Hard to know what to make of this one. The best stuff here is the batch of previously-released singles “Who Do You Love,” “Road Runner,” “Hey, Bo Diddley” and “Bo Diddley.” But those were old news tacked on here as padding. There is also the excellent “Here ‘Tis,” which The Yardbirds would cover shortly. The rest feels like Bo Diddley by numbers, which is still about five times better than most other things you could be listening to right now, but also not as good as Bo at his best.
Consider Bo Diddley’s Beach Party the first great live rock and roll record. It was recorded in July 1963 in Myrtle, Beach South Carolina. Recording technology was not really advanced enough to permit on-location live recordings of amplified rock bands to have anywhere near the fidelity of studio recordings of the day. So, this one is pretty lo-fi. But damn if Bo and his band — just Jerome Green and Norma-Jean Wofford — don’t rip the place up! Bo is a huge ball of energy. His screaming vocals on songs like “I’m All Right” are pretty fierce. Just listen to the guitar on a song like “Mr. Custer” too. You could almost slip it onto The Blow Up from more than 15 years later and it would still sound contemporary. It’s really the raw and cutting guitar that makes this one so special. Apart from some of the hits, which are frequently played at breakneck speed, Bo manages to tear through such unlikely material as “(On Top of) Old Smokey” as an instrumental and make it cook. It was a few years before live rock records came close to this one, and then mostly from West Coast acts able to tap into the latest technology. It’s records like this that make people fall in love with rock and roll.
I will repeat a line someone wrote about Sly‘s A Whole New Thing that Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger is also one of the most exciting mediocre records ever. It was recorded in gloriously crude and primitive fashion in Bo’s home studio in Washington, DC. The effect is a little like having him playing in your living room, which is so small the backing singers have to be in the next room — that’s how quiet they sound on the opening “Gunslinger.” There are plenty of flubs, a lot of off-key singing and a pervasive do-it-yourself feel to this music (there is a superior version of “No More Lovin'” on Rare & Well Done complete with someone coming into the room during recording to announce “I’ve got your hamburgers.”). While hip-hop eventually turned to gangster and thug life topics, in its early days it was proudly focused on trivialities like sneakers and how parents didn’t understand. It was a transformation with parallels in rock ‘n roll. Gunslinger sounds very much like the early rock ‘n roll era with fun, frivolous topics carried on by pure energy…and Bo’s raucous guitar. You can put this album on for anybody, and they’ll get it. And they’ll probably smile too. Nobody can make a record like this anymore without resorting to parody. But that’s just because there never was and won’t ever be another like Bo Diddley.