He was a hero to our heroes. By time we came along, he was already a preacher.
Yes, our heroes were born during the war. Roger Waters has made a whole career writing about it, and he broke after the Beatles and the Stones.
You see while we in America were riding the zeitgeist, we were ignoring the heroes of our past, mostly our blues heroes, but they were soaking them up in England, and we ended up with not only John Mayall, but Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green…the list goes on and on.
But on this side of the pond, English blues-rock came after the British Invasion.
Now some boomers were conscious at the end of doo-wop. Some even experienced Fabian and Bobby Rydell. But the Beatles came along and wiped away all that had come before, except for the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, and suddenly music was the focus of attention for boomers across the land, the world, it was kinda like the tech frenzy of the first decade of this century (and the last half of the one before!), music was everything, you had to know about the new thing, hell, Michael Lewis even wrote a book entitled THE NEW NEW THING!
But then it died.
We can debate all day long what the first rock and roll record was. Most insiders agree it was “Rocket 88,” the press often says it was “Rock Around the Clock,” but one thing is for sure, what was happening in the fifties was different from what had happened in the forties. It was a new sound. With Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Fats Domino too, but baby boomers really only knew Elvis, who’d sold out and gone Hollywood, the Beatles of his day, the difference being, and it was a big one, he did not write his own songs. Then again, the Beatles didn’t always either, they covered Little Richard.
So by time most boomers reached consciousness, they thought Fats Domino was dead, the fact that he could be living in plain sight in New Orleans was unfathomable. We all knew “Blue Suede Shoes,” but few of us could tell you it was recorded by Carl Perkins. As for Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin Myra? That eluded us completely, until Lewis tried to make a comeback, when “Rolling Stone” made everybody aware of rock and roll news, and sometimes history.
So, there’d been a rock explosion, that had mostly expired. Kinda like the hip-hop explosion of the eighties and early nineties, just when you thought it was over, it fired-up with a vengeance, to the point it rules today. Pop, mostly meaningless, was dominating the airwaves, but then the Little Richard and early rock-influenced Beatles broke out, and through the door came a whole slew of acts brought up on the same influences. These were war babies, who’d grown up with hardship, they lived for the music in a way no one is focused today, with so many options for diversion.
We didn’t learn of Little Richard and the Beatles’ infatuation with him from “Meet the Beatles,” but on “The Beatles’ Second Album,” which was really the third, VeeJay’s “Introducing” came before, the opening cut on the second side was…
“Long Tall Sally.”
“I’m gonna tell Aunt Mary, ’bout Uncle John”
Paul McCartney emoted with exuberance. Even beyond that which was exhibited on the hits, like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” It was like he was plugged into a socket and had been shocked. Now they call him “Sir Paul,” but he used to be a scruffy kid from Liverpool, who played the catalog of the original rock and roll of the fifties in multiple sets a night in Hamburg. There’s not a boomer alive who is unaware of this version of Little Richard’s hit, no one today is as big as the Beatles were, forget the charts and statistics, these albums were oftentimes all people had, and they played them until they turned gray, and then bought the CDs and watched the documentary and…
So now, there’s a rock press. Rock info is readily available. And all these English rockers can’t stop testifying about Little Richard. They rarely talked Elvis, they’d mention Jerry Lee, even Ike Turner, but through their lens it appeared that Little Richard was their Beatles, that he meant everything to them.
So we started being exposed to these tracks. Most specifically, “Tutti Frutti.” Huh?
“Whop bop b-luma b-lop bam bom”
Who knew what the song was about. And this was in the era of one speaker radios and record players, misinterpretation was rampant, and everybody was convinced that there was something dirty in the song, not that they could agree on it.
And then came the covers. Like Mitch Ryder’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
Not that the average person knew it was a Little Richard hit, to most people, Little Richard was just a name. But we knew his real name was Richard Penniman, and what he was selling was energy, with no limits, the power of a sound that not only enticed teens, but drew them to gigs where they got caught up in the energy.
By the late sixties, the turn of the decade, covers became more rampant, and they weren’t always hits. “You’re My Girl” (a retitling of “I Don’t Want to Discuss It”), was the second best song on the Rhinoceros album, and the best was the legendary “Apricot Brandy.” And for those of us who got the memo on Rod Stewart, there was an absolutely killer version of the same song, now titled “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It,” closing “Gasoline Alley.”
But still, Little Richard was not a household name, he was nowhere to be seen. He was an oldie, maybe dead himself.
I met him in this era. With his producer Bumps Blackwell. And the funny thing about Little Richard…
Well, there were two funny things.
1. He was not little.
2. He was always on.
Now if you’ve met many celebrities, you know that oftentimes the character on stage is not the one you get in real life, especially if their rep is built on energy. But it was like Little Richard was plugged into that socket 24/7, who even knew how he slept. He’d fawn over himself, crack jokes and take mock offense at the tiniest of slights. It was weird, because he was an icon and he wouldn’t brush you off but he was always in character, meeting him was an indelible experience.
And then he made his comeback.
It was “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” Back when Disney was the business story of Hollywood and flicks were all not high concept blockbusters. You went to the theater on a regular basis, and seemingly everyone saw this pic.
And put a face to the name of Little Richard. And was exposed to his magnetism.
And then suddenly he was everywhere. Even more than Orson Welles. Welles might have made the best movie of all time, but Richard was one of the progenitors of rock, with multiple hits, who could still perform on the same level whenever called upon. His contemporaries acted like old men, Little Richard seemed ageless.
And he became part of the firmament. Someone you always expected to be there. A god from another era here to walk the earth now.
But today he passed.
The news mentioned his son. Which was another point of mystery. Richard was seen as gay, back when “homosexual” was a bad word. I mean who really was this guy, he was a walking enigma!
And yes, he had a thousand watt personality.
But really, it comes down to those records.
Today a track is a means to an end. You build your brand and leverage it. But back in the original days of rock and roll, you didn’t even get rich on your hits. There were no royalties. You made what you got playing live. And if you were African-American, there were places you couldn’t play, and oftentimes white, Top Forty radio, wouldn’t play your songs at all, and if they did, they were covered by some white guy, like Pat Boone.
So, it was about the music.
And the drinking, the drugging and the sex.
This is what a musician used to be. Not someone computer-savvy posting to social media, but someone whose life mostly took place in the shadows. These were people who didn’t fit into regular society, or who didn’t want to fit in, who saw music as their way out.
And they created their own rules. They were renegades, they were outlaws.
And that was the appeal of their music. It was not dumbed-down, there was nothing cut off the edges for consumption, it was all raw humanity, in a way most people couldn’t even express, but resonated with when they heard it.
Now the weird thing is rock history is passing in front of our very eyes.
Sure, there’s the 27 club.
But in the last decade we’ve lost people we shouldn’t have, like David Bowie and Glenn Frey. And before that the inexplicable death of John Lennon.
But now it seems to be a regular feature in the news, celebrities tweet their condolences and everybody moves on. And we no longer live in a rock culture, and a lot of the work of those who’ve passed is not regularly played or remembered.
