The Fabulous Emptywheel Music Blog: Little Richard

Things come, and they go. And we all do sooner or later. Today, Little Richard passed. I once heard (no, I have no idea where) Keith Richards say, and I am paraphrasing only slightly, “Chuck Berry wrote all the rock and roll songs”. Paraphrasing or not, that is about right. But he should have included Little Richard.

And now Richard Wayne Penniman is gone, There have been rock performers as big, sure. But few as seminal and important as Little Richard. He was, and stands, for everything rock became in his and Chuck Berry’s forever wake.

As Rolling Stone said:

“In 2004 Little Richard wrote a profile of himself for our Immortals issue. He explained why he was so dangerous at the time — because was the first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy”

Yes, along with Chuck, that is exactly right. So, a little bit of Tutti Fruity for the weekend.

On another sad note, I was lazy and did not put up a thing last weekend. But our Roving Reporter Rosalind wanted to acknowledge a friend. And we shall do so now. The Covid deaths are real, and they hit home to one and all. So, a few words from Rosalind:

“While we are surrounded by sadness at the growing number of people losing their lives to Covid-19, we mourn also the everyday deaths that take away friends and family. Today I honor my longtime neighbor, Sam Lloyd, the hilarious character actor best known as the lawyer “Ted” on Scrubs. We had side-by-side parking spots at our Hollywood apartment building and caught up with each other regularly heading in and out. Beyond being one of the nicest and funniest human beings, he possessed a gorgeous singing voice, featured regularly with his four-part harmony group “The Blanks” on Scrubs. The tributes to Sam on twitter from all around the world show how far his comedic and musical powers reached. We are so fortunate to have a world of re-runs to keep us smiling, and his memory alive.

For me, I will always remember standing in line at the grocery check-out stand when Sam suddenly rushed up and asked if he could cut in line. He was headed to a show with The Blanks and realized his Commando Action Figure’s batteries were dead (those lucky to see The Blanks show in person know the Commando Action Figure is a highlight of their set). I of course let him in, and he threw down the cash and ran out batteries and Commando Action Figure in hand. Rest in peace, Sam.

Such is where we are at today. The world is going crazy and you wonder if anybody gives a damn anymore. Here, we do. Thank you for doing so along with us. There will, of course, be others. But Little Richard was special. RIP.

48 replies
  1. TooLoose LeTruck says:

    Back in the early to mid 80’s, the Right Reverend Richard Penniman would come thru town on a fairly regular basis, doing his gospel show at a big church down on MacArthur Ave (Oakland, CA)…

    I’ve always regretted not going to see him…

    Another of the Founding Fathers is gone…

  2. rosalind says:

    one day i walked into the H’wood Post Office and saw a vision in a pristine red silk suit & gloves striding towards me on his way out. Little Richard. he had a smile and wave for everyone. as i exited i saw a black limo at the curb and Little Richard’s arm handing out autographed photos to the passerbys.

    no one – yes, even you Prince – could touch his sartorial style.

    • TooLoose LeTruck says:

      Just to refresh my memory, I googled Little Richard this morning…

      And the first name, other than Little Richard’s, that popped up in the article was the Sister’s!

      Apparently she discovered him in 1947 and put him on stage during one of her performances…

      the article went on to say Little Richard got some of his style on piano form an equally young Ike Turner…

      I had heard Sister Tharpe’s name before, over hte years, but never really listened to her until I came across a filmed performance in one of the American Folk Blues festival dvds… she performed a song called “Didn’t It Rain?”

      The Sister could indeed play guitar…

      • ernesto1581 says:

        Her ’61(?) performance of Didn’t It Rain at the Manchester railroad station re-ignited her career like a sky rocket, no less than Paul Gonsalves’s 27 choruses on Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue at Newport ’56 did for Ellington. Amazing stuff.

        • TooLoose LeTruck says:

          That’s the one I was talking about!

          If you haven’t watched any of the American Folk Blues Festival dvds, they’re worth looking up…

          Well shot, and a lot of the players aren’t past their prime yet…

  3. Rugger9 says:

    Little Richard always struck me as someone that literally loved what the were doing and let it all hang out because they did. This is another sad day.

