Eddie Bo - Let's Let It Roll (Chess 1900)
Let's Let It Roll
The Chess Sides
Architect of Rock & Roll, Father of Funk, Progenitor, Songwriter, Producer, Arranger, Innovator, Spiritualist, Carpenter, Eccentric, Genius... Eddie Bo was all these things.
A glimpse at the incredible discography that Martin Lawrie has compiled over on SoulGeneration begins to reveal the depth of his talent, and his importance in the overall scheme of things. He was there playing piano on the very first Ace 45 as a member of Al Collins' band in 1955. He would transform that basic arrangement into the elemental I'm Wise for Apollo in '56 just weeks before Little Richard lifted it, renamed it Slippin' and Slidin' (Peepin' and Hidin'), and took it into the Pop Top 40 (not to mention #2 R&B) that Spring.
After three more Apollo singles which didn't do much, Eddie hooked up with New Orleans legend Paul Gayten, who had become Chess Records' A&R man and producer in the Crescent City. According to Global Dog, Indeed I Do (Checker 877) was the first single to be released from the sessions Bo cut with Gayten at Cosimo's in 1957. I've never heard the record... as a matter of fact I've never even seen a copy. I borrowed the scan from SoulGeneration (along with a couple of the others), where it's described as "a cool rockin' blues number that was clearly intended for the charts, there is a strong nod to Chuck Berry's sound on this one, a great late night hip shaker..." Cool. Thanks, Martin!
The first Time I heard Eddie Bo was on an album released by Chess in 1984 (during the Sugar Hill days) called New Orleans Rhythm & Blues. Just a fantastic record, it pulled together some of the more obscure stuff that Paul Gayten was producing for the company back in the fifties. Hot on the trail of the music (ever since hearing the infamous tape), I originally bought the album because it was the only place I could find Mardi Gras Mambo (I didn't know it, but I was also being exposed to Snooks Eaglin for the first time, as the guitarist on Sugar Boy Crawford's Jockomo). Anyway, lurking there on Side 2 was this rocking number called Walk That Walk, apparently from those same 1957 sessions, that was never released at the time. It killed me. As Martin says; "In my opinion, along with I'm Wise, this is in the shortlist for one of Eddie Bo's finest performances.." I am right there with that, but I still wasn't prepared for what was coming next...
Released in 1958, Chess 1698 (issued in between Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode and Oh Carol) is just an atom bomb of a record, and should be mentioned right up there with either of those. What an unbelievable 45 this is. That whole minor to major shift thing that's going on is years ahead of its time, and that GUITAR!! Holy Sh*t and Guacamole! Lord have mercy! It made Chuck (no offense) look like an amateur! Nowhere in the liner notes on the Chess album, or anywhere else since for that matter, have I seen credited whoever it is that's just blasting off here... Edgar Blanchard? Irving Charles? Ernest McLean? Papoose Nelson? Irving Bannister? Snooks? Every time I hear it, it still just lays me out, man. [ed.note: special thanks to our man down on the bayou, Dan Phillips, who positively identified the frenetic mystery guitarist as Edgar Blanchard! Way to go, Dan!] "We'll have our own private hop, doing the Walk, the Stroll, the Chicken and the Bop..." Yeah, Baby! From this moment on, I was a stone Eddie Bo fan, whoever he was...
Not included on that album (just like the initial Checker single) was the flip of that towering record, the original version of My Dearest Darling. Co-written by Eddie and Paul Gayten (as was the rockin' A side), it was erroneously attributed to Clarence Henry (another Gayten protegé) on the label. In any event, it would be taken to #5 R&B (top 40 Pop) by Chess mainstay Etta James in the fall of 1960. Just another little known fact about our man Bo. Unreal.
When I picked up Jeff Hannusch's I Hear You Knockin' there in those mid-eighties, I devoured it like it was the map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. I couldn't get enough New Orleans, and drove my friends crazy with arcane facts about little known 45s. Although Eddie was mentioned a dozen times in the book, he remained a kind of shadowy figure, showing up where you'd least expect it. The feeling I was left with was summed up, perhaps, by something Joe Banashak was quoted as saying in the book; "I always felt that there was something that didn't fit, or was out of tune on everything Eddie Bo produced. I tried to tell him, but he just laughed." I'm sure he did.
