Bo Diddley/Alvin Youngblood Hart/Ruthie Foster
October 3, 2006
words/photos by Candise Kola
When Bo Diddley comes to Seattle, one can expect to see a memorable blues show.
When it’s billed as “Bo Diddley & Friends” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bo’s musical career, it’s easy to get excited about the occasion.
You have to suppose that when Bo was deciding who he would like to have on the road with him to make this milestone tour remarkable, he thought to call on modern blues artists who have kept tradition alive while striving for originality in their own careers. This tour is sure to remind Bo’s fans, young and old alike, that his music’s influence has spanned generations. There are contemporary musicians who will incorporate his music’s legacy long after he departs his earthly role of Musical Lifetime Achiever.
The show began with a 30 min acoustic set by Ruthie Foster. Ruthie's vocal delivery has a soulful, gospel-influenced sound. She plays guitar confidently, accompanying her singing with just the right amount of gently strummed, well-grooved rhythm. The highlight of her act is an acapella cover of Son House's “Grinning in Your Face.” Her willingness to put her guitar down and explain that she is going to sing the way her “grandmother likes it” shows the audience that this Texas-born performer is sentimental, and wants to share the music she was brought up to believe in. The audience shares back, and joy is expressed in the room with background claps to keep the girl in time. She is casual, genuinely thrilled to have been invitated to join the tour, and the pride she expresses in her performance makes watching her sing an absolute pleasure.
Alvin Youngblood Hart is also given 30 minuntes to delight, rock, shock, and inspire the audience. His set is a bold departure from the female acoustic greeting the audience warmed up to, and displays a more rugged approach to keeping the blues roots healthy and alive. Alvin’s guitar playing was abundantly backed by Bo’s band members. He was given the spotlight – his gritty guitar playing and vocal rumble demand it – and definitely shined in his power to bring boogie noise and edge to the stage. Songs from his most recent CD, Motivational Speaker, were played with well-rehearsed assertion. The audience was served a heaping helping of homegrown and heartfelt rock and roll to get them ready for the main course being served by Bo.
Bo Diddley is 77 years old this year. It made me grin from ear to ear to take a good look at him as he made his way across the stage to his chair. His wide eyed smile, his flashy red guitar, and his traditional classy hat were all worn with poise. He was greeted by a very loving crowd and reciprocated by making sure he invited everyone in the house to get up and shake what their mama gave 'em, and within minutes of playing there was dancing in the aisles. As I looked around this full symphony room setting and studied who compromised the night's audience, I was moved to see the variety of ages represented. The fans were concentrated in the 60+ range but it was great to see that no matter what age the fans were, they were all celebrating Bo’s career with joy in their hearts. It was extremely inspiring to see this man take pleasure in the fruits of his labor by sharing stories and jams from his rock and roll vaults, speaking honestly about his increased efforts to take good care of his health, Rapping up a sexy 10 minute storm, Bo shifted gears into a smoothly sung political message to America to wake up to its leadership. Bo’s guitar playing and vocals are as sharp as ever, and he brings 50 years of fun from his pocket to the act. He is living proof that a lifetime of rockin' can be done with class.
The show closed out by bringing out Alvin on guitar and Ruthie to sing, while Bo works his way back to the drum set for the last notes of the night. He seemed satisfied in making sure his audience remembers him best for that "Bo Diddley beat" as the show ends.
This tour is a must see for any blues enthusiast, you are guaranteed a song in your heart and smile on your face when you leave.