But Little Richard is different. This is the beginning. This was the moon shot. The fact that this guy was still walking the planet was utterly astounding. And if you missed him… You might have seen the Stones, but without Little Richard, would there be any Stones? Beatles too?
Somehow Richard was not a curio, his hits were stuck in the past, but his performances and his identity were not. Maybe because Richard was singular, anything but me-too. When they created him they truly broke the mold, hell, Richard broke it being birthed. He took on all comers. He could play in any arena. Michael Jackson might have called himself the King of Pop, but Little Richard was the King of Rock & Roll long before, and despite some detours, Richard continued to reign.
The king is dead.
Long live the king.
Responses from Bob’s readers. Please note that these comments are unedited for grammar or content and do not necessarily reflect the views of CelebrityAccess or its staff.
At the age of nine my older brother brought home Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, and….Little Richard. I dug Jimmy Reed’s simple blues style, loved Bo Didley’s rhythm oriented stuff which was stand alone in that time period. But Little Richard was like sticking your fingers in a light socket! I played his records (which I still have in a box in the garage), most notably the first Specialty recording done in New Orleans called “Here’s Little Richard”. Tutti Frutti, True Fine Mama, Slippin and a Slidin, Long Tall Sally, and on and on. And they still sound as good today as they did then. Still raw, raunchy and full of energy. He tore it up!!
Little Richard changed my way of thinking about the power of music at a gut level. And it still resonates! And you are right, he was and is the King of Rock n Roll.
From: Kathy Valentine
Subject: the king, the queen, the everything
This was the greatest thing that happened to me in the Go-Go’s as far as I was concerned:
a top highlight of my musical career! i knew i’d remember this forever: being cheered on by Little Richard while taking a solo on Tutti Frutti on national TV. all the lightning bolts from here on will have some Little Richard in them. pic.twitter.com/hgPgnW98hx
— Kathy Valentine (@Kathy_Valentine) May 9, 2020
I was the only band member who nearly lost my mind when this opportunity came up – to back up Little Richard at the AMAs. Charlotte was on pregnancy leave, so I begged to play guitar and get my pal to take over my bass role.
Someone in the band said “yeah, you should do it, you are good at that old style playing.” Old style playing. whatever.
At rehearsal, I found him as you wrote about him. I hung on every word, he spoke in couplets, with rhymes. Followed him everywhere. When he nodded at me for a solo, I did the job right. Afterwards he said, ‘you can play that guitar, and I know what I’m talking about, I’ve played with the best”
I was floating and delirious. It felt like I was from another planet from my bandmates, that they didn’t get what an honor this was.
After the show, I asked him if I could have his address. I had a plan, that if I sent him flowers thanking him, that maybe he’d respond and I could get to be in his presence again sometime, maybe. I sent flowers every week for months. Thanking him for being him.
Nothing else transpired, no big friendship, no acquaintance, but it has remained maybe one of my top 3 music experiences of life.
Wanted to share my LR story with you.
I was working for Tom Dowd in Miami when Little Richard came in to play on a Delaney and Bonnie record (To Bonnie from Delaney). I was transfixed watching his right hand. He absolutely killed it. And, totally in character the whole time. What a great showman and musician.
The darker the night, the brighter the stars!
My pal Paul Hill texted me to let me know.
“My granny and aunts would be bopping around the living room listening to his 45s on an old record player.” He wrote.
I can easily imagine the scene in Paul’s Belfast home, all those years ago. I witnessed the same scenes in the community that I was raised in here in Glasgow. A community where people didn’t just like to sing and dance to the music. No. They also liked to scream and shout noisily while doing so – signalling that momentarily at least, they had left whatever troubles and concerns behind.
Wild and free at heart, Little Richard’s music could be the key to all that and more.
Yesterday was VE Day, and I found myself particularly thinking about all those young Americans who crossed the ocean, many of them giving their lives to join forces in the fight again fascism.
How is it ever possible to give thanks for that kind of sacrifice?
Tonight I am thinking about how my life has been enriched – by so much great American music.
Little Richard sits top of the pile!
When the movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” came to England in early 1955 I was 13 years old and just about old enough to know that there was something about girls that was intriguing. I saw a poster advertising a movie featuring a buxom blond with big boobs. The movie was called “The Girl Can’t Help It” and the big blond was Jayne Mansfield. I thought to myself, WOW! I would sure like to see that movie! but I already knew that the rating would probably not allow me to see it, And then much to my surprise and delight it was U rated meaning that anyone could see it even if you were under 16.
I bought a ticket and went alone. Jayne Mansfield was the blond with the big boobs but Little Richard for me was the star. A movie intended as a vehicle for Jayne Mansfield changed my life, not because of Jayne Mansfield’s boobs but because it was one of the greatest Rock n Roll movies of all time featuring Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Eddie Chochran and, of course Little Richard singing and performing “Long Tall Sally Sally!” I talked my parents into giving me the money and bought my first record, a 78 rpm vinyl with Tutti Frutti on the b side. My second record was The Girl Can’t Help it. Little Richard had changed my life and 46 years later I could only stutter like a fool when I met the man himself at a wedding he performed for my then client and friend Tom Petty.
After telling Richard how he changed my life I admitted that the only reason I went to see the movie was to see Jayne Mansfield’s boobs. He then admitted that the only reason he agreed to do the movie was that he wanted to see Jayne Mansfield’s boobs. We had a good laugh but I knew, of course, that he was only kidding.
Richard was a gentleman whenever we met, and yes, he was ‘always on’. On several visits to the UK, I did the tax work and tour accounting. Most acts don’t want to meet me, or maybe they will just say ‘hello, thanks for your work’ and move on. Richard was different, he paid all of the bills on the road and wanted to know what was going on. He would always ask me to meet him at his hotel or at the London show, to hand over some money and tell him that all was well. One time at Wembley Arena, he sent someone to find me after the show, and wouldn’t let any of his people leave until I confirmed that the business was all settled. And the shows………he was sensational, a true legend.
Back in the early 90’s The House of Blues on Sunset had a pretty good BBQ restaurant above the showroom. The place an interesting feature, the front of the room had a sliding wall that opened up and gave a bird’s eye view of the stage. One weekday afternoon in late October, I took a business friend of mine to lunch there and when we walked up to through the parking lot in back we saw a bunch of very attractive young people in theatrical makeup hanging around the stage door. We sat down in a booth at the nearly empty restaurant, ordered and when our drinks arrived we noticed that the wall was opening and we heard the sounds of a band warming up. We didn’t think much of it until a voice boomed out over the PA, “Ladies and gentleman, give a big New Year’s Eve welcome to the one and only Little Richard!” YIKES! We sprang out of our seats and there, in all of his glory, was the man himself with a full band, ripping it up from the git-go, and all those beautiful people were dancing up a storm for a taping of Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve TV show. The waiter brought our lunch to our now ringside table and we enjoyed a fabulous private show. I don’t think we went back to work!