My eternal quest for Bo vinyl began in earnest, and I began to dig up some of his Ric material on my forays down to Sugar Town. Once again, I was blown away. How could music this good have gone unheard for so long? We've talked before about Eddie's stint with Joe Ruffino's labels and how his skills as a songwriter, arranger and producer (along with his partner, Mac Rebennack) were all over other great records by the likes of Irma Thomas, Robert Parker and Tommy Ridgley.
In 1988, Rounder Records got the rights to the Ric and Ron masters, and released Check Mr. Popeye, a collection of Eddie's singles for the label, along with a couple of previously unreleased tracks. I was in hog heaven. The liner notes were written by Hannusch, and he fleshed out the Bo story a little bit more (they'd later be included, in slightly expanded form, in The Soul of New Orleans). He tells of Bo's 'gunwaving argument' with Ruffino, whose reluctance to lease Check Mr. Popeye to a larger company until it was too late (after he had gotten burned by Roulette on Joe Jones' You Talk Too Much), kept it from being the big hit it should have become. By the summer of 1962, Bo was gone. The liner notes went on to say that until 1986, Eddie "could often be seen strolling down Broad Street, dressed in flowing robes - and, yes, in a turban passing out religious literature. He now lives in Florida," Hannusch went on to say, "outside of the profession of music." More mystery...
You're With Me
After bolting from Ric and Ron, Bo signed with the tiny Rip label which was owned by a local character named Rippo Roberts. His first two Rip singles didn't make much noise and, unwilling to get burned again, he secured national distribution for his third release with old pal Paul Gayten at Chess. Both sides of the record show a little bit of Brother Ray's influence, which is not surprising as he just owned the top five that summer. I guess Eddie thought that with the big company behind him, he might have a shot at some of that fine dough. Another great record, the guitar is just amazing once again. The Chicago company was busy with its own artists, I imagine, and was releasing timeless records of their own in 1962 like I Ain't Superstitious, You Need Love and One Way Out, and as such it may not have been that high on their list. It didn't sell.
By 1963, Eddie's affiliation with Rip had run its course, and he continued working with other small companies in and around New Orleans. Our current cool selection was a one-off single he cut on Arrow (a label which neither I, nor Martin Lawrie, know anything about), that was leased to Chess in 1964. With a touch of the uptown soul sound that Chess was getting into with Billy Davis around that same time (as well as a tip of the hat to the Isleys), this one should have been a hit. Only it wasn't, and this would be his last Windy City release. Eddie took matters into his own hands at that point and started up his own Fun label, the first of his many projects. Rather than try and go into all of that with you here, I'm going to leave it to pros like Martin, Larry Grogan and Dan Phillips to pick up the rest of the story...
As luck would have it, my own personal odyssey as a fan of all things Eddie Bo was intensified by my witnessing his triumphant turban wearing, second-lining, hookin' and slingin' return to Jazz Fest in 1989. He was back in 'the profession of music' big time, and I'm here to tell ya he took the crowd to another level. I made it a point to see him every time I was down there after that... I remember a riverboat thing he did with Wayne Bennett (carrying on his tradition of having a top notch guitar player in the band) in like '91, where I got to actually meet and hang out with both of them in between sets. I was just in awe.
As the years went on, I spoke with him a bunch of times, at places like the Rock 'n' Bowl, and I never lost that feeling of like 'Oh my God, I'm talking to Eddie Bo!' I was just a huge fan.
The last time I saw him was when my pal John Ciba got me backstage last year at the Ponderosa Stomp. Eddie was waiting to go on for a midnight set. Even though he was tired, he went out there and just killed them. I can't believe I'll never see him again.
"We should seek love and distribute love, and seek to be moral," he said.
Thanks for all the love, my brother, may you rest in peace.