“You guys done alright!”



Fall/Winter 2001

Riffin’ with Bo

by Howard Bonham

Gordon Bonham has played with many of blues’ greats.

Besides his many brushes with the well-known in Bloomington, Bonham can be found at other Indiana venues playing with or backing up many of the genre’s biggest names.

The Gordon Bonham Blues Band was the opening act for two B.B. King shows in northern Indiana this summer. Bonham said it was obviously a thrill playing with one of the industry’s biggest names.

“They kinda bring him in from the bus, the band is playing,” Bonham explains. “He walks in, picks up Lucille (his guitar), and starts playing.

“It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever gotten to do.”

But opening isn’t his only time with the greats. Bonham has twice played
with Bo Diddley.

“He shows up and we do a sound check, no rehearsal, nothing,” Bonham recalled of his first time with Diddley. “He right off the bat launches right into the famous chink, ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink-a-chink. And, he’s strumming all over the place. I’m watching him and just kinda laying back and he stops the band. He says, ‘don’t try and do what I do.’ He just wanted me to riff around him and complement.”

Afterwards Bonham struggled to address the music legend. He didn’t know
whether to call him Bo or Mr. Diddley. The artist’s real name is Elias McDaniel.

“So, I just called him Bo. And after the show I said, ‘Bo, how did we do?’
In a small voice, mimicking the square-guitar playing star Bonham recalls Diddley’s reply. “You guys done all right!”

Bonham has shared the stage with the legendary Pine Top Perkins and played at the grand opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He played frequently with the late Indianapolis blues mandolin man, James “Yank” Rachell, as well as Chicago piano man Jimmy Walker.

“Jimmy played with everybody from the ‘50s on,” Bonham says with admiration. “The (famous players) are easy to play with.”

He has a somewhat reverential tone and respect for Walker. “Geez, Jimmy Walker had fired everybody, all these great players that have their own careers now. I always stayed out of his way, but gave him just enough to keep him happy. He always complained people played too loud or too much showing off. He was one of the greatest.”

When Walker died, any blues artist would have been honored to perform at his
funeral, Bonham said. He was surprised when the family was asked to perform. He was told, “Jimmy just always really liked you, because you respected him.”
Gordon Bonham frequently plays Indianapolis’ Slippery Noodle Inn, Daddy Jacks, the Knickerbocker in Lafayette,and several Central Indiana venues for live music. He usually makes at least one appearance a year at Buddy Guy’s club at Chicago.

Return to the table of contents