Eddie Bo died yesterday of a heart attack, at the age of 79. He was a pianist, singer, songwriter, producer and arranger. Although he is not a household name, he was a huge influence on the New Orleans soul and R & B scene. His music is unique even within that distinctive tradition. As the Bo archive at Funky 16 Corners puts it:
where James Brown is the Charlie Parker of funk, Eddie Bo is the music’s Thelonious Monk, working with a strange, sometimes unfamiliar palette of sounds and rhythms, which reveal their beauty and complexity a little more with every listen. Much of this palette is common to New Orleans funk and soul: the drums of the Wild Indian tribes and the “second line”, the soulful piano of players like Professor Longhair, James Booker, Huey Piano Smith, Fats Domino and Bo himself, and the spice of the wild and unique mix of cultures that has been in New Orleans for hundreds of years.
Pass the Hatchet by Roger and the Gypsies is an Eddie Bo production, and he provides the vocals as well. It is a minimalist masterpiece. While it features quite a few instruments, from piano and guitar to maracas, none of them play anything complex and everything is propelled by the simple opening drum beat. There are no leads, and no singing. The vocals are exclamations and shouts of “Unhh”, describing as best as I can tell a party devoted to felling trees. All elements are expertly intertwined and devoted to making a groove. I first discovered this song on KRCL, our local college station, while out running errands. I was blown away, and rushed home to look up the playlist to find out who it was. While I had heard Eddie Bo’s music before, especially his hits “Hook and Sling” and “Check Your Bucket”, the name Roger and the Gypsies meant nothing to me (I still don’t know anything about them or their music outside of this song). I subsequently found out that not only was Bo behind it, but I had actually heard the song before, as it is briefly used in a scene in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado featuring Quentin Tarantino. Given Tarantino’s penchant for reviving obscure pop masterpieces for his soundtracks, I wonder if he had anything to do with the song’s inclusion.
Bo’s music is also frequently mined by hip-hop DJ’s for samples. The brilliant Brainfreeze by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist features a number of Bo tunes.