I was fortunate to grow up in Macon, Georgia. As a kid I would see Reverend Pearly Brown, Little Richard and Otis Redding around town. The Allman Brothers came later. My older brother, Art, used to listen to the local R&B station, WIBB (a daytime AM station). The DJ’s there, Satellite Papa and the King Bee used to play Little Richard all the time. I was downtown with my brother one time and we saw Little Richard at the C&S bank at the corner of Cherry Street and 3rd Street. Art said quietly, “there is Little Richard” and I said, loud enough to be heard “Tutti Frutti”. Mr. Penniman responded “good booty” and laughed, which I thought was strange because that was NOT what was being played on the radio station. I think I was 7.
I first heard and saw Little Richard in 1956 and my life was forever changed. During the eighties he lived in the penthouse of the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset in LA. We would see him whenever Gregg Allman stopped there. Few know that Jimi Hendrix played in Richard’s mid-sixties road band before going to London. The last time I saw Richard was when he attended Phil Walden’s funeral a few years back. Of course Richard made his grand entrance for effect at least 20 minutes late!
Bob, in 1965 when he was 22 years old, my brother Twiggs Lyndon left Macon for L. A. and got a job working in a shoe store. One night he went to see Richard perform in a club, got back in the dressing room, and told Richard he was from Macon and was a big fan. Richard said he needed a road manager and did Twiggs want the job. It didn’t take him long to say yes. Jimi Hendrix was lead guitar player in the band at that time.
After that tour Twiggs connected with Phil Walden in Macon and went out with various R&B acts. This all led to his being the first road manager for the Allman Brothers.
Twiggs told me many times he was forever in Richard’s debt because Richard taught him everything there was to know about being on the road. That chance meeting changed Twiggs life.
John F. Lyndon
Brilliant elegy to Little Richard, Bob, thank you.
Little Richard was my introduction to rock and roll – my much older cousin Ronnie used to play his records to me when we visited his mum and dad in Bootle (Liverpool) in the fifties. What a thrill, years later, after moving here to America, to not only to meet him, but to work with this rock and roll icon.
We first met when he lived in a corner suite of the then Hyatt Hilton Hotel on Sunset, next to the Comedy Store. I remember seeing a shrine to JFK and a huge photo of him surrounded by the Beatles from his 1962 tour of the UK when they opened for him (his head seemed twice as big as theirs!). I was with two “sharp” exec producers who were trying to peddle an “influences” (bait and switch) type of special for HBO or Showtime, where all the top artists of the day, in particular, U2, would perform in tribute to him. “Do you know Bono?” they asked him. “Yes,” he replied, “I know Sonny.” (Show never happened)
He also appeared in two star-studded music videos Jim Yukich and I (FYI) did:
“Voices That Care” (1991) – organized by David Foster, Linda Thompson and David Saltz (RIP) which was to help boost the morale of U.S. troops involved in Operation Desert Storm, as well as supporting the International Red Cross organization. (I remember the wonderful way David Foster carefully worked with Richard as we recorded his vocals at Capitol Records).
(Richard comes in at 2:03)
And he appeared in the final FYI – Flattery Yukich Inc – video: The Muppets: “She Drives Me Crazy.” (1994).
He comes in around 1:50. (BTW this version cuts off the cold open and close featuring John Landis as the director and Fran Drescher and her Bobbi Fleckman character from Spinal Tap.)
If you’re bored in these C-19 quarantine times, see how many stars you can identify in both of these, some sadly, like Richard, no longer with us.
Richard was a true original. May he RIP.
Little Richard said that the lyric originally was Tutti Frutti good booty. But the record company said it was too raunchy. So it became Tutti Frutti oh Rudy which makes no sense at all but could play on the radio.
As someone, I learnt in 1969 – I told Phil Everly, after a show – that my first view of the Everly Bros. at the Chicago Opera House (rock & roll show) in June 1957 at age nearly-11 was THEIR FIRST PERFORMANCE AS A DUET – i’ve been keeping track of things.
Rock & roll was was on life-support as 1958 started, overcome by the Sept 1957 Philadelphia tv onslaught, and also the disappearance of rockers – Elvis gone, Jerry Lee gone, Little Richard gone, Chuck Berry gone. If you look at the end of year wrap-up of 1957, the charts reflect a healthy rock participation. The 1958 is as close to zero as you could find while weeping ( a couple good record slipped in). 1959 … just go to sleep till 1964.
Bob… my Little Richard story.
I went to an anniversary party for the Improv in Los Angeles around 1992 with my friend, Roger Wilkerson, and all kinds of funny folks and entertainment people were there. Bud Friedman was there, of course, George Wendt from Cheers, one of Bill Murray’s brothers (the one whose name always escapes me), and… Little Richard was there. The “Tutti Frutti“ singer himself was holding court in a corner in full makeup and regalia and I didn’t have the nerve to go over and say hi, or tell him how much his music meant to me. I just stood there at the bar talking to my friend the whole night.
At some point, I had to use the restroom and while standing at the urinal, Little Richard came in. It was a little cramped and awkward, so he went into to the stall. After a moment of silence, he began to pee …loudly. Then he let out a big “Woo!” like the one from ‘Long Tall Sally” and I burst out laughing. It got the desired effect and relieved the two guys in a john tension. I washed my hands and as I was leaving said, “You’re the greatest!”, to which he replied, as the door was closing, “I know, I know.” R.I.P.
Bob, wonderful eulogy to Little Richard. My .02 addition to the tributes:
At the American Music Festival on Virginia Beach several years ago, Little Richard wanted his soundcheck at 3 p.m. He arrived onstage in full-face makeup, already prepped for showtime that evening. The Labor Day heat was intense. After every song — played with full-on ferocity — Little Richard would daintily dab his face with a hanky and in a loud falsetto ask the collective stage hands, “Am I still pretty?”
After one song, he asked loudly, “What time is it?” Every single person onstage looked at a cell or watch. You just didn’t ignore a Little Richard request.
The soundcheck froze the entire workforce, pros who handle hundreds of shows a year without a second thought to an artist’s tune-up. Little Richard maintained complete control of his environment simply by his colossal presence and potent talents. Nobody onstage worked except Little Richard. We all dumbfoundedly watched in amazement as he took us to old-school rock ‘n’ roll.
I had his authorized biography, The Quasar of Rock, hoping he might sign it. He noticed and called me over: “Whadda you ask me?”
“Mr. Little Richard, like millions I’m a huge fan. Would you kindly inscribe my book?” He wrote “God’s Love” and his signature. He said how much he loved being addressed as Mr. Little Richard. The guy owned anybody who ever met him for 30 seconds.
Before leaving the stage, he made damn-sure everyone on stage or in earshot knew the correct wording to the hook of “Tutti Frutti,” rehearsing us about eight times to get it perfect. I’ll never forget the lesson nor the supreme charisma of Mr. Little Richard:
Wop bop a loo bop, a lop bam boom!. . .
