May 10, 2020

Rock Pioneer Little Richard Is Gone

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Little Richard Album Cover Little Richard Album Cover

A huge chapter in the history of the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll closed on Saturday night May 9. 2020. Little Richard was such a groundbreaker in so many ways. In so many other ways he was also a mystery.

Even the date of his birth is not known for sure. What is known is that he went from being a dishwasher in his hometown of Macon, Georgia to one of the most influential stars in all of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Upon Hearing about the death of Little Richard Bob Dylan was quoted as saying “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I do”.

The very first song that Dylan ever performed in public at his high school talent show was a Little Richard tune. Dylan also gave Little Richard credit for his inspiration when he was inducted to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Dylan isn’t the only one saddened by the death of Little Richard. Rock stars all over the world are using the highest of praises. Many echoing the thought that without Little Richard they would have never even thought of picking up an instrument.

What made Little Richard so unique among the early rockers? He had a huge pompadour mop of hair (long before it was popular), he wore makeup on stage and his scream was so loud and penetrating that the parents of the world would yell at their kids to turn that noise down (or off).

All of this was true of the fifties giant, but the thing that really made him a star was is frantic energetic style and pumping piano that he displayed while singing lyrics like “A wop bop alu-bop, a wop=bam-boom Tutti Fruitti aw rutty.“

What does that even mean? The teens didn’t care. It was nothing like their parent’s music. It was a rebel call! It was exciting and alive. At a time when the top hits of the day were songs like “The Yellow Rose of Texas” by Mitch Miller, “Autumn Leaves” by Roger Williams and “The Ballad of Davey Crocket” by Bill Hayes this music was shocking. Even more shocking than the first number one hit of the Rock era, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and his Comets that a hit the same year as "Tutti Fruitti".

Parents much preferred that teens have idols like the clean-cut Pat Boone. Boone made a career out of doing R & B hits in a more acceptable style. Pat did a cover of “Tutti Frutti” and most of the kids found these covers to be almost laughable. It wasn’t the song that they loved, it was the attitude! It was that attitude that the rockers who followed try to emulate with their stage shows and dress.

Like Bill Haley, Little Richard used music from the past and gave it a whole new twist. When you listen to both of these rockers, you could hear the music of the big bands, Blues and the Jump music of the forties. But is was Little Richard that made it really explode.

After a string of hits in the fifties singing what many called “the Devil’s music”, Little Richard did the unthinkable. He decided to give up playing Devil Music to become a preacher. This stunned his fans who were unaware of his growing up in a deeply religious family. In fact, his early singing was all done in church.

There were some attempted comebacks by Little Richard. He even did a tour with The Beatles in the early sixties, but he would never be able to re-capture the magic that he created at the beginning of his career. But then, he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. After all, his approach to attacking the music is still alive even now after he is now gone. Not many can say that.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Dan DiNardo Thursday, May 14, 2020 posted by Dan DiNardo

    HI, T:
    Oakwood College in Alabama is where Richard studied for the ministry. I saw him at Convention Hall Thanksgiving 1972. I have never seen another show like it, before or since. Energy. You said it.
    Dan D

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