  4. posaune says:

    And then there is Itsy Bitsy Spider. Elizabeth Glazer asked Richard to contribute to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation Album in 1991 and that’s what he gave.

    When we brought our 5-yo son home from foster care, this was the ONLY song he would listen to — and we used it over and over and over for occupational therapy hand exercises for fine motor skills. Our son laughed and laughed. I was so grateful to Little Richard! I could still listen to that song all day long. What a talent!

    • Philip S. Webster says:

      That’s really cool, Posuane. Thank you for sharing. I love these kids with so called disabilities. Usually it is some kind of processor issue that they cannot quite sort out but also usually they have more unconscious activity that is a sort of interference. I know one child with high level autism who is absolutely brilliant, mature and rational when not under pressure.
      Furthermore: thanks to all for the Sister. A comment quote below the vid of LR doing Itsy Bitsy says it all for me: blaw11b
      4 months ago
      When you think of the fact that both Little Richard and Johnny Cash stated her as their greatest influence and Chuck Berry said his career was just “O..break..shit I lost it but basically I cannot believe this woman did not get more credit, hall of fame , etc. Amazing. I had never heard of her prior to this reporting. Thank you.

  5. Savage Librarian says:

    Here’s to hoping Little Richard will shine his light on us come election day. I was going to mention this youtube at the New Year, but didn’t. So, here it is now.

    Chuck Berry & Little Richard – Jay Leno

  6. e.a.f. says:

    Little Richard was an amazing talent. the world will be a sadder place without him. I can remember hearing him on my “rocket radio” as a kid. He was amazing. Still love his good golly Ms. Molly. He was so far ahead of his time and paved the way for so many others. He was so fun to watch His singing always made me happy. A true American treasure.

      • e.a.f. says:

        actually mine was fastened to the curtain rod above my bed.

        aren’t we old or did you just study history of radios.

        • person1597 says:

          Oh yeah…tinkering is my bag…starting with crystal radios…9 transistor radios…beam formed radios…rockets..whatever!

        • bmaz says:

          Lol. I remember building my own transistor radios…from Radio Shack. Was fun, and you learned something in the process, but never worked as well as the name brand ones. I too had some kind of rig going up to my metal bedroom window frame with an alligator clip. Turned out that the child human body was as good of an antenna extension. Put your hand on the stupid AM antenna and you could get Vin Scully from LA. Take your hand off, and you basically got static. Still not sure I totally understand it, but that was the deal as a kid in Phoenix.

        • Savage Librarian says:

          Speaking of Radio Shack, I have a photo of me grinning ear to ear, sitting in front of a TRS-80 Model III computer at the sub base library in 1985, I think. We bought it for the bubbleheads to use if they ever had the inclination to wander into the library.

          Then, when I transferred back to an Air Station closer to home, the library bought an IBM PS/2 for my office. Woo-woo! I vaguely remember having to install some boards in it. Then I installed a library software package that enabled it to produce cataloging so it could efficiently produce cards for the library card catalog.

          Later, we furnished one of the rooms with multiple computers to be used by enlisted folks. Now, the Air Station isn’t even there anymore.

  7. elevator says:

    Little Richard….another Georgia native. I don’t know what it is about that red clay of my home state, but it has yielded some of the most incredible musical talent that ever sprung from anywhere. And Macon and the rest of south Georgia gave us Richard, James Brown, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, the Allman Bros and so many others. There are many things about my home that I am not proud of, but the musical heritage is a source of inspiration.

    • Andrew mcquie says:

      Artists aren’t defined by borders. The sister isn’t who she is, or the reverend, because your state is different from mine. It’s not sec football. Red clay is pretty much the same here as there.

      • elevator says:

        Guess Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans jazz have no meanings then huh? Or Seattle grunge.Ever hear of the British invasion? Lot’s of places are associated with cultural and artistic styles and genres. maybe you should just relax and enjoy, instead of being a pompous ass.