Gorgeous Virginia Beach, VA
Thanks for your tribute to Little Richard!
“Sister Bessie skated all the way from Macon Georgia…..just to see the beauty.”
“The Beauty is still on duty.”
“I am the Georgia Peach.”
The Atlantic City Pop Festival was held early August, 1969. A mini prelude to Woodstock with many of the same acts….but without the rain and survival mess. It was Sunday, the final day of the festival and I was thinking of heading out early as they were setting up the last act…….Little Richard. I thought, “This old fifties guy has balls to come on last after all of these contemporary rock acts had just rocked our young crowd.”
Little Richard was jawdropping! No one left. The entire psychedelic, Jimi Hendrix-loving crowd was awestruck by this tour de force Father of Rock and Roll. He put on, what I would assume, was his usual spectacle of a show. Our crowd was reintroduced to the true beginning of Rock and Roll……..and we were stunned. I’m sure Little Richard was never intimidated by closing the show. In fact, he probably insisted on it. I became a believer. I still close our classic rock cover band shows with “Lucille”. I learned that valuable lesson in Atlantic City, 1969!
Newport Lounge, North Miami, Florida, summer of 1972. Our cover band was one of three bands providing “continuous entertainment” at The Castaways located across from the Newport on A1A. Benny Lattimore was the headliner. Benny’s bass player, Chocolate, went on to play with Steve Stills and many others. We would literally take over for them mid-song so there was never a break in the music.
We befriended the sound man at the Newport. He let us watch the end of the shows from his position at the sound board after we finished our last set across the street. The likes of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, Ike & Tina Turner Revue, etc. were some of the acts booked in this supperclub-style venue. One night, Little Richard was the headliner. We caught his last two songs. Once again I was prepared to be thrilled (and I was.) Then, to our surprise, The Reverend Richard Penniman showed up and began preaching! After which, he “passed the plate” through the remaining audience, ostensibly to supplement his take for the evening. What a guy! “Ain’t showbiz glamorous!”
When I was 12, Elvis got my attention, but it was Little Richard who blew my mind. I saw him at the Howard Theater in D.C., which through the 50’s and 60’s was the place to see amazing R ‘n B revues, and it was a jewel in the crown of the ‘chitlin circuit’ along with the Royal in Baltimore, the Uptown Theater in Philly and the Apollo of course. I caught L.R. just after he came back to performing in ’62. I had seen a couple of years worth of shows at the Howard before then. Great acts like: Etta James, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Fat Boy Billy Stewart, the Temps, Isleys and dozens of minor acts like Inez and Charlie Fox, Gene Chandler, the 5 Du-Tones, Garnet Mims and Darrell Banks. But nothing quite prepared me for Richard. Being keenly aware that there were never more than one or two other white people in the audience, it came no surprise that the shows for a black audience blew the doors off a ‘white show’. And you had to be damn good to close a show of 8 to 12 acts, each coming out to do their hit or two, all with the big 12 piece band behind them. The James Brown’s added a whole other layer. L.R. still took that to a different place entirely. I’ve never seen a performer that unpredictable or seemingly untethered. A raw energy that just exploded and lifted you out of your seat. He stretched the limits in ways you didn’t expect or understand. Was that makeup and eyeliner? What the hell? In the end, it made no difference except to open you up to the possibilities and to reject the conventional.
No question, he paved the way for so many artists who needed a touchstone. Man he had a helluva a life. His biography, the Life and Times of Little Richard, makes an effort to sort him out but for 87 years he remained an impossible combination of contradictions. As we’ve seen, the great ones are original without even trying, it’s who they really are. And sadly when they leave this world, the joy of their creation isn’t quite enough to overcome a feeling of loss.
Thanks for the kind words about Little Richard, while much is said of the people and artists he influenced, very little is said of the man who influenced the persona known as Little Richard, I am talking about Esquerita. I don’t think the Little Richard we came to adore would have been as openly flamboyant without Esquerita. His story didn’t end on a comparably high note, quite the opposite in fact, but a note in music history that is often overlooked.
HI Bob, I am right there in the sweet spot of the baby boomers you are talking about. I was born in 1950. I was listening to the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino and others mostly on American Bandstand in the 50’s but everything changed with the Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan, I bought a guitar the next day and that was the beginning of the rest of my life. Like you said, It was through the English blues musicians that I became aware of the American Blues and R&B and I was lucky enough to see most of them live in Boston in the 60’s and 70’s. I saw the Stones in 1965 in Worcester auditorium, I saw the Beatles the same year st Suffolk Downs. I saw Led Zeppelins first show in America at the Old Boston T Party as well as Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, The Who, BB King, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Freddie King and everyone else as they came to to town.
My brother Stanley was the stage manager at the Tea Party and lucky for me I got to go to every show for free and many times hang out back stage. By the time I saw Little Richard on May 21st 1970 I thought I had seen it all. This is what I recall. Richard’s band looked road weary and were probably underpaid. I was standing at the front of the stage and on the right side so I had a side vantage point where Little Richard with the pompadour hair and pancake make up played the grand piano facing stage left. When he looked at the audience he had this larger than life, fully animated wide eyed smile, but when he looked back at the band, he had the totally opposite face. It was evil. Like an angel and the devil. I was a witness to this because of my angle. I believed he must have been very angry with the band, probably for dragging and he let them know it. I actually thought it was hilarious. But I also felt bad for them.
Richard drove the audience insane. He drove the band and brought the energy to a gospel church preacher level. I had never heard anything like it and remember I had seen just about everyone. During his shows he would throw his left boot into the audience. My brother told me he always brought a trunk load of left boots with him. His music moved the audience in a way like I had never seen. When it was over he left the audience in a frenzy and they were in their feet screaming for more. Meanwhile Richard was backstage in the manager’s office getting paid. $10,000 in cash which was put into a green metal flake briefcase and along with his body guards, guns drawn, Richard and his men jumped into a Limo and left. Meanwhile back in the room the audience was on their feet going nuts and kept this up for no less than 45 minutes until they realized he wasn’t coming back. Richard might have invented the old show biz saying, “leave them wanting more”. They had no idea he had been long gone with the cash.
I walked away that night with the thought, “Now I know what Rock n Roll is”. It was an epiphany I really got it. I don’t think anyone can really truly get it unless they saw Little Richard back in his prime. (1970 might have been past his prime). His raw sexual energy trickled down to the Stones and Beatles and every other rock band but to witness the essence of it up close was a religious experience that I never forgot.
Check out this video I made of my brother and Ed Simeone, the assistant sound engineer from the Tea party talking about that night in 1970. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAjDf4KrC8A
In 1973 I was 16 and still in high school, and managed an apprentice job at Sound City studios.
My first session was for Elton John’s “Caribou” with Tower of Power doing overdubs.
Producer Gus Dudgeon had an amazingly cool demeanour and I knew at once I was there to stay. My next sessions were scheduled with Little Richard in Studio A.
