Bo Diddley: The Originator Shows Off His Originality

Monday, November 6, 2006

Ladies, a question: If a 77-year-old man pledged to "make your body shake / Like a California earthquake," would you believe him?

You would if he were Bo Diddley, who made this and a dozen other equally audacious promises Saturday night during an hour-long set at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. "The Originator" took longer to reach his stool in the center of the stage than he probably used to but proved once he got there that the power of his baritone is undimmed after five decades in show business, as is his ability to command an audience.

Diddley spent most of his opening number, 1955's "Bo Diddley," fiddling with the knobs on his amp, teasing us with brief shots of the harplike tones of his distinct rectangular guitar. Pronouncing the crowd "too quiet," he ordered the house lights turned up so he could see "who I'm workin' to."

Then, riding herd over an ace four-piece band (including guitarist-vocalist Alvin Youngblood Hart, who opened the show with Ruthie Foster), Diddley powered through muscular versions of "I'm a Man" and "Crackin' Up" before moving on to a keenly observed exploration of the complexities of male-female relationships. The title? "Shut Up, Woman." As he sang the refrain, Diddley pretended to dodge imaginary items thrown from the audience, just in case lines like "My name is Daddy Whip Cream" weren't enough to let us know he was kidding -- kind of.

Humor was a huge part of the show, but there was vague political commentary, too, in the form of "Wake Up, America," a new(ish) song for which Diddley commanded the crowd to stand. But best of all was the hip-hop (!) number: "Lots of people sayin' old folks can't rap / My name's Bo Diddley, I ain't takin' no nap!" Diddley's rhythmically impeccable delivery of the sexual boasts that followed made clear he can claim authorship to more than one genre of pop music. P. Diddy, it turns out, has nothing on B. Diddley.

-- Chris Klimek

© 2006 The Washington Post Company