Popular Culture (Music) 20110211: Little Richard

(10 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I do not often write about American artists, not because they they are no good (many, many are), but because British ones interest me more.  Here is an exception.  Not only is he extremely talented, he also wrote many of the books, so to speak, for the British Invasion.

The story about him being adopted by Jewish parents is just a myth.  There are elaborate ones about how the white, Jewish family adopted the poor little black boy when he was just a baby and, trying to keep him close to his roots, took him to a black gospel church.  That is nonsense!  Please keep with me to learn more about him, and to enjoy what is likely the very best fusion of rhythm and blues and rock and roll ever.

He did not only perform it, he wrote lots of it!  With no further ado, here is a glimpse into one of my favorite performers.

Richard Wayne Penniman was born 19321205, and to our all good fortune, he is still with us.  Obviously he is not touring a lot any more, but that latest information that I have is that he is still healthy and lucid.  What a talent he is!

He started recording before I was even borne, and quit when I was just a few months old, to go into religious healing.  That was in 1957!  I was about half a year old when he “retired” the first time!

Fortunately for us, he came back to perform more, and only recently has not been heard of very much.  Please join with me to encourage him to do a few more live performances.

I am not going to bore you with a lot of history.  He is what he is, and that is most likely the most tranformative figure in American music.  You can barrage me about the meaning of that statement in the comments.  He was, as folks my age often said, something else.

Rather then me waxing on about how great he was, and is, let us just watch and listen.  Here, in a roughly chronological order, are some of his hits.  I will diverge now and then to show covers of them from other bands.

His first big hit was Tutti Frutti.  The name of the song, and his outrageous makeup at the time, caused many to question his sexuality.  I have no deep wisdom about it, but I do know a good song when I hear one.  By the way, he is keeping the company of the first woman with whom he fell in love.  This particular one was introduced by the legendary disc jockey, Alan Freed.  I think that this one was lip synced.  What do you think?

Here is a much later version of it, and he still has the rock and roll style.  His eyes still have the mad look that they had in 1955!  I really like this artist!

His next hit was Long Tall Sally, covered by many bands.  As a matter of fact, thinking of that last week stimulated me to post this piece about him.  Please enjoy it with me.  Freed was also in this one.

Look who else covered it.

If you look closely at both of them, you can see the effects of amphetamines.  Both of them abused them, hence the wild eye look.  They, and other drugs, killed Presley.  Penniman seems to have beaten the addiction, but he was seriously habituated to both alcohol and drugs for a long time.  All evidence indicates that those days are behind him.

There is really not anyone else quite like him.  He did not cross the bridge betxist R and B and R and R, he built it!  Rockabilly was there as well, and several of his R & B pieces were turned into Rockabilly ones, viz.:

Here is an early version, and he did look too flamboyant at the time, except for the fact that he was a black man on the TeeVee.

Here he is a bit more to my liking:

Now we all know how Prince got his look and sound!  Little Richard did it all.

Again, the white boy covered it, sorry no live version.

There is a more recent cover by The Stray Cats.  That is actually quite a good band, and I encourage you to listen to more of their work.

The amphetamine stutter is apparent.

Ready Teddy was another of his great songs.  This one is from a movie, and does not have the rawness of the original, but it does show him.  Just next is the original.

Here is the better one, but no movie clips.

Of course, the white boy covered it, viz.

This one is obviously from The Ed Sullivan Show, a really excellent program for its time.  Note that Elvis was quite hopped up on amphetamines at the time.  They were more or less legal then.

These are only the 1955 hits for Little Richard!  He had more, and many of them you will remember.

Lucille was his big hit in 1956, and here is a video of it.  I was not even born then!

Note the pictures of him with The Beatles way back.  I strongly suspect that Dr. Martin Luther King took Richard’s mustache hint as his own.

I have only hit the highlights of Little Richard’s career.  There are lots more songs that he gave us, and I hope that you, my dear readers, will share your favorites in the comments.  Most of you that have read my pieces already know that I think that the comments section is by far the best part of them.

I will leave you with this fairly recent piece of his.

You have got to love him!  Artist, writer, singer, and showman!

Please share your favorites with us all in the comments!

Warmest regards,


Featured at TheStarsHollowGazette.com.  Crossposted at Antemedius.com and at Dailykos.com


  1. one of the greatest R & R performers of all time?

    Warmest regards,


  2. Room Full of Mirrors, a fascinating biography of Jimi Hendrix written by Charles Cross provides mesmerizing detail of the times when Hendrix and Little Richard crossed paths. The book described the first time that Jimi laid eyes on Little Richard in 1958, when Jimi was fifteen years of age keeping in mind that his kid brother’s name is Leon):

    Sometime the next year, Leon was running an errand for his foster mother when he spied a limousine and out stepped Little Richard.  Richard shook Leon’s hand and said he was preaching at a local church — this during a brief period when Richard renounced rock ‘n’ roll for the Lord…’Jimi had on a white shirt but he had really ragged tennis shoes.  People at the church looked at us.’…Instead, despite the disapproving eyes of church elders, Jimi and Leon sat transfixed in a pew watching Little Richard’s conk-styled hair bounce up and down as he preached of fire and brimstone.  After the sermon, the boys waited around to meet Little Richard, but not to talk about the Bible — they simply wanted to touch the first famous person they’d ever been near.  

    According to my sources, the most covered songs of Little Richard were “Lucille”, “Long Tall Sally”, and “Tutti-Frutti”, followed by “Slippin’ and Slidin'”, “Rip It Up” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

    Although this may not be as well known, Little Richard also covered quite a few songs by other artists.  Here is a sampling…

    Originally performed by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra and covered by Fat Domino, “Blueberry Hill”, as performed by Little Richard in 1964…

    Little Richard’s take on the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, from 1971…

    “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” as you’ve never heard it before, from 1958…

    Here Little Richard returns the favor in 1964 with this rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s original and Elvis Presley’s cover version of “Hound Dog”

    A great 1971 cover of “Midnight Special”, originally performed by Dave Cutrell with McGinty’s Oklahoma Cowboy Band…

    Here’s Little Richard’s 1964 cover version of “Money Honey”, originally performed by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters…

    Here’s a definitely uptempo version of “Only You”, originally recorded by the Platters, from 1964…

    Little Richard is joined by Jerry Lee Lewis in 2006 to place their distinct mark on a couple of classics…for this lively version of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing Her There”…

    And finally, the following sequence demonstrates Little Richard’s ability to completely transform a song…

    The original version of “Rock Island Line” was first performed by John Lomax in 1934. Lead Belly’s version, recorded in 1944, is perhaps the best known…

    Johnny Cash performed this cover version circa 1970…

    According to the poster, this version was performed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney…

    Little Richard first performed his cover version of “The Rock Island Line” in 1988. The high energy interpretation seems to combine rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of zydeco, gospel and blues, and just a pinch of country. Don’t miss this one!

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