I was told his producer Larry Williams was known to arrive and place his gun on the console, probably in case of an intrusion or the occasional error by the engineer?
I saw it as part of my dues to be paid and that I’d be ok. When they arrived I was surprised by the size and presence of the man…He was very tall and his head extremely large.
We got started, and before going out to put down a vocal he took out a film canister from his bag and poured out a big pile of white powder. He turned to me, I was running the Studer 24 track, and asked if I’d like some. I mumbled something like “Maybe later, Mr Richard”
which he acknowledged, then proceeded to lean forward and do up the lot in one big go.
He then proceeded to the studio, sang the song, and jumped up and danced on the Steinway piano, until it was a take… After the session he stayed with a few of us in one of the offices where he told amazing stories all night long until the morning.
The man was a talent, a phenomenon, a star, and exuded flamboyance.
My best to you from Biarritz France,
Sound City / Studio 55
Yes, Little Richard was THE GUY! I was working radio in Buffalo in the late 70’s and one evening that stands out in my memory is after a Gentle Giant concert. The promotion rep for Capitol Records was in town for the show, and afterwards he grabbed the members of Gentle Giant and they came over to my house for “after concert recreation.” I was and still am a collector and restorer of antique jukeboxes. One staple on my jukeboxes is always a hefty percentage of old R & B records. Well, on this night I had the one jukebox that I continued to cart around from town to town as I changed jobs. It was a 78 RPM 1946 Wurlitzer, the famous one with the bubbles and twirling colors, and of course on it was a couple of Little Richard records. Naturally, the jukebox was a point of interest, and when the guys in Gentle Giant saw the titles on the machine, the ones they wanted to hear over and over were the Little Richard records. We played Good Molly Miss Molly, Long Tall Sally, and others repeatedly. It was the most “enlightening” moment to see these progenitors of really out there Progressive Rock go bananas over Little Richard records. That evening was the very first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Richard’s passing. Long live Rock & Roll. Little Richard was the best!
One footnote to Little Richard’s career that always fascinated me: he recorded a session with Jefferson Airplane in 1970. The session focused on a new song ‘Bludgeon Of A Bluecoat’. It was written by drummer Joey Covington. Alas, the recording remains in the RCA Vaults. Maybe due to the subject matter. Maybe for contractual reasons. Maybe due to the performance quality. Who knows?
But how cool was that: Little Richard and the Airplane arguably at the top of their game, playing together. We only have live recordings of ‘Bludgeon Of A Bluecoat’ from 1970 with Joey taking on the lead vocals.
Another light has just gone out.
I was lucky enough to see Little Richard at Tramps in December 1992, his first New York club gig since 1967. Unique, colorful, charismatic, and you never knew what type of song he’d be singing next—country, rock, gospel, R&B. He gave out little prayer books with his name on it after the show. Sorta like going to rock ‘n roll church.
One of a kind.
And no one’s mentioned the band Rhinoceros to me since 1969. You really got my dendrites firing. Loved that record. “Apricot Brandy” and “You’re My Girl” were on the turntable all summer.
RIP Richard Penniman. True Original. Powerful Pioneer.
Dr James Koretz
Great eulogy Bob. When I was in jr high school (now called middle school), I heard Pat Boone’s version of “Tutti Frutti” on the Hit Parade and liked it and went to buy the 45. When I asked the teenage girl at the record shop if she had it, she bent down and whispered in my ear, you have to hear this first. She took me to a listening booth put on Little Richard’s version, cranked up the volume and closed the door. When she saw the big smile on my face and the goosebumps on my arms she knew I was converted to the real power of rock and roll.
A short time after that, I won a dance contest doing the bop to Little Richard’s “Rip it up” . It took a few more years to understand what the lyric “and ball tonight” meant. You said it “Long live the king”.
alan segal san diego
I saw Richard at a club in Milwaukee in August 1968. He was truly a remarkable once in a lifetime talent; an unstoppable force of nature. His appearances in the movies, most notably in The Girl Can’t Help It, suggest, but can’t fully convey, the power and excitement of Richard and his band on stage.
I sure am glad that I had a chance to see Little Richard in action but boy was it a weird gig: The opening night media party at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Little Richard was at one end of the vast airplane hanger vibe of the main hall in the Boston Convention Center. Awful sound, with journos more interested in the free booze, Boston-themed buffet, crappy gift bags, and waiting in line for the indoor ferris wheel.
Sweating and joking and putting out a show as if the few hundred music fans like me up against the rail were a packed arena, Little Richard was on fire! He was 72 at the time but had the energy of a teenager.
David Meerman Scott
Today I mourn the loss of the King of Rock & Roll, LITTLE RICHARD.
I first met Richard in the late 80’s. I hired him to sing a theme song I composed for a TV pilot for the Brillstein Company called RED PEPPER.
I cut the track before he arrived. When he arrived to the studio, I rightfully payed homage to him. He was friendly and fun, and I was in heaven!
The theme song was a Little Richard type song. At one point I asked him to do a vocal adlib. He sang something like ” Woo ooh ooh”.
I pressed the talkback button and respectfully said ” That was great Richard, but can you give me your signature “WOOOOO”?
He laughed and said ” Oh, you mean like the one I taught the Beatles!”.
Yes, indeed, Richard!
In 1992, I produced an album on Richard for E.M.I. JAPAN remaking his hits.
I went down to see his concert at a club in Orange County and was knocked out. A week later, I had a meeting with him at his room at the Continental Hyatt House ( a/k/a the Continental RIOT House). Richard lived there most of the time. He had a big house in Riverside…but he let his close and extended family stay there. When I was going to his room, I expected that he would be staying in a spacious suite room. However he was staying in a typical one room hotel room.
Against one of the walls, were about 100 pair of different color and style ankle boots.
It took about 1 year for me to put the project together contractually, etc., but only 2 weeks to make the album from soup to nuts.
My plan was to assemble the biggest artists to guest. But since he was controlling the budget on a keep-the-change-deal, Richard wanted to just use his regular touring band. After the tracks were cut, the first vocal he sang was “Long Tall Sally”. As soon as he started singing ” Gonna tell Aunt Mary ’bout Uncle John..”, my mouth dropped open and I got freakin’ goosebumps. At that moment, I was no longer the Producer, I was simply just one of his millions of fans. I remember thinking that many people call themselves legends, but this cat was the real deal!
I also remember once he was overdubbing a piano part . He couldn’t synch up with the ending chord because the band didn’t play it in time. After several tried, he said ” Hey Joey! I seen you play piano on “Star Search” (I was the music director on that show).Why don’t you come out here and play it?” I respectfully refused, but after he insisted, I agreed. As we were passing each other between the control room and the studio I remember thinking ” Do I have big balls or what? Replacing Little Richard on the shit this guy created!!
Another time, the Japanese record company asked me to record an interview with him. He was saying something like ” I am very happy to be recording this album for E.M.I. Japan. My friend Michael Jackson has been to Japan many times but I ain’t never been there. I like the Japanese people, but I don’t care for the food much. I can’t eat that sushi stuff…i like MY fish deep-fried!”
