Rock and Roll lost a giant today, Little Richard died at the age of 87 in his family home outside Nashville, TN. He sold over 30 million records, and influenced many of the superstars of early rock 'n roll. He was one of the original inductees to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. Yet he is rarely talked about for his contributions to the industry.
We generally think of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and others as the guys who influenced the British invasion, which is regarded as the explosion of rock 'n roll. They were influencers for sure, but the guy who influenced them, was Little Richard.
Mick Jagger said today on Twitter, "Little Richard was the biggest inspiration of my early teens. His music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid 50’s,” Jagger wrote. “When we were on tour with him I would watch his moves every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience and he was always so generous with advice to me."
To understand how big, Little was, you should know that when he toured Europe in 1962 and 1964, his opening acts were The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. His opening acts! The Beatles’ Paul McCartney imitated Richard’s signature yelps — perhaps most notably in the “Wooooo!” from the hit “She Loves You.”
Besides The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Little Richard also had a huge influence on such diverse bands/singers as Creedence Clearwater, Otis Redding, and David Bowie. “Little Richard? That’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Neil Young, who heard Richard’s riffs on the radio in Canada, told biographer Jimmy McDonough. “Little Richard was great on every record.”
(Thanks to Kristen M. Hall of the AP for the quotes above)
Just try to imagine what his life was like in the 1950's and 1960's as he was trying to get his career started. He was black and flamboyantly gay. Two things not exactly widely accepted back then. Yet he somehow managed to overcome all that and still have an incredible career. Yes he had some ups and downs. He even left the industry for many years, and renounced his homosexuality as he turned to religion and became a minister.
Eventually he found his way back to music, and he was active until health issues forced him to retire. His influence never waned though. Groups and singers that found his music and style exciting and helped form their sound, influenced the next waves of groups and singers, and so on, and so on.
I remember watching him on TV when I was a little kid and I was hooked on his sound, even if I didn't understand then why he was wearing eyeliner, or dressing odd. It was all about the music for me and I found it pretty awesome.
Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, Rip it Up, Lucille, and Good Golly Miss Molly, to name just a few, are songs you can hear in your head still to this day. (https://youtu.be/gVWm9PQeYtE)
Do yourself a favor and refresh your memory with the clip above and then go search some other songs.
Little Richard was surely over the top, and yet still underappreciated.