Steve and Johnnie remember Little Richard

Steve and Johnnie

In this May 30, 2009 file picture, Little Richard performs at The Domino Effect, a tribute concert to New Orleans Rock and Roll musician Fats Domino, in New Orleans, La. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

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That original album (Vinyl, thank you very much!) is safely ensconced in our music room.

When it first landed, there was nothing safe about it.

It was scary!  At least, that’s what a lot of 50s mid-America’s adults thought about “Long Tall Sally,” “Tutti Frutti” and some of Little Richard’s other singles that made up a large part of the album’s contents when they were first released.  Many mainstream radio stations only played Little Richard’s songs when Pat Boone covered them in a much gentler fashion that made them palatable to the mass audience of the time.  In later years, Little Richard would thank Pat Boone for the royalties he received and the resulting attention he got from teenagers curious enough to seek out the source of the songs.

It’s a huge testament to the impact he had on Rock & Roll that, in his first recording sessions for RCA, Elvis Presley covered 4 of Little Richard’s records, “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Ready Teddy” and “Tutti Frutti.”  Additionally, on his 1956 TV appearances on both the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show and The Ed Sullivan Show Elvis, again, showed his respect for, and the influence of, Little Richard with live performances of “Tutti Frutti” and “Ready Teddy.”

Long Tall Sally” and “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” are just two examples of Little Richard’s influence on The Beatles and every time you hear Paul McCartney scream, you’re hearing how well he followed, and still follows, Little Richard’s teachings.

It really is impossible to overstate the impact of this man on, not only the record industry but, the pop culture he helped define and, quite frequently throughout his off and on again career, struggled to live with.

Little Richard was quite open about his struggles with his life in show-business, his sexuality, religion and a lot more in Charles White’s authorized biography, “The Life And Times Of Little Richard.”

Richard’s retreat from and return to his recording/show-business career and his religious calling were constant and ongoing battles throughout his life.  One of his later career highlights was really sort of a melding of the two when he performed the gospel-tinged “Great Gosh A’Mighty” in the film “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”  This song was Richard’s last charted hit.

In his final years Little Richard lived a mostly reclusive life in Nashville that, quite frequently, found him in the news with rumors surrounding the state of his health or, yet another, possible return to the recording studio, stage or pulpit.

Along with Charles White’s book, we’re sure you’ll be able to find far more scholarly writings about Little Richard than this blog provides, but we wanted to share a personal example of just one night in this amazing man’s career and the impact and memory it left with us and the others who were there to witness it.

In August of 1995, WGN radio sponsored a night at Ravinia Festival with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.  WGN’s legendary morning man, Bob Collins, emceed the event and, along with several other members of the WGN radio family in attendance, we were eagerly anticipating the show.  As was the case on many tours involving large egos, Jerry Lee and Little Richard rotated who opened and who closed the show on any given night.  We’re not sure if Jerry Lee was in a snit because he wasn’t that night’s closer or what but, that night, “The Killer” gave far less than his usual “Killer” performance both in time spent on stage and energy expended and left many in the audience disappointed.

No matter.

When Little Richard hit the stage we all got a lesson in how it’s done, who did it first, how it was built and how to keep on keepin’ on from the, self described, “Quasar Of Rock & Roll” his own bad self!

Yes, he did the hits but, that night, Richard, felt like giving us a little history in between songs.  So, we learned and heard about his beginnings and influences.  We heard his stripped down mastery of boogie woogie piano.  We had the rare experience of seeing and hearing Little Richard sing country AND DO IT WELL!  We  saw a master entertainer making sure the net he was casting included ALL of his audience, even the youngest, when he did his “Richardized” version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”  We saw one of the original Rock & Roll wildmen tick off Ravinia security when he invited the audience to join him on stage.

That night, the “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” showed us what made it ROCK & ROLL!  And we LOVED it!!

Awop-bop-a-loo-mop alop-bom-bom!  Great Gosh A’Mighty!

He sure loved to ball!

R.I.P Little Richard

Originally posted on Steve & Johnnie’s Both Sides Now blog.

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