      • elevator says:

        Many of the athletes who play sec football are from different parts of the country, although the majority are regional. I went to UGA, but don’t really get worked up about sec football. Guess what, I wasn’t being literal when I said they sprang from the red clay. And yes, states have different cultural influences that inspire various styles of music. Most southern artists were influenced by a combination of jazz, gospel, blue grass and in place cajun. Not a lot of soul singers from Montana, or notable country artists from New Jersey. Um, those states have different cultural influences. Comprende amigo?

        • posaune says:

          OT (sort of). Last night, I was watching the Met Opera program about the building of Lincoln Center and the Met history. An amazing feat, actually. 6 architect, dozens of egos. But when the opening finally arrived, featuring Verdi’s Aida, General Manager Rudolf Bing selected Leontyne Price, a native of Laurel, MS for the lead role. LBJ and Ladybird were in attendance. Prior to the performance, Leontyne was interviewed by BBC, and she said she was excited that the local radio station in Laurel would live-broadcast the performance — the first time her parents would hear her live from an opera house. However, unbeknownst to Leontyne, though, LBJ had invited Ms. Price’s parents to join them in the presidential box at the Met for the performance. Late in life, after her retirement, Ms. Price teared up as she spoke about LBJ’s invitation to her parents. It was so moving. And Bing was so right to feature Ms. Price, the leading soprano of the day, an African American, to claim the stage of a world-watched event. Those were the days.

        • e.a.f. says:

          I saw Ms. Price at the Queen Elizabeth theatre, in Vancouver, B.C. back in the day. She was amazing. What a talent. she could have sung the phone book and it would still have sounded like heaven.

          Loved the Little Richard piece, with I feel pretty. And yes he was gorgeous.

        • rosalind says:

          *sigh* my last pre-Covid theatre experience was my first-time QE Theatre visit in October for the Schitt’s Creek cast appearance.

          only time will tell when we Americans will be allowed back across the border.

        • P J Evans says:

          Country singers from NJ would probably have moved to someplace where they’d have a better chance of being Noticed by media producers. Same for soul singers from Montana, or rock bands from Iowa.

  8. Liam says:

    The first time I ever danced was in the kitchen/dining room of my home in Dublin. It was a wild spontaneous reaction to hearing Little Richard for the first time. I danced on the floor the chairs and the kitchen table. It was1956 Iwas 12 yrs old. He was the King.
    I read this Blog every single day. I have been reading the brilliant Marcy Wheeler since The Last Hurrah Blog. Thank you all for your superbly informative postings.

  9. What Constitution? says:

    “The first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy”, eh? A marvelous perspective on one’s observation of history. I wonder how Little Richard felt when he saw John Goodman do this when he was placed in the role of the ” long-lost distant relative” adjusting to becoming the King of England. I’ll bet he smiled. If the song itself wasn’t so perfect, this could never have worked (to, of course, the extent it did, but it certainly was the high point of the film)

    RIP, Little.

    • P J Evans says:

      The musicians in that certainly got into it! (So did some of the less-starched guests.)

  10. scribe says:

    Sad, sad day. I have little to add to all the praise upthread, agreeing with most of it, but do have a couple comments:
    1. The sax player in the backup band from the Paris clip is frickin’ awesome.
    2. Heard on a sports-talk radio broadcast this morning a trenchant observation about all the tributes being given Little Richard today: “it’d be far better if, instead of waiting until they passed, you gave them their tributes while they were still here.”
    3. Lest me overlook this, one of the founding members of Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider, passed away earlier this week. You may, or may not, like their music but you cannot underestimate or understate their influence on a wide spectrum of the music we listen to today. From techno to house to rap to Bowie and beyond, they were paradigm-creators.

    • Savage Librarian says:

      “The sax player in the backup band from the Paris clip is frickin’ awesome.”

      Yes! And it looks like Little Richard thought so, too. Pure joy for everyone all around. For Little Richard, the other musicians, the audience, and us. Amazing!

    • bmaz says:

      Kraftwerk was a very idiosyncratic band, but as you say, a very important one. I did not know Florian Schneider passed. Their influence is everywhere.

  11. P J Evans says:

    Title for last night’s post at File 770:
    “She scrolls like a pixel, Dances like a nipped out cat”

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