Picks and Pans Review: The Chess Box
While he may be best known now as the Bo who isn't Jackson, Mr. Diddley occupies a curious place in the early history of rock and roll. Neither as outrageous in his performing as Little Richard nor as prolific in his songwriting as Chuck Berry, Diddley nevertheless created some of the most copied sounds ever to come down the poly-rhythmic pike.
This 45-tune treasure chest of recordings by the man who called himself "the originator" does a service to the music and its maker that too many of his nearly two dozen individual albums—with their frequent emphasis on Diddley as a novelty rather than an innovator—failed to perform. Here, for what feels like maybe the first time, is Bo straight up.
The seminal songs are all here—"I'm a Man," "Mona," and "Who Do You Love?" among others. In addition there are a handful of previously unreleased numbers, including the quieter if no less cool "Bring It to Jerome," with Billy Boy Arnold supplying steady harmonica riffs. Rarer fare runs the gamut from an extended version of the easy, bantering "Signifying Blues" to the countrified and infectiously propulsive "Down Home Special" to an untitled instrumental that could easily grace a John Waters film score with its loopy guitar-guided tremolo.
While critic Robert Palmer, in his extensive essay accompanying the box, makes much of Diddley's contribution to the lexicon of rock-and-roll rhythm, he often gets bogged down in his own intricate analysis. Diddley, speaking for himself in his own accompanying notes, gets to the point with less fuss: "Guys kind of piss me off trying to name what I'm doing," he writes. "I don't know what it is. I just play it." (MCA)