I have so many stories….some not able to be repeated here. I gotta say, it was the most fun I ever had making a record!
Rest in Peace, Little Richard, You truly were the King of Rock & Roll!
You are so right … “Little Richard was different”!
It is laughable to hear anyone say they invented rock and roll and yet he damn near did. Very few would say there was “one greatest artist ever” but he damn near was.
I played with a band that opened for him in 1971 at the Newport Hotel in Miami. He had a 15 piece band with two drummers and it was thumpin’ like a mother fu**er. Never before or since have I seen a piano player break strings but he had a piano tech in the wings at all times because over the couple of weeks we played he broke three or four. Can you imagine breaking strings on a piano?
I do not believe you could fill the fingers of one hand with other cats in his league. RIP Georgia Peach.
Larry Brown (the guitarist)
One of the most amazing days of my life was the day I managed to get ahold of Little Richard’s home phone number from a church he had just spoken at. I dialed it not expecting anything, and he actually answered it himself! “Mr. Penniman please?” “YESSS”……”Richard Penniman?” “YESSS”….”Is this Little Richard?!?!”….”YES IT ISSS”………”OMIGOD IT’S LITTLE RICHARD…etc etc.” I just could not believe it. He was so sweet to me and listened to me go on about how much my mother loved him ..”WELL BLESS HER HEART”…. sometimes I forget about the call and then it will come to mind on the days when I feel like my life has just all been crap. “Wait just a minute! I called Little Richard at home and he actually picked up the phone and talked to ME!!” After this, everything seems ok again. I mean, how much better can it get than that?!? R.I.P. +
A fantastic tribute to Little Richard. These are the pioneers of music as we know it today. The roots of Rock and Roll.
When Little Richard belted out this line, he was attempting to simulate the song’s drum pattern. This line came to symbolize not only Little Richard’s style but also rock and roll.
Yes, the song is that important.
Volume – Check
Commanding vocal performance – Check
Distinctive beat – Check
Lyrics with a sexual connotation – Check Attitude – Check Everything that came after owed a debt to Little Richard.
In 1971 promoters put different acts together like the Fillmore East marquees and my band played with Little Richard one night. It was a winter night 1971 in Cleveland.
We were Holy Smoke backing gospel rocker Mylon. The bill was Mylon, Vanilla Fudge and Little Richard.
After our set, Richard’s music director bursts into our dressing room. He says Richard’s band is stuck in Chicago because if bad weather… “Anybody want to back up Little Richard?“ he says! We all grab the little set list he gave us .. I wish I still had it.. they were all there.. Lucille, Good Golly Miss Molly… all the hits.
We go on and Richards music conductor yells “ One, two, 1234..!”
We’re off to the races and Little Richard is killing it on piano and singing his ass off. Next song was same count-off and exact same tempo which was too fast but it went that way for 50 min without stopping except for the same count off between songs. As the drummer I was exhausted after 4 songs but kept going and the crowd was loving it. Little Richard looks at me smiling cuz he’s playing with a white rock band and as he looks out he sees 6000 white kids going crazy! What does he do???
He asks them to get up and dance… and when they do exactly as he asked them, he says “ and anybody want to come on stage and dance.. just come on up!!”
So 50 kids rush up in stage dancing and knocking my cymbal stand over while we’re rushing the tempo on the encores which go on and on.
Little Richard was on fire and his smile was saying..”. I got the white rock crowd to love Little Richard”..
They did , we did and that was his spirit…. he didn’t get the respect and recognition he deserved…. but he felt it that night. RIP Richard!
Sometime around the late ‘80s I was working in music publishing, and I was on a project tracking down a huge list of writers for a royalties accounting on the Bihari brothers and Modern Records. I’d found Johnny Otis up in Alta Dena, Richerd Berry in Riverside, Ike Turner in the Bay Area, and a whole bunch more. Little Richard was on the list, but I hadn’t located him, until one day I was coming out of the Hollywood Post Office on Selma, and there he was walking in…perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines in a suit reminiscent of grandma’s draperies, but cooler.
I introduced myself and told him I’d been trying to locate him. The conversation lasted maybe 5 minutes, but he was animated, full of energy, and 200% over the top, his face almost theatrical under a thick layer of pancake makeup. Introduced the man with him as his manager (who gave me his card – mission accomplished), and graciously, almost dramatically, thanked me and shook my hand and headed inside, leaving me in a cloud of cologne.
I’d been working in the studios for several years by then, and had met more than a few legends. But walking back to my car, I knew this one was different. He was, as you said, always on. The genuine article, the same onstage as he was on the street corner.
Daniel Liston Keller
Bob, I always enjoy your writing,
I wanted to share a story that I think you will appreciate.
I was in the lobby of the Hilton in Nashville 2012, and as I am talking with a musician friend, I look up to see Little Richard being pushed across the lobby in a wheelchair.
I have played music since 1964 and my older brother was a musician who played Rockabilly and Rock N Roll, my dad was a big band jazzer… So Little Richard crossed my radar early.
I immediately broke off my conversation and moved quickly to approach Little Richard. I just wanted him to know the impact he had on my love for music. He had had hip surgery, so thus the wheelchair.
As I expressed my appreciation for his being the reason I developed a love for the flamboyant, he handed me a book, I have attached the picture.
He was gracious, funny, quick of mind, and genuinely engaging. He gave me as much time as I choose to steal.
I always thought of Little Richard as a gift, and one he insisted we open. If we were slow, he had no problem telling us to move faster.
Nice piece Bob and well deserved and yes you got it right The King. Never anything less and if there was ever any question in the air Little Richard would clear that up right away.
Little story.Toronto September 13, 1969, The Rock and Roll Revival, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, Gene Vincent and Bo Diddely, with a few other acts thrown in, The Doors, John Lennon with the first iteration of The Plastic Ono Band, Alice Cooper, (who brought a chicken) , Chicago and a few others I’m missing.
Lennon was a late addition, The Doors were booked to close, but outside John’s dressing room Jim, and Bill Siddons were trying to explain to John that The Doors wanted him to close. Backstory, the Saturday show was a ticket sales bomb on the Monday, it was almost cancelled and everyone but John knew it. He had been signed on at the last minute and agreed to come only if they could play, brought Eric, Klaus and Alan White on drums. Siddons and Jim were afraid everyone would leave after John, who was incredulous and kept saying, “But you’re the headliners. I’m worried everyone will leave after you if we close.” Richard was within earshot in a narrow hallway under the bleachers and came over in his most regal and commanding presence and proclaimed, “I will close the show, the way it should be closed by me The King. You know that Mr Doors, you know that Mr Promoter, you know that Mr Lennon.”
