Archives for posts with tag: Little Richard

Richard Penniman has had his ups and downs, in his reputation and in his personal life. Some observers of the music scene find his fall from the charts a sad spectacle – “Richard’s wildness just seemed flaky” says Langdon Winner about his 1970s albums in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Others sing his praises as the uncrowned King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, for example blogger Red Kelly:

http://redkelly.blogspot.com.br/2007/04/little-richard-i-dont-know-what-youve.html

Little Richard and the Upsetters

Little Richard and the Upsetters

Or (with this snap) blogger Dan Phillips:

http://homeofthegroove.blogspot.com.br/2004/12/real-upsetters.html

But some facts speak for themselves – the Upsetters went on to back James Brown after Richard left the tour for the ministry in 1957. Jimi Hendrix had an ambition – “to do with the guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.” The Beatles spent a lot of time with him on his come-back tour of the UK …

Most of all, the man’s voice speaks for itself. Others pretenders to the throne have their falls from grace and their flaky phases, but no-one sounds like Richard Penniman, even in obscure disguise. While he was contemplating his return to rock ‘n’ roll, he recorded with the Upsetters incognito, to avoid compromising his Christian image, but his stand-out voice is instantly recognisable. Here he is covering Fats Domino’ s 1956 hit I’m in Love Again, and demonstrating again how he transcends the R&B roots of the original to create quintessential rock ‘n’ roll.

From The Upsetters La Cienega LACGA 702.

 

I’ve been listening to early rock and roll, and marvelling at how some of those artists still sound fresh now, and how influential they have been. The best example: Richard Wayne Penniman, who can’t have been in any sense little, beyond childhood.

He acknowledges jump blues man Billy Wright as an influence, and you can see and hear the resemblance – upswept quiff, sharp suits, heavy driving beat – but Penniman turbocharges the music and the look. Above all, he makes a show of his performance. He also borrowed heavily – the look and the piano style – from another artist of the era, the forgotten Steven Quincy (SQ) Reeder, known as Esquerita.

Tracing acknowledged musical influence is relatively straight-forward – for example from Little Richard back to singer Brother Joe May, who only ever sang gospel, but was heavily influenced by Bessie Smith, as well as by gospel singer Willie Mae Ford Smith. You can do the same going forward in time – it’s hard to find a rocker not influenced by Little Richard’s example. Penniman’s look and showmanship was a big part of his act, so tracing those influences can also be illuminating.

Other influences, just visually … Bob Dylan’s make-up on the Rolling Thunder Revue …

Liberace’s piano playing style, and dress sense …

… Elvis Presley …

… also Jerry Lee Lewis …

… or is it Ray Charles?

… as well as Elton John …

… Janis Joplin …

… James Brown …

Iggy Pop

Michael Jackson

Prince

… Boy George’s hairdo …

His influence is enormous …

And then there’s the people who have actually worked with him, like the young Jimi Hendrix …

… or his peer Chuck Berry.

The King of rock and roll. Here’s a reminder of how good he sounded, back in 1955 Lucille

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