Bo Diddley has never particularly needed anyone to pay honor to him. Like so many of the great early rock 'n' rollers, he's always been a master at paying tribute to himself, with songs like "Bo Diddley" and "Hey Bo Diddley"--both of which received extended renditions during his 50-minute set at the Music Machine Sunday.
But the actual occasion of Diddley's appearance at the packed club was in fact a marathon 10-hour tribute to him sponsored by the Southern California Blues Society and benefiting the Big Joe Turner Musician Assistance Fund.
The cream of the crop of local blues-rock players took part: Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs, the James Harman Band, the Blasters' Phil Alvin, Big Jay McNeely and others.
Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, who has been making the rounds with Diddley in recent months, was supposed to join the honoree's band for the event, but was a no-show.
After midnight, well after his set was over, Diddley reappeared on stage to say that Wood had finally been tracked down, sick in bed. "I know what he feels like because I'm a little under the weather myself," Diddley told the crowd. "If I can find him, I'm gonna give him some damn castor oil."
(Other advertised absentees included Willie Dixon and Spencer Davis.)
Faced with a dearth of celebrities, Diddley still was able to put together a quick pick-up band from the players on hand--in addition to two notable regulars: his daughters Tammy Lynn and Tammy Deanne. The latter did quite a strong approximation of Sheila E. on the drum kit, churning her father's trademarked rhythm that goes, according to "The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll," chink -a- chink -a- chink , a- chink - chink .
Diddley himself was in fair form, far more flexible and modern-sounding than most of his contemporaries from rock 'n' roll's '50s origins are today--showing off a terrifically nasty, grating guitar sound, like metal-on-metal, as well as some wiry dance moves.
The most powerful assault of the all-day blues orgy was launched by longtime local faves the Rhythm Pigs, with Top Jimmy's rugged, Jim Morrison-esque vocals fronting songs with strong country, R&B and even big-band strains.
Half an hour into the Rhythm Pigs' set, Top Jimmy exited the stage to make room at the forefront for legendary saxophonist (and occasional singer) Big Jay McNeely, clearly the day's euphoric crowd favorite and even more of a ham than Diddley. Using a technique that made his sax sound doubled, and a wireless mike that let him wander the room, McNeely traded hot licks with bedraggled guitarist Carlos Guitarlos, walked across the bar at the rear of the room and danced with half the women in the place while, as the emcee put it, "blowing his brains out."
While some acts over the concert's 10-hour running time tended mainly to impress just how limited a form blues can be, the bill wisely stressed a variety of artists in terms of ages, specialties and trappings.
The 4 p.m. opening act, playing to an already full house, was Beto Lovato & the Neato Bandidos--led by ace 17-year-old guitarist Lovato (who later in the evening backed Diddley), with a drummer, 14, and a bassist, all of 12, in tow. "We're not gonna be on MTV, ever, so don't expect it," swore Lovato. (Yeah, sure, kid.)
Also on the youthful side, with special salacious appeal to many of the males in attendance, was the Addie Band, a hard-rock, boogie-blues outfit fronted by two comely young women trading lead guitar licks on epic-length versions of tunes like Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (the Foghat arrangement, that is).