Richard Wayne Penniman

09 Jun

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)

Ready Teddy

Slippin’ and Slidin’ (on John Lennon’s Jukebox)

Jenny, Jenny

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.


Posted by on June 9, 2007 in Artists, Influences


12 responses to “Richard Wayne Penniman

  1. shrewspeaks

    June 9, 2007 at 5:38 pm


    Look at the size of that nogin compared with the Fab Four. Little Richard is one of the few originators that talks about his music being equal parts Country, Gospel and Blues. Most either lean to one side or another. Strong, crazy and decidedly unique, yet without personal scandle I count him my favorite founding father of Rock.

  2. music maven

    June 9, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Little Richard “makes my toe shoot up in ma boot”.
    I literally could have written 5 pages of stuff on LR. Talk about a life lived. He’s traveled the world and been a teacher and mentor to some of the gods of Rock. He’s struggled to reconcile his Godly life with his Rock & Roll music life as he doesn’t believe that the two can coincide.

    I was especially intrigued by the Rip it Up video where he plays with a white band to a white audience. It must have felt very solitary being up there commanding the stage but little else. I hope that people honor LR as he should be….even moreso than James Brown. James Brown called Little Richard “his idol” and emulated the real king of R&R. I especially like John Lennon’s quote on the jukebox vid —

    “….this business about Rock & Roll and when did it start is really about when did the Honkys notice it and that it was something strong, powerful and beautiful.”

    Little Richard invented Rock & Roll and didn’t even know he was doing it. He mentored and helped numerous Rock icons, and he didn’t even know he was doing it. Here’s a quote from LR in Rolling Stone:
    “I came from a family where my people didn’t like rhythm and blues,” Little Richard told Rolling Stone in 1970. “Bing Crosby, ‘Pennies From Heaven,’ Ella Fitzgerald was all I heard. And I knew there was something that could be louder than that, but I didn’t know where to find it. And I found it was me.”

    Re-affirms my belief that music is art. The expression of artistic “vision”. LR’s art ended up changing the world. Literally.

  3. brc

    June 9, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    I had no idea LR was so influential in rock & roll. Thanks for the education.

  4. leejolem

    June 10, 2007 at 10:19 am

    MM, I had no idea LR was such an icon in the industry. The way he is portrayed now makes him seem almost like a joke–thanks for the information. I have new found respect for him.

    I’d like to see you do a whole post on the reconciling Godly life with the Rock and Roll life issue. I listen to some contemporary Christian music, but it never seems to get creidt for really being valid music. I know many Christian artists feel they can’t cross over with selling out on their personal faith. MM, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Are you familiar with any of Keith Green’s music? I would do a link, but I’m at work and shouldn’t take the time.

  5. leejolem

    June 10, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    MM/DD, this is totally off topic–but I have to express myself (after reading a couple of your comments on other sites I know you will support me in this):
    I still love Taylor Hicks!!!!!!!!!!!!

    There, I said it. I’m not ashamed. I don’t get why the great big cool down recently. Anyway, thanks for letting me yell it loud and proud here. Hope you don’t mind.

  6. music maven

    June 10, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Yes, lee, I’m with you. I’ll always hold a soft spot for my boy, Taylor. Just as I do for Little Richard. They make me smile….and my toe shoot up in ma boot! heh.

    Sadly, I think that alot of the “fangirly” has turned off some of the other “factions” that like Taylor as a musician. I hope that one day, people will take him at face value and evaluate him on the merit of his music and entertainment, not his looks or AI association. Time WILL tell.

  7. jenfera

    June 11, 2007 at 8:35 am

    lee & MM, I am with you! In fact, I am going to concert number two on Sunday, 6th row tickets, and I can’t freaking wait!

    As for Little Richard, I never knew all this about him, but I have always liked what I did know. I liked that he seemed a little crazy. He just always seems like he is having an incredibly good time. Love the Geico commercial, heh!

  8. Colette

    June 13, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Wow — this is quite the wonderful tribute! Thank you, thank you.

    It’s poignant for me, given that my best high school friend died recently (of a heart attack, in his 50s) and he adored Little Richard — his music, his zaniness, his out-there Dionysian sexual weirdness. He turned me on long ago to Little Richard’s amazing autobiography which I heartily recommend, despite the likelihood that half or more of the sexual stuff was cooked up in the crazy kitchen of Mr. Penniman’s mind……

  9. shrewspeaks

    June 14, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Colette, it is amazing that many people seem to focus in on that stuff. I honestly don’t know about it, I am just blown away by his music. Much like Aretha Franklin…I hear LR and my pulse quickens.

  10. Diedra

    January 23, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    I have seen LR, and he’s amazing. His love comes from deep within and I can feel it when he sing. Every move he makes on stage is filled with compassion for his viewers. Until people really listen to him, they will never understand him. He works the piano with the same intensity that he works Jesus. He is one that has also stood for right, even at the one point when he went left, his message was always for right and until people can get pass his wild youth and hear the message and hear the music they will never get LR. By the way, have you noticed people can always walk up to him in public and get a wave and even a autograph, unless he’s in a hurry and regardless you’re going to get a book about Jesus and his love. What a man!!!!! Oh, and to the viewer who reply he seems a little crazy, that’s the comment made about both geniuses.

  11. Diedra

    January 23, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    last line should have read most not both geniuses. SORRY!! I got excited.

  12. Mpierce

    June 22, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    LR was great this last year performing in New Orleans.


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