The one. The only. The incomparable Georgia Peach.
The genesis of Rock & Roll really started with Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti in 1955. While LR is primarily recognized today for his flamboyant style and great “isms”, he WAS the originator. Born in 1932 in Macon, Georgia, Richard was one of 12 children and heavily influenced by the gospel music of his rich church life. As a child, his favorite artists were Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Thorpe. He sang with his family as The Penniman Singers, touring local churches and revivals. He joined Thorpe onstage in Macon at the age of 13, in 1945 after she heard him singing before the concert. As a teenager, his piano playing was greatly shaped by a traveling musician named Esquerita, who apparently influenced his persona, as well. He left home at 15 to dance in Sugarfoot Sam’s Minstrel Show.
In 1951, at 18, Richard won a talent contest in Atlanta and was awarded a recording contract with Peacock Records. However, in 1952, his father was murdered causing him to return to Macon. There, he played the Tick Tock Club at night and washed dishes at the Greyhound Bus Station during the day. At the Tick Tock, he came to the attention of Bill Wright, a New Orleans blues singer. In 1955, he sent a demo tape to Specialty Records who put him in the hands of Bumps Blackwell, the man that had mentored Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. During a break at one of the recording sessions, Little Richard banged around the piano, playing Tutti Frutti with slightly more risque’ lyrics. The producer immediately put down the track and Tutti Frutti became LR’s first hit and Rock & Roll’s initial template.
The up-beat tempo created a different sound than the traditional slow burn of rhythm & blues. It was fast. It was fun. And, it was LOVED. LR understood that this was show business. You need to be noticed and talked about and boy did he give them something to talk about.
From 1955 to 1957, Little Richard ruled.
Rip it Up
Lucille (check out the band’s dance moves….to been seen later by James Brown and numerous Motown acts — as well as The Blues Brothers)
Slippin’ and Slidin’ (on John Lennon’s Jukebox)
In 1957, on tour in Australia, LR had a vision of his own damnation and a close call on a plane. He promptly quit music and began to study to be a preacher. He would go in and out of show business over the next two decades, kick a drug habit, survive a major car crash and finally settle into his role as an icon and ambassador of Rock & Roll, showcasing his enormous talent and personality. In 1993, he was one of the first artists inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and recently served as a judge on Celebrity Duets, where he has become endeared to a whole new generation.
LR on Celebrity Duets
Likely the most influential of LR’s robust crop of Rock & Roll “foundations”, is Long Tall Sally. Here is a comparison of LR’s version and The Beatles’ version performed live at their Wembley Stadium concert in ’65. While I love The Beatles and the Little Richard inspired I Saw Her Standing There, there really is only one version of Long Tall Sally worthy of Little Richard — his own.
Long Tall Sally – LR
Long Tall Sally – The Beatles
Little Richard was an early mentor to The Beatles as well as The Rolling Stones, Billy Preston, James Brown, Elvis and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix actually worked as a guitarist for Little Richard in 1964.
Here is LR’s take on Jimi Hendrix:
(Note: A favorite MM saying is first used in this vid from the 1973.)
At 75, Little Richard Penniman has positively, and significantly, influenced the most world-changing of music genres. He is one of the last, great Rock & Rollers…those pioneers who turned the world upside down in the middle of the 20th century and forever changed views on race, religion and attitudes.
LR speaks the truth….”You got to be placed into the dipper and be poured back onto the world and then men will see your good works and glorify God, Jehovah.”
Amen, brutha, amen.