Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bo to Obama

Been in Paris, of which more later. But this appeared in MidAtlantic


Who do you love?
Bo Diddley's death is a reminder of the great debt British bands owe to African-American blues legends

Ian Williams, Tuesday June 10 2008

The death of Bo Diddley is the end of an era. But it also reminds me that he was in at the beginning of an era whose culmination may be Barack Obama's nomination.

Somewhere in a garden shed in Liverpool are probably boxes of Love Me Do singles that Brian Epstein had had bought to get his new group, the Beatles, in the charts. It was, you will remember, a short, bluesy 45 rpm that turned them from local Scouse heroes to international stars.

The effect was immediate. A youth club I was in had been trying to get them for a dance, and already turned them down because they wanted £40 for a gig. As I remember, we got the Searchers for £20.

And then came success and desertion, as the Merseysound groups set off for London, New York and money. But all was not lost. One of the collateral benefits of the Beatles and the British invasion of the 1960s was musicians' union rules, which required that for every British band that went over to the US in the tailwind behind John, Paul, George and Ringo, American musicians had to be brought over to Britain.

British kids may have had their moments of casual post-imperial racism, but it was not systemic, and the black musicians of the US were the inspiration for most of the best British groups that took the black music back, laundered as it were, to the US.

It was the Rolling Stones' Little Red Rooster that made the white American crowds wake up, not the original black American bluesmen.

We had never heard of "race music." It was good music. We played LPs of obscure blues musicians, who were probably bemused to be dragged from behind their ploughs, or from their halfway houses, and flown across the Atlantic to play in front of crowds of enthusiastic honkies. In many cases, I presume, the Americans were subsidised, so they were great days to be a blues or rhythm and blues fan.

The highlight for me was Sonny Boy Williamson, backed by the Moody Blues, who I saw playing in the hot and fetid Cavern several times. But Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and the rest played at larger extravaganzas. In fact Eric Burden did a humorous and self-deprecatory take on the culture clash of Bo Diddley dropping in to a Tyneside club and hearing the Animals doing a cover of his music.

With the death of the inimitable Bo Diddley, it's worth remembering just how important black American music was for the whole 60s thing and to recall, that when we lionised them in the UK, there were many areas of the US where our heroes could not vote, stay in hotels or sit where they wanted in the bus. It's taken 40 years from Bo to Obama. We've come a long way.

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