Bo, Berry And Barack

The recent passing of Bo Diddley was a reminder of the seminal role played by black artists in the development of international music culture. Geniuses like Bo and Chuck Berry created rock ‘n roll electric guitar playing. They didn’t simply “lay the foundation” as some misinformed, agenda-oriented people might tell you. They created it. Period. So, my brothers and sisters, the next time you hear a hard rock record with squealing guitars (even if it makes you frown up and cover your ears) take a moment to feel proud. That’s your music, baby!

Hip hop also owes a debt to Bo Diddley. His bragadocious, funny, sensual and occasionally threatening lyrics helped lay the cornerstone for rap way back in the 1950s. Check out the swagger in a joint like “Who Do You Love” in which Bo sings (using a meter similar to rap), “I walk 47 miles of barbed wire/use a cobra snake for a necktie/ got a brand new house on the roadside/made from rattlesnake hide.” Later in the song, Bo expresses the same fatalistic rage voiced by today’s gangsta rappers: “Tombstone hand and a graveyard mind/Just 22 and I don’t mind dying!”

And while we’re talking about pioneer rock ‘n roll guitarists…

I sorta saw this one coming. John McCain has stopped using Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n roll anthem “Johnny B. Goode” at campaign events because Berry has come out in favor of Barack Obama.

Berry didn’t pressure McCain to stop playing his song (the way John Mellencamp did), but McCain dropped “Johnny B. Goode” out of sheer embarrassment when Berry said that the nomination of Obama was “a proud and successful moment for all the people of this country – not just black people, but Americans in general.”

But Berry’s support for Obama should come as no surprise. After all, the man justifiably hailed as the Father of Rock ‘n Roll and the True King of Rock ‘n Roll (I gave Chuck that name myself) is an 81-year-old brother who lived through the bad old days of Jim Crow. Of course he’s gonna support the black presidential candidate! Especially when the alternative is a typical, right-wing white guy. “In the ‘50s, there were certain places we couldn’t ride on the bus,” Berry told a reporter a few days ago. “Now there is a possibility of a black man being in White House.” Then, putting Obama’s nomination into its proper historical context, Berry quoted America’s great Drum Major for Justice: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last.”

Republican candidates – especially old guys like John McCain – should really stop trying to be cool. Let’s face it; the GOP does not represent anybody’s idea of hipness. At its core, conservatism is about maintaining the status quo and supporting the interests of business and the wealthy. Socially, conservatives project a buttoned-down, strait-laced image. So, the idea of them rocking out to Chuck Berry is actually laughable.

McCain couldn’t even get the OK from Abba. According to McCain, the band “went berserk” upon learning that he wanted to use their tune “Take a Chance on Me.” (That was probably a blessing in disguise because that title could make it seem like he’s begging for votes. “Please listen to my demo.”)

Republicans need to embrace their lack of rock ‘n roll flava and stick with traditional patriotic songs or tunes by country-western artists (most of whom seem to be conservatives). That old Lee Greenwood record, “God Bless the USA,” worked real well for Ronald Reagan. Or maybe McCain’s people should call Toby Keith?

But for goodness sake, leave the rock ‘n roll alone. No, Johnny, no, no, no!

Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.


Cameron Turner is a Los Angeles-area native whose editorials, entertainment news features and audio documentaries have appeared on national radio networks, online and in print for over 20 years.

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