Bo Diddley died last night at age 79. Here is a review from his last Santa Barbara appearance, a Lobero performance in September of 2006.
Already a formidable jazz force, the Lobero ups the ante with its R&B (& rock, if you look closely) series. But it’s probably better themed as roots music, that pure sounding blues-rock amalgam from which rock ’n’ roll draws its inspiration. The term certainly applied to Monday’s appearance by Bo Diddley, the man “who put the rock in roll.”
First up was soloist Ruthie Foster playing songs about music, heaven, prayer, and death. The small-town Texan’s songwriting skills were solid, as witnessed in her attempt at Sam Cooke’s style in “Another Rain Song” and in her new song, “Mama” — an ode to her mom that’ll be on her forthcoming January album. In contrast to Foster’s starkness, Alvin Youngblood Hart — a dreadlocked man whose giant frame made his guitars look like breakable toothpicks — took the stage with Bo Diddley’s full backing band. It’s not that Hart’s music was especially intricate, but his blues/folk/rock/everything-else sound — on which the Memphis guitarist prides himself for being genre-busting — is full and loud. Hart’s pissy attitude left a bad taste in many mouths, and others griped that his music was far too run-of-the-mill. But there were fits of talent in a couple of songs, especially one where a ska beat slid into surf music at each chorus.
Then it was Bo’s turn. Dressed in a bright red shirt and badge-adorned black hat, and with a rectangular guitar in hand, the nearly 78-year-old Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Famer led a short set full of rambling banter and hit ’n’ miss improvisation before he let loose on his guitar and microphone, playing with fast hands and belting out lyrics strongly. Highlights included “I’m a Man” morphing into “Shut Up Woman,” a lengthy rap song — at times freestyle — that had the crowd on its feet, as well as the final song, “Hey Bo Diddley,” when Foster and Hart returned to the stage.
Many in the crowd left before the 10:30 p.m. finish, happy to have seen Bo but not interested enough to stay. I can’t say I blame them; the performance won’t go down in the record books. But Bo Diddley’s already got entire record books written on him, and it was an honor to have basked in his confident, carefree, and often raunchy glory.