114 Junction Rd, London N19 5LB, UK
+44 20 7561 0779

Little Richard, What Else Can I Say?

Little Richard holds the title for what very few others could attempt to claim, the Father of Soul. Coming from a gospel background and developing a unique high energy performance style, the world would look like a very different place without Little Richard.

Where Did Little Richard Begin?

Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1932, as Richard Penniman, Richard began performing gospel music from an early age. His biggest influence was probably gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who also gave Richard his big break by giving him the chance to open for her show when he was only 14 years old. Little Richard’s career began in travelling shows, where he first began to play secular R&B music, the opposite of anything he was allowed to play when around his strictly religious family. The conflict between his religious upbringing and his liberal music would be a central point in Richard’s journey.

How Did Little Richard Become Famous?

On the road he picked up traits that would become part of his signature image, such as wearing women’s makeup and flamboyant clothes. Little Richard would eventually come out as gay, being one of the first performers in his field of that magnitude to do so. Richard soon went on to perform on the Chitlin Circuit and signed a deal with RCA that produced a few unsuccessful singles. After touring with another band, he soon sent a demo to Speciality Records, owned by Lloyd Price, who signed him on the basis that they believed he could be the labels answer to Ray Charles.

What Are Little Richard’s Most Famous and Best Songs?

Little Richard had his first hit, “Tutti Frutti”, in 1955, based off a risque song that he had devised and used to sing when on the touring club circuit. This began a series of a string of hits such as “Long Tall Sally”, “Girl Can’t Help It”, “Rip It Up”, and many more. This music sounded unlike any other R&B records at the time and began to bring together black and white audiences at a period of heavy racial tension in the USA. On stage, he incorporated techniques such as spotlights and flicker lighting which had only ever been used before in show business. Along with this and his energetic movements on stage, Richard managed to make crowds go wild.

Why Did Little Richard Stop Singing Rock and Roll?

After his major success, Little Richard went on a tour to Australia in 1957 and witnessed the launch of Sputnik in the sky as he was on the plane. Seeing this as a sign from God to stop playing secular music, he thus decided to return to the ministry and began to sing gospel again.

After a decline in popularity in the USA, Richard began to tour Europe in the early 1960s, to much success, when he began to sing his Rock n’ Roll material to audiences. It was on one of these tours that Brian Epstein managed to convince him to have the Beatles open for him, then a relatively unknown act. When on this tour, Little Richard imparted valuable advice on the band that would stay with them throughout their careers, notably on Paul McCartney’s initial vocal style.

Who Was Influenced By Little Richard?

The Beatles were of course admirers of Little Richard from the start, and covered his material on their earliest E.P.s and albums. This demonstrates how far Little Richard’s music had influenced up and coming musicians, even across the Atlantic. The Beatles were of course going to return the favour by starting the British Invasion.

Additionally, it is probably impossible to find a popular music act in the 1960s that was not influenced by Little Richard, even in the slightest. This is true of both so called rock and soul bands, placing Little Richard in the unique historical position of being able to have his style described as a genre in itself. A year after performing with The Beatles as an opening act, Little Richard returned to the UK again to have The Rolling Stones open for him. When he came back to the USA, he began recording with his old band The Upsetters, and for a short period had Jimi Hendrix as a backing guitarist in the band. This eventually led to a clash, resulting from Hendrix’s inability to follow instructions and his antics on stage along with his clothes. Being kicked out of the band was probably inevitable at this point, but it was likely for the best as Hendrix was probably better as a frontman than a session musician… As I’m sure nobody disagrees.

Where Is He Now?

Little Richard’s career took many twists and turns in the years that followed, producing many amazing records, whether or not they were hits. His status has forever been revered as he continues to be celebrated as a monumental performer, songwriter, and key influence in the development of popular music. Indeed, there would be no Soul music, no Rock music, nothing outrageous in the charts, if it were not for Little Richard’s injection of stardust and relentlessness daring in the records and performances he made. He’s even still alive, making the rare appearance on Christian TV at the age of 86.

If you like Soul, Rock and Roll, and Blues, come and check out the best blues jam in London on Tuesdays and Fridays!

Leave a comment