“Who’s the funkiest man in town? You are Bo Diddley.”
Sans, say, drugs, the closest you’ll ever come to hearing an album again for the first time is through the ears of another – i.e. their reaction. In this case the album in question is Bo Diddley’s 1970 psych-funk monster, The Black Gladiator – the ears on loan from my wife. While spinning the new Light In The Attic Records reissue en route to pick her up, she stepped into the car just as “Funky Fly’ was fading out – seconds before “I Don’t Like You” kicks in. If you’ve never had the pleasure, the most efficient way to describe the track is surrealist operatic-r&b-funk. Truly. It also holds the distinction as one the first recorded appearances of the Dozens. Some choice examples: “you gonna play football and get kicked” and, my personal favorite, “you gonna play mountain and get climbed on” – to which Diddley lasciviously retorts “start climbing, baybeh.” Touche’. My wife’s reaction to the album was something akin to “this is Bo Diddley??” and in an instant I suddenly heard it again for the catalog outlier it is.
Born Ellas Otha Bates, Diddley unloaded The Black Gladiator on the masses in 1970. A fuzzed out, funked out gutbucket of psychedelic garage, it’s one of Bo Diddley’s strangest full-lengths. It may also be his most fun. Like Muddy Waters‘ Electric Mud, and Howlin’ Wolf’s dogshit album, Diddley’s Gladiator was largely met with confusion and derision at the time of its release. Contextually, it’s important to note that just a couple of years prior Diddley was still performing chestnuts like “Road Runner” and cutting standard blues sides with the likes of Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. In that respect The Black Gladiator came off like the left-field discography oddity that it is. Here, 40 years later, that same sound is anything but. Taking the long view, Gladiator stands tall next to sounds as similar and disparate as Black Merda, early Funkadelic, Sly Stone and (insert another dozen examples of your own here). And that’s just considering the seventies.
Reissue Specs: Along with new liner notes, this latest CD reissue has been remastered from the session’s original tapes. While I’ve never owned this on compact disc, next to my vinyl copy it’s much cleaner and far richer in the highs and lows. Format note: this is a CD reissue only.
Related: Muddy Waters :: Electric Mud