RIP Little Richard, Unique Trailblazer

Richard Penniman, whose music and performance stylings reshaped rock ‘n’ roll, died on Saturday at the age of 87. His full-throated, emotion-packed singing, piano playing, and songwriting had a profound influence on the Beatles, as well as on a wide range of other musicians and performers through the decades. I wrote about seeing Paul McCartney perform “Long Tall Sally” at Candlestick Park back in 2014, and that performance was such a strong reminder of the many, many influences that go into creating a musical moment.

There are a multitude of reasons to celebrate Little Richard’s legacy; his impact on the Beatles is just one of them.

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22 Comments

  1. As much as I loved his music,he tended to be VERY Paulcentric. I guess,seeing as how Paul was the one who sang the Little Richard songs,that would make sense up to a point. But singling out Paul and George over John as the ones who had the most talent and pretty much ignoring John is ridiculous. Paul and John were pretty much equal in talent. Okay,I will give Paul the edge in musicianship but in vocals and certainly in star quality and charisma,they were more than equal and George just a little below. Why exactly,he went so gaga over Paul I don’t know.

  2. The joy, energy, and sexuality in Little Richard’s music survives into the 20th century better than any other 50s pioneer’s music, to my ears. Not to say they weren’t all great, but no one else had his lightning, for want of a better term. The Beatles may have loved Elvis, but I think the closest antecedent to the early Beatles’ distillation of pure joy are those LR Specialty recordings. I still put on his Greatest Hits when I need a pick me up.

  3. Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

    Very much agree, Michael. That jolt of pure joyful energy that Little Richard put into his vocals was hugely important to the Beatles’ sound.

  4. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    When people think of Little Richard, they mostly think of the music he made in the ’50s.
    But unlike other nostalgia acts, he kept evolving. Recording with Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix… doing Funk, R&B, hard rock, etc. Here he is doing a sort of CCR “swamp rock” experiment:

  5. Avatar Kristy wrote:

    He was a true pioneer for wild rock ‘n roll, and every scene I read in a Beatles book about their time with Little Richard jumps off the page with fun.

  6. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    @Gretchen: I think I know what Little Richard interview you’re referring to. It was in Rolling Stone (can’t remember the year). When asked if he saw potential in the Beatles when he toured with them in England, he said he did with Paul and George, noting that they were the most crazy about him. So, being the narcissist that he was, he left out John and Ringo who apparently weren’t effusive enough.

  7. Avatar Pidpoi wrote:

    Thanks to all for honoring Little Richard here. I have read that though Elvis was the face of rock n roll, Little Richard was the soul of it. He influenced all hooping, hollering and screaming rock n roll singers behind him from McCartney to Robert Plant and Elton says his piano and probably dress style is inspired by Little Richard. Little Richard influenced the bodacious glam and glitter rock I remember in early seventies, Bowie, New York dolls, all of the gender bending groups and singers like queen, Jagger stage style prancing. All of the heavy metal screaming vocalist lead singers owe a debt to little Richard.

    My favorite McCartney video is the one hand clapping promo video with a Macca great derivative style imitation on piano, vocally, and at the end hooping, hollering and screaming in song, 1985 and and on same promo video Macca doing little Richard baby face song, singing and playing on piano. McCartney said Little Richard his hero because he knew he could sing like him and critics rate Beatles long tall sally above little Richard. First wings rehearsal Of the first iteration of wings on video was them doing Lucille and Wings did Lucille at their last concert performance on Kampuchea in 79. Many of Macca’s zany seventies lyrics are in the tradition of Little Richard. In the seventies, Macca did quite a few great screaming songs. Monkberry, oh woman, oh why. Mumbo, wildlife, Beware my love, call me back again, getting closer, old Siam, and live version of coming up all in the Little Richard vocal style.

    I read that Jerry Lee Lewis had an intricate piano playing style, I read, but Little Richard pounded the keys. Little Richard brought the influence of black gospel church music to rock n roll. I was lucky enough to see three great fifties singers in the seventies, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Pat Boone. I count them among my lucky to have seen concerts. May he Rest In Peace, great rock n roller and everything behind him would have been different without his great influence, R.I.P.

