Little Richard by John Garodkin

Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman December 5, 1932) is a Rock'n'Roll legend whose influence can be heard in the work of countless artists from The Beatles down. In the late 50's his no-holds-barred vocal style and equally untamed stage show shocked the older generation and earned him fervent fan following among teenagers.

Richard grew up in Macon, Georgia listening to both gospel music and R & B which inspired him to his wild form for rock'n'roll. In 1951 at 81 Theatre, Atlanta he won a talent show. The price was a recording contract with RCA. Under the guidance of Billy Wright ("The Prince of Blues") Richard recorded his first four tracks at Radio Station WGST, Atlanta October 16, 1951. Another four track were recorded at the same place. January 12, 1952. "Taxi Blues"/ Every Hour" was the first of four urban blues singles he released on RCA. Richard was very influenced by Billy Wright, but the influence was reverse. January 25, 1952 Billy Wright recorded Little Richards' "Every Hour" as "Every Evening" and got a hit. Non of the RCA-releases sold enough to convince the company to renew his contract.

Late in 1952 Clint Brantley, the manager of Little Richard, got him contracted with the Houston based label Peacoock. The owner Don Robey formed the quartet, "The Tempo Toppers" for the first session (February 25, 1953). The track "Ain't That Good News" led to a second session (January, 1954) under direction of top producer Johnny Otis. All eight track were unsuccessful and Otis' recordings were only issued after Richard became famous.

In 1952-55 Little Richard toured a lot with his band the Upsetters in the South and became very popular at the black places. By advice from Lloyd Price, who he met on the tour, in February 1995 Little Richard cut a demo tape at WMBL Studio, Macon for Specialty Records, the leading black independed label in the South. Specialty didn't show the big interest, and Little Richard phoned them nearly every day. Art Rupe, the owner of Specialty, hired a new A & R man, Bumps Blackwell who got to try to record Little Richard as his first job for the label. Little Richard was never released from the Peacoock contract, and Rupe lend him $ 600 to buy the contract back. Recording session was planned to September 13 & 14, 1955 at J & M Studios, New Orleans. Four tracks mostly R & B standards were recorded each day. About noon September the 14th happened one of the highlights in Rock'n'Roll history! In a break in the recordings the musician went across the street to Dew Drop Inn. Little Richard sat by the piano and played his own "Tutti Frutti". Bumps Blackwell was very impressed. He could see a big hit in that tune, but the lyrics was too dirty. Dorothy LaBostri the writer of "I'm Just A Lonely Guy" which Richard had recorded the day before, was present and get the job to make the lyrics clean. Just 15 minutes before the recording session ended the clean lyrics were ready. There was no time to teach the pianoplayer the tune and Richard himself played the piano in three takes of "Tutti Frutti" - the tune that changed the Rock'n'Roll world.

After that first smash hit, the company let Richard record Rock'n'Roll and classic hits like: "Long Tall Sally", "Rip It Up", "Ready Teddy", "True Fine Mama", "Good Golly Miss Molly", "She's Got It", "Jenny, Jenny", "The Girl Can't Help It" etc. etc. were coming very fast after each other.

Actually most of Little Richards classic hits were recorded in the very small period from September 13, 1955 to January 16, 1957. Most of 1957 Little Richard and The Upsetters were touring world wide and during a tour in Australia October 1957 he realized that he had to quit the showbiz and be a minister. He cancelled rest of the Australian tour, threw all his jewelers in the Harbor of Sidney and returned to USA (October 10, 1957). In the matter of contractual reasons, he October 18, 1957 recorded the last session in Los Angeles for Specialty Records. January 27, 1958 Little Richard entered the Oakwood Theological College in Huntsville, Alamaba. The public didn't noticed this turn over in the beginning, because Specialty continued to release Little Richard records.

During his studding at bible school Little Richard recorded quite a lot of gospel songs for Gone/End Records (1959), Little Star Records (December 1959), Mercury Records (August/September 1961) and Atlantic Records (February & April 1963).

October 4, 1962 Little Richard left US for his first British tour ever. The tour was intended as a gospel tour, but turned quickly over to be one of the most amazing rock'n'roll tours. In no time the concerts were just as wild as when he was touring The South in the late 50's. October 12, 1962 he played with The Beatles at The Tower Ballroom, Liverpool. Little Richard was impressed by the Beatles, and in November 1962 together they played at Star-Club, Hamburg, Germany. It is told, that it was in this period Richard learned Paul McCartny how to sing his style. The year after Little Richard was back in England again (October 4 - November 10, 1963). This time with Rolling Stones as supporting.

The success in England influenced Little Richard to turn back to Rock'n'Roll. A couple of session for his old company, Specialty, gave a minor hit, "Bama Lama Bama Loo" (1964). Specialty turned down the activites, and Little Richard was looking around for a new record company. This was the start of numerous unsuccessful re-recordings of his old hits mixed with a few new songs for different companies - Vee-Jay (Dec. 1963 - Jul. 1965); Modern (Dec. 1965 - Jan. 1966); OKeh (Feb. 1966 - Jan. 1967) and Brunswick (Late 1967 - Aug. 1968).

In the beginning of 1970 signing Reprise was a new attempt to catch a come-back. Reprise gave cause to three albums with more original material and an unissued C & W record. The wanted come-back failed to appear. In the early 70's, Little Richard also appeared as guest star on sessions with the biggest of that time. Bonnie, Delany & Friends (1970), Jefferson Airplane (1971), James Gang (1971), Canned Heat (1972), Mylon LeFevre (1972) and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (1975).

After the unsuccessful comeback at Reprise, Little Richard tried more companies only for a short time. Bell (1972), Ala (1972), Kent (1973), Mainstream (1975) and S.J. Productions (1976), which gave rise for another re-recording session of his old stuff. In this period Little Richard got a big problem with narcotic, but the death of his brother Tony got Richard back to God for the second time. He stopped his glamorous living and started selling bibles. This time Little Richard was bounded of religion for around ten years. On World Records in 1979 he issued a fine gospel LP.

Mid 80's you see Little Richard again in talkshows and TV-shows, but this time singing gospel, and the guest role in the movie "Down And Out In Beverly Hills" (1986) became a new turning point to Little Richard. He turned more and more rocking. The success of the tittle tune, "Great Gosh A'Mighty" (1986) from the movie, lead to the album "Lifetime Friend" (1986). During the recording of "Lifetime Friend", Little Richard had a serious car accident and he was nearly dying.

Being well again, in the late 80's and the 90's Little Richard appeared in several talkshows, commercials, TV-series and movies. He toured all over the world as a Rock'n'Roll legend and got fine reviews for his ability to keep the original Rock'n'Roll sound. Just like in the beginning of the 70's, he appeared on a lot of music videos and albums with the most estimated stars. Only to mention a few: Bangles (1987), Queen (1987), Beachboys (1987), The Folkway video (1988), Twins (1988), U2 (1989), Jon Bon Jovi (1990), Give Peace A Chance (1991), Voices That Care (1991), King Ralph (1991), Hank Willimams Jr. (1991), For Our Children (1991), Elton John (1993), We're Back - A Dinosaur's Story (1993), Rhythm, Country and Blues (1994), Casper (1995), Sinatra - 80 Years My Way (1995), West Side Story (1996), The closing of the Olympic games (1996), Solomon Burke (1996) and Jimmy Lewis (1997).

The success of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" from the benefit album "For Our Children" led to a hard rocking record for children, "Shake It All About" (1992). And as a provisional summit of his carrier he in 1997 received the American Music Awards.