Bo Diddley – The Black Gladiator

January 01, 1970

(Future Days/Light in the Attic)


Perhaps the coolest era of the stalwart Chicago blues imprint Chess Records came at
the end of the 1960s. In an effort to appeal to younger audiences at the time,
the label recruited a SEAL team of psych musicians to sit in with their holy
trinity of artists: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley.


Unfortunately, in the case of Mud and Wolf, the inoculation of
acid rock vibes into their staunch sense of blues traditionalism did not go
over as well as expected as Electric Mud and The Howlin’ Wolf Album garnered
unfavorable reviews from critics and were despised by the artists
themselves (although they both have since been adopted
by newer, more adventurous fans as lost classics of the Chess canon).


Bo Diddley, meanwhile, seemed to have welcomed this youth grab
with open arms upon the release of 1970’s The Black Gladiator. Rather
than looking to appeal to the very rock ‘n’ roll sound he helped invent in the
1950s, Bo – who had been working at a slower pace than he did in previous years
– opted to go in the heavy funk
direction of such popular acts of the time as Funkadelic, James Brown, Sly
& The Family Stone and Band of Gypsys-era Jimi Hendrix across the
record’s ten cuts. With a cover flanked by Bo in some kind of S&M getup
that suggests he spent one wild weekend with raunchy funk diva Betty Davis and porn
goddess Vanessa Del Rio, Gladiator expanded the root of the Diddley beat
into the realms of inner city gospel, urban soul and raw-boned R&B, giving
material like “Elephant Man”, “Power House” and “Hot
Buttered Blues” a honey-thick groove consistency on par with anything coming
out on Stax and Motown during this time. 


Unfortunately, The Black Gladiator never harbored the
impact Chess expected to receive upon its original street date in the summer of
1970. But in the 42 years since, the album has been given a new lease on life
as one of the great finds of the crate digging game, coveted by beat junkies
and vinyl hounds all over the world for its black power imagery and nail-tough
rhythms. And while Electric Mud and The Howlin’ Wolf Album have
both seen substantial reissues on CD, Gladiator has spent the majority
of its existence languishing in eBay and record fair obscurity. 


That is, however, until now, as this lost treasure of the
tumultuous marriage of funk and blues finally gets a long-overdue digital
makeover as the debut title on Light in the Attic’s new subsidiary imprint
Future Days Recordings. And through no bonus tracks were made available, the
original ten songs have never sounded better, remastered from the original
tapes by engineer Dave Cooley and supplemented with informative liner notes
penned by Scott Schinder. 


Four decades later, Bo Diddley’s grand experiment in
post-modernism remains as shocking and shambolic as it did the day this
forgotten gem from the Chess archives first surfaced on the wall of your local


DOWNLOAD: “Elephant Man”, “Hot
Buttered Blues” RON HART



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