First the good news, which is really good: the sound on this 340-song set is about as good as one ever fantasized it could be, and that means it runs circles around any prior reissues; from the earliest Aristocrat sides by the Five Blazers and Jump Jackson & His Orchestra right up through Muddy Waters' "Going Down to Main Street," it doesn't get any better than this set. The clarity pays a lot of bonuses, beginning with the impression that it gives of various artists' instrumental prowess. In sharp contrast to the past efforts in this direction by MCA, however, the producers of this set have not emasculated the sound in the course of cleaning it up, as was the case with the Chuck Berry box, in particular.
Chess Records called Chicago home but the label often looked elsewhere for singers and singles. Usually, this amounted to some variation on direct licensing – independent record producers or studio owners would send sides to Chess, hoping for release – but between 1967 and 1969, Chess sent a number of its artists down to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in Alabama. This wasn't a burst of inspiration on the label's part. Chess was following the path of Atlantic, who had considerable success recording Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge at FAME, but once Atlantic's Jerry Wexler fell out with FAME's Rick Hall, the Alabama studio had space for Chess artists and the Chicago label was willing.
Road Runner, the second volume of Hip-O Select's ongoing chronicle of Bo Diddley's complete Chess/Checker master recordings, covers roughly one calendar year whereas its predecessor, I'm a Man, spanned four — a good indication that 1959 was an eventful year for Bo. During this one year, he had his biggest pop hit in the jive-talking "Say Man" and had another sizable R&B hit with "Crackin' Up," but both these sides were cut in 1958 and released as a single in 1959.
In May 1955, an unknown Mississippi-born blues singer stormed up the US R&B charts with a song called Bo Diddley, a mesmeric combination of chanted vocals, choppy tremolo guitar and pounding tom-tom drums. Raw, primal, and boasting a refrain as addictive as heroin, it was unlike anything that had been heard before. Record buyers may have been a tad perplexed by the fact that the artist’s name was also Bo Diddley, but that didn’t stop them buying enough copies to send it rocketing to No 1.