June 13, 2010

BO WEEK: THE DUCHESS & LIBERATION

Spy Vibe continues to look at Bo Diddley in the early-mid 1960s. As a fan who listened to Bo's music without seeing film footage until recently (thank you, YouTube), I was really inspired by the television appearances we looked at last week. I never realized that Bo shared the stage with a cool, guitar-playing hottie! Bo is rather like The Avengers' John Steed of Chess Records. In the largely male-dominated world of Blues and Rock n Roll, the very manly Bo Diddley cooked up a hot stage act by adding a female guitarist, Lady Bo, to share his spotlight. The Duchess replaced Lady Bo and took up the space-age guitar in 1962. Together, she and Bo pounded out the Bo Diddley beat for shows like Shindig!, Hollywood A Go Go, and the Big TNT Show.


Spectropop celebrates The Duchess: "Lending her inimitable style to the grooves (and sleeves) of 1962's "Bo Diddley & Company" and 1963's "Bo Diddley's Beach Party" albums, she accompanied him on his first tour of England that same year, where her guitar prowess created a stir equaled only by that of her skin-tight gold lamé cat suit. Asked by one dauntless investigator how she managed to get into it, [The Duchess] responded by pulling out an over-sized shoehorn. Eric Burdon later immortalised her in the Animals' "Story Of Bo Diddley".


Like the women of The Avengers, The Duchess presented an interesting juxtaposition of strength (rocking out with cool confidence) and objectification (hot chick with guitar). Maybe objectification is too strong a word? Like Blackman and Rigg, I think she presented a healthy balance- an individual who was both equal partner and keeper of their own sexual power.

Seeing those performances by Bo and The Duchess got me thinking about the cultural climate of the times. There were big changes for young men and women in the early 1960s. The birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960. Hugh Hefner's
Playboy was moving into its second decade and continued to represent a revolution away from the post-war family/suburbia ideal. Hef's company grew with the times, celebrating a sophisticated singles' life through a chain of clubs and new ventures into TV (party-style talk shows) and an annual jazz festival. It was rather like the Roaring 20s, with similar images of hot music, flapper girls, and new contraception. Liberated young adults (and their dollars) in the early-mid 1960s generated cultural trends in all areas of the Arts. For women, it was a time of both freedom and continued objectification.

Spy Vibe faves Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg from
The Avengers stood out as strong, individual role models. The creators of
The Avengers thought to have Blackman dress more like a man for the action scenes (she did many indoor scenes in her black underwear). Her leather gear serendipitously brought both action-agility and kinky eroticism. Courreges' white moon boots and mini skirts of the mid-1960s offered a similar juxtaposition of space-age toughness coupled with exposed-thigh titillation (a style that became a Go Go dancing uniform). Lady Bo, The Duchess, and The Avengers may symbolize a kind of liberation, certainly in comparison to the bikini voyeurism of, say, the playful Dr. Goldfoot films. I don't know what Bo's motivations were to first invite Lady Bo and The Duchess on stage. Maybe he was inspired by Les Paul and Mary Ford? I doubt that he was thinking of feminism as much as he wanted to heat up his stage act. Regardless of how these ladies got to the spotlight, Bo's female guitarists were ahead of their time.

In this clip from Hollywood A Go Go, Bo and The Duchess perform a song that sums up the plot of most early Rock movies, "Let the Kids Dance!" Keep your eyes on those Go Go dancers. We'll take a closer look at them next. B&W Photo from Getty Images.



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