Dig Elise Legrow’s Smouldering, Contemporary Take On “Who Do You Love?”

The key to making a great cover song lies in the delicate balance between bringing something new and fresh to the table while simultaneously staying true to the spirit of the original. If you change it up so much that it’s unrecognizable then you might as well be making an entirely new song. If you change it up too little it becomes an exercise in advanced karaoke.

Elise Legrow nails that difficult balancing act on her new single “Who Do You Love?”, a cover of the old Bo Diddley chestnut that goes back more than 60 years. Legrow deserves extra marks for taking on not only one of the stranger songs in the Rock canon, but also one with such a rich Rock legacy, and somehow making it sound familiar and brand new at the same time.

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I mean seriously, this has always been one crazy-ass lyric. If you didn’t know better you might think it was about some kind of deranged desert serial killer:

I walk forty-seven miles of barbed wire
I use a cobra snake for a necktie
I got a brand new house on the roadside
Made from rattlesnake hide
I got a brand new chimney made on top
Made out of a human skull
Now come on take a walk with me, Arlene
And tell me, who do you love?

In fact the lyric is a boast to chicks about how cool the guy is. While today’s braggarts tout their Bugattis and bling, apparently back in 1956 you could grab a girl’s interest by calling yourself some kind of hoodoo (who do) voodoo man.

In any case the song has had some notable covers over the past 60 years. In 1963 Ronnie Hawkins added some nasty growls that led into Robbie Robertson’s scorching guitar solos. In 1967 the song became a staple for Quicksilver Messenger Service, who used it in concert as a starting point for a 20 minute psychedelic jam. And in 1978 George Thorogood turned it into a surprise blues-revival hit.

But I really love what Elise Legrow has done with it. She slows the song down and gives it a sultry, swampy feel, adapting the melody a bit while maintaining the number’s familiar eerie and menacing impact. Legrow’s got a wonderfully expressive, bluesy voice, and her band’s got real chops and a nice edge, although I do think the guitar should have been turned up a little more in the mix.

The track is from Legrow’s just-released first full-length album Playing Chess, and I definitely think it is worth checking out. This is an artist to watch.

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