The four of us stood speechless and I saw in Jim and John’s faces a reverence and respect that they most likely would not muster up for few if any others. Rock and roll had been called, claimed and owned by Little Richard. He was due on next and graciously agreed to do so but as he walked down the canopy towards the stage, in his lilting falsetto he almost sang. “I am The King.” The Doors did close, no one left after John played and the rest is history. Richard gave a performance that many publications acknowledged owned the festival and some said it relaunched a career that as we know never ended.
I have seen some things in my time but this moment of Little Richard getting Jim and John to almost bow their heads in respect and stand in star-struck silence was the best. You can see his performance and the other original rock legends in the doc Sweet Toronto by Pennebaker. It’s worth it to see Little Richard who knew that both John and Jim were in the wings watching, give a performance that left fans and critics alike on their feet the whole time and in the palm of the hand of a master.
Richard played for us twice. Both times he was confined to a wheelchair(bad hips). But when he was brought on stage, and transferred to the piano bench, he was totally unfettered by anything, and totally slayed….and yes, he was rock and roll incarnate and yes, he said his trademark line “shut up!”
And he could not have been more gracious to everybody, staff and fans alike.
Now, only Jerry Lee is left.
I read a lot about Little Richard today… The Guardian, Rolling Stone, etc.
I learned some things from those articles, but I got a feeling – from your thoughtful, contextual tribute. Thank you.
I was LR’s MD in 1983 that began with the 25th anniversary of the Grammy’s. Our appearance was part of the Grammy’s homage to the piano featuring along with LR, Jerry Lee Lewis, Count Basie and Ray Charles. Needless to say, it being my first live t.v. event, with that cast of characters, I was beyond nervous. Despite rehearsals, when showtime happened nothing planned happened. Jerry Lee and LR commenced a showmanship competition that was so dynamic the rest of the show was pretty much downhill from there, save for Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Miles Davis’ performances. It, to this day, is one of my greatest musical experiences and memories!
I met Little Richard twice.
Once, for 30 seconds in an elevator – Hyatt/Riot House LA on Sunset in 1990.
Me and Robinson.
Immediately, he said “Y’all must be in a band!”
Chris said, “Yes, sir! And we’re from Georgia! The Black Crowes.”
Richard said “Oh, y’all the ones that do the Otis song? I love that!”
He hugged us both and wished us well.
The elevator stopped, he walked off.
We were speechless.
Flash forward ten years later – Kennedy Center Honors in 2000.
Don Was put us on the show honoring Chuck Berry.
Richard walks into the rehearsal room, the night before.
Says his hellos to everyone and then zooms in on Chris and me. He says “Hello, Black Crowes – you probably won’t even remember this but we met on an elevator years ago!”
Again, we’re speechless.
I said “Yeah, we remember….I can’t believe you do!”
He says “Y’all did Otis so proud, he was my little brother…I loved that man so much!”
And he sits at the piano and busts into ‘These Arms Of Mine’….it sounds EXACTLY like Otis. I mean, he’s CHANNELING OTIS REDDING.
“These arms of mine, they are lonely
Lonely and feeling blue”
It was mind blowing.
The whole room is still.
No one moves.
I glanced at Steve Jordan and we shared a “Holy Shit this Is actually happening” look.
Richard ran thru the form twice, then stopped.
He said “Y’all don’t want any more of that, do you?” laughing.
Everyone in the room (G.E. Smith, Steve Jordan, me, CR, RR, Don Was, The B-52’s) yells “YES! More! Keep going!”
He laughs again….’No, no, that’s enough, let’s do what we’re here to do.”
He killed us all. He knew it. And he left it there.
After that, we had a solid hour of hang/rehearsals before he got up to leave.
“I gotta go now! Y’all be ready tomorrow, ’cause I’m sure gonna SHOW UP!” and walked out of the room.
I didn’t see him the next day except for onstage during the performance.
I originally went to DC excited and honored to shake a tambourine for Chuck Berry, but I left DC with my mind spinning over Little Richard and the fact that for an hour or so, I was standing next to a nuclear reactor.
My entire body was buzzing the whole time he was in that room with us. Head to toe…on fire.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to see this man on a stage when he first showed up in the 1950’s….but I can tell you that in the year 2000 it was still a visceral experience that goes well beyond my feeble attempt to describe.
In 1985, Jimmy Page was The Beach Boys’ special guest for their free 4pm afternoon Fourth of July show in Philadelphia (along with Joan Jett, The Oakridge Boys, etc.). Some reports have the attendance at over a million people in the streets (and in the trees) to see the show. I was present backstage in one of the dressing room campers as Carl Wilson and Jimmy discussed what songs he would play when he joined the group onstage. It was unanimously decided that we would open with “Lucille.”
Bob, when I was GM of Star Lake Amphitheater near Pittsburgh PA during the mid-1990s, Little Richard and Aretha Franklin played our venue on a cobbled-together double bill on July 27, 1996. The show was set up as “pavilion-only,” meaning no lawn tickets were sold for the event; only the 7,000-capacity fixed-seating pavilion was offered for sale. The performances were spectacular. Magic roared out of Aretha’s mouth all night long, and she was followed by Little Richard just after dusk (due to the show falling on Saturday, his Sabbath, the latter’s religious beliefs had dictated that he start his performance only after the sun had gone down). Little Richard was mesmerizing, and he was so enthralled with playing and sermonizing to the assemblage that he started purposefully ignoring our offstage cues to finish things up and end his set. As he got increasingly frantic signals from our offstage production folks, Little Richard began incorporating into his R & B song of the moment a soulful rap that went something like “They’re tellin’ me to stop the show, but I really really don’t wanna go”. He repeated this musical mantra about five more times during the song, all the while his eyes darting to the sidelines, and just before we were ready to bring out the Big Broadway Hook, Little Richard relented and reluctantly wrapped it up. He was scolded a bit backstage by our production team for going into “overtime”, but he was unrepentant—like a true rock ‘n’ roller.
It’s October 1965 and Herman’s Hermits were in Hollywood for a few weeks, making our utterly forgettable movie Hold On, at MGM’s Culver City. Night times would see a few of us taking in the clubs on Sunset. We were in the Trip where the Byrds, then the Grass Roots were playing, and having pissed off Derek Taylor as to how good we thought the Grass Roots were, (the Byrds were his babies) we switched to the Galaxy where LR was playing. You couldn’t get two musical styles further apart then Herman’s Hermits and Little Richard but Lek Leckenby, our dear departed lead guitarist ended up on stage with the man, and gave it his all. A memorable night, meeting the original rock n roller. What charisma, what a star.
From: Doug Bell
Subject: Re: Re-Little Richard
Good on ya Bob, when I was in Nashville for the Musians Hall Of Fame Awards, I ran into the Guitarist that played with Roy Orbison. He played that unforgettable lick at the head of Pretty Woman, upon which I congratulated him, he said don’t give me too much credit, I pinched it from Little Richard’s horn line in Lucille. Sure enough………
A courteous and charming man flamboyantly dressed in a pale lilac suit, I once spent a delightful hour or so in Little Richard’s company chatting away about music, songwriting and life on the road. Randomly, the location was a back office in the Beverley Hills branch of Wells Fargo Bank back in my Culture Club touring years circa 1983/4 where we were both applying for a bank account. He was blown away I’d co-written “Karma Chameleon” then a massive hit in USA, graciously referring to it as “My favourite song man!”