  8. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    Hologram Sam, I’m telling you the Little Richard recording you uploaded is killer stuff. Thanks so much for it. I knew he recorded with later folks and was progressive. That late sixties, early seventies CCR, grand funk railroad stuff was the best rock if that era. I wanted to but never got to see CCR and foolishly missed fogerty solo in the nineties but saw grand funk in the very early seventies, a seriously rocking concert.

    Gretchen, I fear you lose me on the Paul centric discussion concerning Little Richard. It’s simply that Little Richard realized Paul was very influenced by him and had a good relationship with Paul probably from the Very beginning in Hamburg, just as in the seventies seventies, Elton and Bowie had good relationships with and recorded with John. Elton did the best Tribute song to John, the beautiful Empty Garden. I have the pic cover 45 single.

    Why does it always have to come down to a John versus Paul issue or if someone likes Paul it diminishes John? I never saw it that way. Different artists and entertainers And folks were closer to one or the other or liked one more than the other, like Peter Fonda and Ginsburg liked JohnBy the mid sixties, but Paul was more in the mid sixties club scene but went to LA in 68 and was even was in the protest march In LA , like George went to height Ashbury in 67. Seventies Paul was very isolated from other musicians living where he did, though visited NYC and LA recording and met Nashville musicians and New Orleans musicians and recorded with them, but seventies John in urban NYC and LA was not isolated from other musicians.

    I was not surprised t see a Bowie interview stating John was his favorite Beatle and his saying that does not diminish Paul or George but he saw similarities in their artistic styles I’m sure and seventies celebrity personas. George was closer to Dylan and Clapton. In his later years, after Paul returned to London more and reached out to younger and other musician in the eighties and beyond, he got closer to them. I don’t think any of these musicians would see themselves as Paul, John or George centered the way a fan might view these things, though I don’t.

    I don’t understand why Beatles fans continue to fracture the Beatle members and see everything in those terms. I’m so happy at least I have group memories before fans did this and solo memories of each before the division got so bad with the fans, It was bad enough in the seventies when they fought each other and George kept up the Paul press bashing up until he died. As I rotated my favorite solo Beatle several times I the sixties and seventies, this especially bothers me, I guess.

  9. Avatar Kristy wrote:

    It’s a little odd that the Little Richard page has become a venue for more John vs. Paul discussion, but let me present: John vs. Ringo! Apparently Little Richard had a flirty interest in Ringo, according to Mike McCartney and Chris Hutchins. Regarding John, however, “Richard would tell his biographer he liked the Beatles but didn’t care for the way John farted, wafted the smell around the room and celebrated when he scored a double.” (Info from Lewisohn, though I’ve read similar accounts elsewhere, I believe.)
    .
    So if John was perhaps a little less gassy, and Ringo a little less adorable, things might’ve turned out differently. Billy Preston, on tour in Hamburg with Little Richard, thought John was a nice guy and John taught him to play harmonica.

  10. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    Thanks so much the for interesting old history on little Little Richard snd ringo. It’s interesting how sexual persuasion affected folks relationships and liking of the Individual Beatles. This appeared to be in play with Brian and John, was very evident in the Peter brown book and his obvious preference for John and Jan Wenner and John, though he came out decades later. John was by rumor crawling the various LA club scenes and Elton was gay, Bowie was bi and out by then.

    I’m telling you the seventies were indeed a wild decade. I saw a video of sunset strip in mid seventies sex shops district , around year I went to LA, but didn’t go in that area and it was something. The ringo, little Richard story Is very interesting. Little Richard in late seventies preached against homosexuality but I think he struggled with it throughout his life and that has to be difficult if not out. It goes to show how complex human relationships are and that more can be involved than just impressions of people and that different folks can get different impressions of someone, not just John, but everyone because folks are complex and a variety of factors affect their behavior. Thanks so much, kristy, and other folks were in Beatles not just John and Paul. This page started as a venue for John , Paul, but should be emphasizing tge great rock n roller we lost.

