Sunday, May 20, 2012

I'm A Man (Hoochie Coochie Man) Diddley/Hendrix/Waters/Berry Who Is Best?

When I was about 14 my Uncle took me to the Apollo Theater in Harlem where they had an all night revue as I wanted to see Bo Diddley who was headlining. Innocent and different days! We got there at midnight and we were the only white people in the whole theater, but nobody noticed.


I can't remember who the other acts were except for, I believe, the mighty Ruth Brown but it didn't matter for when Bo came on (with his very bored looking drummer) he blew the place away. He was at the height of his huge vocal power and of course his guitar work was astonishing with its raw, hard driving rhythm and volume. This was before he became, sadly in my opinion, a bit,square guitar/Duchess gimmicky.  


It has stayed with me as a wonderful memory the rest of my life both for the ethos of time and place,which will never be repeated, and for the fabulous performance. There is a clip of the 1958 original version of his "Mona" (on a 78rpm!) at the bottom of the page which conveys some idea of  his power.


The recording of one of his signature songs "I'm A Man" gives some, only some, idea of his vocal power and early restrained guitar work, and the harmonica backing is superb. It is interesting to compare his version to other great artists. For me Muddy Waters version is outstanding down home and earthy and his voice is of course powerful but there is a "thickness" to his tone and a little to much of the 1940's Jazz shouter for my taste and the version is "clubby".


The Hendrix version is new to me and nothing special. The Chuck Berry version is, as with so much of his work, a delight and delivered with a wink rather than with the libidinousness which is usual encountered with this song. Actually Chuck can do no wrong, it is a great piece of performance art but the song should be, in my opinion, delivered in a more earthy manner. 


But these are immortal artists singing an immortal song each in their own way and as far as which is best... to each his/her own but for me Bo is the man.









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