Richard Wayne Penniman – a founding father of rock ’n’ roll as Little Richard – turns 75 today.
Little Richard has been so wildly flamboyant for so long, it’s easy to play him off like a joke. (As in that GEICO commercial... “Mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce...whoo-hooo!”)
But Little Richard wasn’t no joke. Not to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent or the Beatles, all of whom covered hits of his.
(Wanna hear the Beatles doing “Lucille,” with Paul McCartney wailing his ass off? Click here. Recorded for the BBC in 1963, this track is available on the double-CD “Live at the BBC.”)
So bow down. Little Richard is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the NAACP Hall of Fame... and probably the Mascara Hall of Fame.
He has lived a fascinating life. After a string of huge hit singles, Little Richard walked away from rock ’n’ roll in 1957 and entered a Christian seminary, not returning to popular music until 1962.
He discussed this in an interview with disc jockey Jim Pewter around 1967. Click here to hear a 2-minute segment of that interview on my Vox blog.
Speaking of audio bites... Hendrix fans are aware that Jimi Hendrix recorded and gigged with Little Richard in the mid-1960s. Well, here’s a track – a remake of Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” – mixed to highlight Hendrix’s rhythm-guitar break; hit this link. Little Richard says a few words about Jimi’s talent at the end of the clip. This is from the box set “Lifelines: The Jimi Hendrix Story.”
Now, if only the Universal Music Group would digitally reissue Little Richard’s 1962 Mercury album “The King of the Gospel Singers,” produced by Quincy Jones. I mean, please. For the sake of historical appreciation.