  11. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    Why go through Lewisohn when you can get it straight from the horse’s mouth: “I developed an especially close relationship with Paul, but me and John couldn’t make it. John had a nasty personality. He was different from Paul and George; they were sweet. George and Paul had humble-type personalities. You know, submissive. John and Ringo had strange personalities, both of them. John would do his no-mariners [fart], jump over and aunt-fanny all over the room, and I didn’t like it. It would bother me. I didn’t want to hear that stuff, y’know.”
    .
    If Paul and George weren’t so submissive, maybe they could have reined John in a little bit.

    • If Paul and George weren’t the way they were, they would’ve been Pete Best-ed. This is what I keep saying; if you want to understand how the group worked, you have to look at the interlocking relationships, the system. These four guys fit together exceedingly snugly — that’s what Mick meant by “the four-headed monster.”

  12. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    Exceptional point about Lewisonhon Michelle. The contemporary biographers become cited over primary sources. I have noticed this increasingly in last few decade. I was yesterday on a record blog and several were doing their usual historical revisionism about Paul not crediting Little Richard as a singing and stylistic vocal influence. Paul credited Little Richard throughout the sixties and Paul’s career is now so old the folks commenting on him and bashing him weren’t even born when he repeatedly commented o many of these things. LOL.

    As an old boomer with a dinosaur paper collection I have a room full of beatle era magazine, most of them early Beatles mags and books and articles with multiple quotes of Paul crediting little Richard as a major musical influence, even more than Elvis, as Paul able to mimic Little Richard so well. If something is not the usual cited recycled online spin/opinions, folks now seem to doubt it, ignore old research and be impatient for subtle well supported analysis. This is certainly true in Beatle opinions and why authors and biographies have lazily recycled the same general inaccuracies and slanted agendas.

    However, it is not the responsibility of others around them to control other folks. Funny, you call Paul and George submissive, though was probably some peer pressure and they were younger. It was John’s responsibility to control himself. It was in the last many decade, unfortunately, where it increasingly become a thing to blame everyone else but a person.

    Thanks, however, Michelle for noting we should emphasize a primary source here with Little Richard. Before folks started doubting the primary sources of the Beatles or solo Beatles and their agenda so, I remember a time when there was not then automatic doubt of what they said and folks around them. As I minored in history In era of the solo Beatles when all alive, , it is interesting to see it in my lifetime the historical narrative with Beatles. Some of the authors like Dogget and Lewhison are good but are not unbiased and insert themselves in with an agenda and do not let direct quotes of others speak for themselves.

    Thanks, Michelle m these discussions are interesting.

    • @Pidpoo, I’m all for primary sources, but we must remember that everyone has bias, even — or especially — the principal actors. And the immediacy of stuff written between 1962-80 has to be balanced with Epsteinian information control (pre-67) and the things you can’t say about powerful celebrities with tons of lawyers.
      .
      So it falls to the individual reader to sort through it all, and decide what makes the most sense. I’ve found that as I’ve learned more about myself and my own biases, the more loosely I hold any single reading of an historical event. Conclusions are always provisional.

  13. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    @Michael, you are right on all counts. Nevertheless, I have in the contemporary age found a tendency toward ….guess I should say..to use the academic way of saying it, scholarship and accuracy s lost for the sake of brevity and sound bites.

    I too have found as I get older my own prejudices old ones, revised ones and new ones affects my reading of primary sources on any subject. You make a very good point and history is always provisional and I have seen so many historical events and folks changed along the way for different reasons. Many contemporary folks fear various folks or a living person affects the narrative but a variety of factors affect it. It is indeed relative and fluid.

    Thanks

  14. Avatar Michelle wrote:

    Submissive was Little Richard’s word for them, Pidpoo.
    .
    Thought I heard somewhere that John was going to include a line about Paul’s famous Little Richard imitation in How Do You Sleep but thought better of it.

  15. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    @Michelle, thanks for clarifying. It is interesting in light of Little Richard’s sexual persuasion his choice of words. Nevertheless, he was around them so much in the early days, he was well aware of group dominance and leadership of John then. I do think it is interesting the sexual persuasions and non sexual identifications of the men around them and even their male fans then and how it affected their impressions of the individual Beatles then and later. I found then in the mania days, many more male John and George fans It seemed mostly but in the seventies with wings and later decades many increasing male Paul fans though John’s death interested many younger male fans in him.

