Long unavailable on vinyl, this quintessential collector’s edition includes Diddley’s fifth album, Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, originally released by Chess’ subsidiary Checker Records in December 1961. Critically observed as the rock counterpart of Sonny Rollins’ Way out West (not just because of the cover art, but because of its loose adherence to a Western motif – in the John Wayne and Louis L’Amour sense), this LP is tremendously exciting. Clearly recorded with some haste, there’s an immediacy and coherence about these performances lacking from most rock records of the era. As with earlier releases, Bo Diddley is quite interested in various aspects of African American folklore, especially on “Whoa Mule (Shine)”, as the name of the mule is a reference to Shine, the folkloric African-American trickster who escaped the Titanic shipwreck.
Also, the album moves at a brisk pace, clocking in at just 25 minutes. Highlights include “Gunslinger”, “Ride on Josephine”, “Cadillac”, and “Sixteen Tons”. The first track, “Gunslinger”, is a perfect encapsulation of the legendary Bo Diddley beat and guitar sound, and it’s a great example of one type of Bo Diddley song: the tough, braggadocio filled, spirited romp, like a peacock strutting his stuff behind a solid blues-based rhythm and beat.
According to music critic Bill Dahl, “The song ‘Cadillac’ rocks like hell.” In addition, the tune “Ride on Josephine” has to rank as one of Bo Diddley’s top ten songs. It’s a spirited classic slice of late-’50s to mid-’60s Chuck Berry/Bo Diddley-esque rock & roll. It’s all powered by the simplest and yet most infectious of guitar licks, along with the master of maracas Jerome Green’s percussion. With the keenest of wit and tongue firmly in cheek, the tune merges two of America’s most iconic structures: a hot car and a hot woman.