Tales From The Woods' raises a glass and says farewell to Clifton James who died in his hometown of Chicago on 16th February 2006.
Clifton James was already making quite a name for himself despite being just a slender youth. Coming up seventeen he had already sat in with Elmore James and Memphis Slim, to name but two, when he wandered down Maxwell Street upon a warm mid-autumn afternoon. Hearing the raw ethereal sounds coming from a young guy in his mid-twenties, Clifton thought to himself this cat plays drum licks on the guitar. With him was the man who would soon become associated with those early primal records cut in Chess Studios through the mid to late fifties and into the sixties, Jerome Green, shaking a primitive type of maracas - actually ballcocks filled with black-eyed beans. Roosevelt Jackson was there too slapping a washtub bass. Clifton stopped, listened awhile before strolling across to chat to the guys, particularly the drum lick guitar picker going by the name of Bo Diddley. The legend that would become Big Bad Bo Diddley got on well with the young Clifton and soon he would be playing in Bo's band.
Around eighteen months later Clifton James played drums on "Bo Diddley" recorded on 2nd March 1955. The flip side, "I'm a Man", received much airplay and helped the record reach Number Two on the rhythm'n'blues chart. James played drums with Diddley on his historic television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in November 1955. Off air, the host had argued with his guest, who had performed "Bo Diddley" rather than the far less primal "Sixteen Tons", the Tennessee Ernie Ford song which had been requested by the presenter. When Sullivan called him "a coloured boy", Diddley thumped him.
Clifton James was born on 2nd October 1936 in Chicago, Illinois. As a child he drove his mother and 13 siblings crazy with his drumming. "I first started learning to play drums on chair bottoms, tin cans, and anything you know, I could find to beat on" he was heard to say during a radio interview with Mick Vernon on a 1965 visit to the UK with Bo Diddley to appear on Ready Steady Go, repeated again in far more recent times on a Chess records documentary on BBC Radio Two.
In 1956, James made an important contribution to the much-covered "Who Do You Love" when he suggested the "for a necktie" lyric to complete the "I walk 47 miles of barbed wire, use a cobra snake..." opening line. He also played on "Say Man", Diddley's biggest US hit, as well as his belated 1963 UK hits, "Hey Good Looking" and "Pretty Thing" - one of the many Diddley tracks which inspired many of the British R&B and beat groups that mushroomed in the Sixties - playing on many of the modest Mr Bo albums "Bo Diddley", "Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger", "Bo Diddley Rides Again" and "Bo Diddley's Beach Party".
In January 2006, James took part in an event to launch the book "TV-a-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol" in Chicago. He watched with amusement his appearance with Bo Diddley on The Ed Sullivan Show before accepting a lifetime achievement award.