    Many males saw their favorite as a hero of sorts and in George’s case, like with my older cousin learning to play guitar, he wanted to be a lead guitarist. Younger male wings fans my age wanted to learn bass guitar like Paul. By seventies, rhythm guitar playing was fading, so younger male fans identified with John as an icon. I have seen in this blog mentioned correctly a lot how male biographers have a different slant than possibly a female one would. The book I noticed this the least in, though I was so much younger When read it, was the highly BOWDERIZED, sorry for caps as couldn’t get computer to spell it, but the highly edited Davies biography. I have read spitzer books are betterM but not sure.

    Thanks, Michelle. You always offer interesting points.

  16. Avatar Cristina wrote:

    Some people aren’t aware of Paul “giving credit” to Little Richard’s influence? He talked a lot about it! I’m not close to a first generation fan and I’ve seen many many quotes of Paul, worshipping Little Richard.

    I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that he toured with the Beatles back in Hamburg and England. They must have been so thrilled lol. Apaprently he and Paul were actual friends?.

    RIP Little Richard, one of the true greats, pioneer of rock.

  17. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    Thank you Christina. I was reading on one record forum I’m not a member of but laughed reading a few comments that Paul has never mentioned Little Richard’s influence and his debt to him. I began collecting Beatle stuff over fifty years ago, buying up first generation fan mags, books, etc, Paul discussions of Little Richard and citing Little Richard’s huge influence on him are throughout so many sixties mags and books. He said Little Richard was his hero. I could only speculate that the younger folks who maybe Paul is not their favorite do not know this or they assumed contemporary Paul would not credit Little Richard, which of course he did and did from beginning and throughout the years, in his released statement about Little Richard’s death. I’ll never forget reading up in one if my early sixties mags that Paul was so thrilled meeting Little Richard in Hamburg, he held his hand. I don’t know how some of this old stuff gets forgotten or reinterpreted as was common knowledge for years. Thank you, Christina.

  18. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    On the most relevant R.I.P. to a dead singer, I must sadly add a singer I saw in concert in 68 or 69, the great swamp southern country rock singer Tony Joe White in the Louisiana swamp singing style of CCR. Soul influence vocals and music was greatly infiltrating and enhancing white music in that era, with other great vocalists as Janis Joplin and Tom Jones And I thought possibly late beatles vocal gospel style on Oh! Darling.
    Indeed the day after John was killed when an older lady at work told me that you’ll know you are getting old when your entertainers start dying of natural causes was correct.

    R.I.P. to Tony Joe White, whether relevant to a Beatle blog or not. To me all singers if their group and solo eras were relevant.

  19. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    In most relevant thread, I’m noting that found a phenomenal cover of she’s a woman by Tom Jones done at Linda’s memorial some may remember. Sir tom was once, at the beginning, narrow minded about rock singers as he came from soul tradition but once he started performing with them on his show, he did some of finest duets and covers I’ve found online. He held his own with Joplin and David Crosby. He’s the only singer I know of who could to justice to she’s a woman song.

  20. Avatar Pidpoo wrote:

    CONSIDERATION OF BEATLES SEVENTIES MUSICAL DIRECTION HAD THEY STAYED TOGETHER: t have been reading about and remembering musical genres and styles of very early seventies…..I know each Beatle had their solo very different and individual style early seventies and some online merge fantasy albums just from earliest solo Beatle output. However, I have thought in terms of style and the sound of their final album abbey road which I know some here don’t like distance and polished sound of. However, abbey road with its use of the moog synthesizer and its loose concept some call pastiche styles fits right in with the seventies emerging prog rock style…of king crimson who had fripp who became a leader in ambient music and with the ELP moog masters I saw in concert in early seventies as well as the very Beatles inspired Jeff Lynn of ELO. Prog rock as it was called was very big in seventies and Beatles only prog rock song was She’s So Heavy..fading into white noise at end. Had they stayed together, done solo albums on the side but an additional Beatles album I’m inclined to think would have been prog rock. Any thoughts on this idea?

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