Bo Diddley” (1996)
Henderson was a cult figure who probably had some experience at not getting paid. He sounds even sorrier about Bo being shafted than Bo did. His guitar, on the other hand, sounds like it has come to collect.
The Yardbirds “I’m a Man” (Live on Shindig, 1965)
I might have put the studio version in the top five anyway, just on the basis of Jeff Beck’s famous string-bending (and mind-bending). But on this live version, everything–especially Keith Relf’s harp playing–is on fire. Which just means Beck’s soloing has to rise even higher to keep from being incinerated.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers “Ride On Josephine” (1977)
Leave it to a keep-it-simple sort like George to best understand the aesthetic that underpinned every element of Bo’s deceptively sinuous sound and his serio-comic faux resignation and thus produce my very favorite Bo Diddley cover.
And what was that aesthetic called?
NEXT UP: My Favorite Shangri-Las Record…Not By the Shangri-Las