Told him that when I first saw the Beatles (Birmingham 1966) they played one of his songs which he was so obviously thrilled about & spoke of them with high reverence, respect and regard. Great years. What a true pioneering legend of Rock n’ Roll he was and always will be.
Love and light
I was in Ben Franks diner on Sunset 1991 I think, with a couple friends ending the night around 1am. A man walked up the table and said to me Little Richard would like to invite you to come sit with him. I turned and couldn’t believe he was there in almost 4-D larger than life. I got immediately nervous thinking it was a pickup line in front of my friends and replied no thank you. The man returned a moment later and handed me a bible inscribed with a blessing and signed Little Richard. What a mind altering experience for a young jewish kid new to Los Angeles. I regretted not sitting in his aura for years after and even more today.
Here’s my Richard story: 1993 or 1994, I went to see Little Richard at Tramps with the hopes of getting him to perform on my Don Covay Tribute album. Richard was Don’s mentor in the music business (as Don was mine), Richard was his idol, and they stayed friends through the years so I figured it was a good shot. My friend Steve Weitzman ran the club but he said security was at a Michael Jackson level, he couldn’t get me backstage but if I wrote a note he’d get it to him. I did that, put my number on it, and saw a great show.
Next morning I get a call from LaGuardia Airport Security, “We just found a bag with no identification left unattended at the airport, has a pair of pink leather boots and a couple of TV dinners and a note with your phone number on it.” I said “Fellas, you got Little Richard’s bag!”
In May of 1985 I bought Richard Penniman’s autobiography-which had just been released-in a midtown Manhattan bookstore on the way to a lunch meeting. When I walked into the hotel lobby where the restaurant was located I almost fell over when I saw Richard himself having lunch with two business associates. As it turned out, he was in town to promote the book. And so With great trepidation I walked over and asked him to sign my book that was still in the shopping bag. He not only enthusiastically offered to orivide the autograph but actually invited me to sit down with them. He wanted to know if I’d ever seen him in concert(I had) and why I’d bought the book so quickly and then thanked me more than once for “helping me pay my bills!”.
He could not possibly have been nicer.I was completely blown away and the book still sits proudly on a bookshelf in my living room these 35 years later.
This encounter reinforced my long held belief that-almost without exception-the greater the artist,the nicer the person.
And a Little Richard Penniman was sure one of the greatest ever.
I’m here to authenticate the Little Richard event mentioned by Marty Simon from Mylon’s band.
I was one of the people that somehow got up on stage at Cleveland Public Hall that night.
Ended up actually leaning on the piano right across from Little Richard as he played.
Such great Little Richard tributes. I read every word of all of them. I followed Twiggs Lyndon as Allman’s tour manager after he killed a club owner in Buffalo. He had been Richard’s tour manager earlier and you should have heard some of Richard’s gender bending sex stories from the road. Good Golly Miss Molly!
It was 1964 I think, I was 19 years old, a sophmore at George Washington U. in the nation’s capital.
I had heard that Little Richard would be appearing at the legendary Howard Theater in what was then the predominently black neighborhood of Northwest of Washington, DC. The Howard was one of the oldest theaters on the so-called Chitlin circuit. In those days, the Jim Crow laws forced black entertainers to perform in theaters that catered only to black audiences. This particular show featured not only Little Richard, but also Gladys Knight and the Pips, the comedians Pig Meat Markham and Mom’s Mabley and some other great acts I don’t remember.
My roomate at the time was none other than my cousin Richie, an engineering major, basketball star and hey a pretty big guy. In my mind, Richie would not only love the show, but would be a perfect “body guard” for my rather bold (at the time) “White kid” foray into the heart of the black rhythm and blues culture.
So Little Richard makes his regal entrance, all shiny bouffant hair, gold lame suit and white teeth glistening in the stage lights. It looked like Little Richard was lit up, glowing as if plugged into a high powered electric socket!
A little background, setting the stage here….two years earlier, the Beatles opened on a UK tour for Little Richard whom they idolized and Little Richard claims to be a very important mentor to them. By that Autumn in 1964, the Beatles had broken big to the top of the record charts in the USA.
So on that night at the Howard Theater, with me and my cousin Richie in the third row, Little Richard enthusiastically announces to the audience: “I’m gonna do a song by the Beatle”.
Immediately, a loud, booming voice from an enormous dude a few rows behind us shouted out: “I don’t want any white trash music”!
The audience reacted with a low disgruntled, rumble of agreement as I sunk a bit lower in my seat.
So what does Little Richard do?
Little Richard immediately jumps up from his piano seat and bounds right up to the edge of the stage, authoritatively puts his hand on his right hip, stares down the big dude, tilts his head and yells out: “YOU DIDN’T SELL NO MILLION RECORD, NOW SIT DOWN”!
To which the audience immediately burst out in an instant 180 degree attitude flip with yells and refrains of “Yea, you didn’t sell no million record, now sit down”
To which Little Richard gracefully twirls around, glides on his toes back to his piano, and in an acapella, achingly slow, full-throated, glorious gospel-style voice sang out a revelatory: ” Well she was just seventeen”!
Immediately the entire band and horn section blasted one “diamond” percussive note BOP!
And Little Richard sang again acapella asking, “Do you know what I mean”?
To which the entire band again “Bops”
Then Little Richard again sang out, “And the way she looked was way beyond compare”!
AND THEN…Little Richard began pounding the piano in the deepest, slowest, baddest groove you’ve ever heard…the entire band came in blasting tight, staccato eighth notes along with Little Richard’s piano ….”Well I never danced with another, when I saw her standing there…woooo woooo”.
At that point, I turned around and saw the once pissed off, suspicious and digruntled audience transmogrified, released and shot straight through to a ecstatic, screaming, hip shaken, head wagging, screaming sea of 1,200 joyous people.
There was no doubt in my mind that Little Richard had spiritual and musical powers that were like none I’d ever seen up to that time!
That experience, is one of the few musical performances that will never leave me as long as I live. An indelible memory seared into my brain as vivid today as it was 56 long years ago!
I’ve looked, but unfortuntely I’ve never found a Little Richard recorded version done that way.
Just a few years later, the legendary Howard Theater succumbed to the riots in 1968. I believe it’s been resurrected since.
Another strange thing about that night…there was one white guy in the entire band…playing Trombone, Don Sebeski and he was from my hometown of Perth Amboy, NJ. It blew my mind to see him there. And not only that, but I did many jazz gigs with his younger bass playing brother…Jerry. So we went back stage and found out that Don had written all the new arrangements, including that amazing Beatle song. Don went on to be a very successful composer scoring many Hollywood Movies.
Little richard gave us life when we did not have one.
(Andrew Loog Oldham)