Clifton James

If there's a prime player behind the world famous Bo Diddley beat besides Mr. Diddley himself, it's drummer Clifton James. Bo's drummer of choice from 1954 through 1970, the two first hooked up in the early '50s when Diddley's first group—which also featured guitarist Jody Williams, maraca master Jerome Green and additional members Roosevelt Jackson and Samuel Daniel—was playing the street corners of Chicago under the name Ellis McDaniel and the Hipsters. After inducting James and Billy Boy Arnold into their ranks, they began calling themselves the Langley Avenue Jive Cats in honor of the street on which both Roosevelt and Bo lived. While other members took their leaves during Bo's meteoric rise to the top, James hung tough, contributing mightily to such classic Diddley albums as Go Bo Diddley, In The Spotlight and the totally ingenious Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger, among many others, and working in the company of other legendary Diddley sessioneers and band members such as guitar queen Lady Bo, piano pounder Lafayette Leake and of course, the master of the acoustic bass, the great Willie Dixon himself. In between Diddley dates and tours, James also found time to wax discs with Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson II, to name just a few. He toured Europe behind Howlin' Wolf in 1964 and was the highlight of the Chess "concept" albums Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry—Two Great Guitars and 1967's Super Super Blues Band, which starred Diddley, Waters and Wolf.

During the late '60s James also held down the drum stool in the Chicago Blues All Stars, a Willie Dixon-led ensemble of just that, which also included guitarist Johnny Shines, pianist Sunnyland Slim and harmonica man Walter "Shakey" Horton. They toured the U.S., Europe and Canada during the blues revival, bringing the visceral intensity of Chicago's finest to many a locale that had never before witnessed such crippling musical spectacle. It's James' drums you hear on Koko Taylor's 1969 masterpiece of a debut LP, one of Chess's last great Dixon-inspired productions.

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