Saturday, June 29, 2013

The unfathomable strangeness of American music Part 2. Bo Diddley and Leroy Jenkins together at last?

I met Bo Diddley in 1980 in Gainesville, Florida. He lived on on a farm with a recording studio in Archer,  nearby. I was playing guitar in The Gainesville Jazz Allstars, run by  saxophonist Barney Hendrix, a cousin of Jimi Hendrix, who had worked with Bill Doggett, BB King, and James Brown.  Barney really wanted me to play the rhythms correctly - his previous guitar was his son Reggie, who was a genius - and brought in an old blues piano player named "Feets" to jam with  so I can pick up comping. 

I'll put up a live recording of the Gainesville Jazz All Stars with Barney on alto and me on guitar playing a blues bar in ‘79. 

Bo Diddley used pick up bands at that time. Due to the Allstars shows, he called me to play some county fair gigs. He paid $25 a set. Bo built that  square guitar himself, and placed the sound effects inside it: he didn’t like foot pedals. He showed me how to wind the guitar strings around a house key above the pegs. 

Women thought Bo was sexy, and Mo Tucker and Tiye’ Giraud told me they had crushes on him - and that he inspired them to be musicians. He certainly was a pioneer by featuring Duchess and Lady Bo, woman guitar players in his group… 

I heard Bo Diddley  play very long guitar solos, and no listener got bored. One night we were playing “I’m a Man”, and he would answer the main riff for a  long time, maybe 5 minutes.  I started feeling sassy after playing the same riff so many times and stretched the phrase out. He cut off the band, and proceeded to have his guitar lecture me like a school marm! It went on for a long time, his guitar telling me to behave myself. The crowd went crazy. I  can’t  imagine anyone else who could make the guitar talk like that.
(I teased Bo about “I’m a Man”, saying he wrote it because he was being macho. He responded that he wrote it because, people in Chicago called him “boy” as a young black man.)
Bo knew I played violin as I'd use it on a few numbers with the Allstars. He told me he used to play it but switched to rock n’ roll guitar to make a living. He was a little upset that one of his daughters wanted to play classical music, and he was trying to get her interested in pop. He didn’t tell me he actually recorded one rock n’ roll number on violin in the fifties, “The Clock Strikes Twelve” but you can hear it on one of Anthony Barnett’s collections. 

He also told me he used to play violin duos in Chicago on the streets with Leroy Jenkins when they were little boys. I had studied music with Roscoe Mitchell when I was 18 in Michigan, when Roscoe was likewise living on a farm, and I knew about Leroy’s band, The Revolutionary Ensemble. 
At the same time, I was taking violin lessons with Elwyn Adams who was at the University of Florida. If you played in the college orchestra, you got free lessons. As a black man, Elwyn had moved to Europe to have a career, and was concert master for  the Symphony of Bordeaux.
I told Elwyn I was going to move to New York, and he told me to look up his old student, Leroy Jenkins!

Bo Diddley used pick up bands, and he taught them the numbers just before the concert. He asked if I would travel with him so instead I could teach the players. I realized that at $25 a set, I couldn’t make a living. I told him I decided to move to New York, and he said “you’ll enjoy it, but New Yorkers are crazy.”
When I moved to New York, I called Leroy Jenkins and said hello from Elwyn. I took a few lessons from Leroy, who had a studio in the Village, and put together a quintet including Marty Ehrlich, who was playing bass clarinet with Leroy, and we played two small outdoor concerts of some of his pieces. 
I asked Leroy about Bo Diddley. He said “Bo was such a disappointment. He was a great musician and then he started playing that rock crap.” Oddly, that was about the time that Leroy was playing with his own rock band, Sting. 
Years later, Bo Diddley was playing at the Bottom Line. My friend Tom Gartland was the sound man / house manager and took me backstage. I told him hello from Leroy. He said “Leroy Jenkins! Is he still alive!” I arranged for them to fax each other.
I thought a reunion concert between Bo and Leroy would make the greatest rock band of all time. 

During this period my string quartet, the Soldier String Quartet, was playing with John Cale, with John singing and playing piano, and the pedal steel player BJ Cole. I met Mo Tucker in 1992 when John put together a surprise Velvet Underground reunion at NYU. Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison showed up but Mo missed the concert as she hates planes and couldn’t get the train on time. Anyway, I soon met Mo through the Cale entourage, and she told me that Bo Diddley inspired her to be a musician. 
So I asked Bo, Leroy and Mo if they would consider playing as a trio and they each agreed. Leroy said that a concert should get a $10K guarantee, and Bo agreed. For years, when I would meet someone with money in the rock world, I’d try to get them interested. I'm still sure this was history’s greatest rock n’ roll trio, but it was fated to be so only in the imagination.

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