||John Lennon was famous for saying, “If there had been no Elvis, there would have been no Beatles”. Paraphrasing here, but the gist of his comment is that The Beatles were influenced by several powerful forces of music, the two main ones: Elvis and Little Richard.
On Saturday May 9th we lost a Founding Father of Rock n’ Roll, Little Richard. The cause of death reported as bone cancer, ironic because Richard thrilled US to the bone. But maybe it took four Fab white boys from Liverpool, England to remind us how lucky we were to have LITTLE take up a BIG chunk of the cornerstone of rock and roll.
Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits – “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics. The mark he made on two teens named John and Paul would also shake them to the bone.
John Lennon told a Miami interviewer in 1969 about the first time he heard Richard.
“Somebody came back from Holland with a Little Richard “Long Tall Sally” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” before it was out in Britain and we were just about recovering from Presley, and he said ‘I found somebody else!’, and then he brought this back and that broke me up completely. After that, I just lost interest in everything but rock and roll.”
But it wasn’t just John. His future writing partner Paul had experienced similar emotions, as he told NBC’s Bob Costas in 1991.
“Then I had kind’a two voices, till I sorta’ found my own voice, I was really an Elvis or a Little Richard impersonator. Little Richard I still love, I love Richard, particularly his early recordings of course”, he continued. But soon, the rest of the world was about to find out about Paul’s obsession.
“It all started with Little Richard when I heard “Tutti Fruiti”, it was just the wildest record I’d ever heard. I learned it, and at the end of the term in school, the last day is kind of a crazy day they let you do anything, ya’ know, and the authority slackens a little bit, at the school I went to, and we were allowed to bring guitars in. So I remember standing on a desk in the history room singing “Tutti Fruiti”. It was like out of a film, like out of “Grease” or something. All of the guys like ‘hey hey, go man go!’ Whomp boma loo bomp a lomp bam boom!
For Richard, he told Bob Costas that in 1962, he turned down a piece of The Beatles. “Brian Epstein brought me to Liverpool and his dad owned a lot of record stores and he brought these little boys in to meet me and they had never recorded, and they idolized me. Paul idolized me and so I met them. I have big picture of all of them holding my thumb. I took them with me to Hamburg, Germany to open my show. And then I started traveling around with them and Brian Epstein offered me to bring their tape back to VeeJay Records and I felt they wasn’t gonna do anything so I didn’t bring it and he offered me 50 percent of the group and I didn’t bring it.” Not because he wasn’t impressed. “Oh yes I was. Paul always did impress me. Because to me they was four Everly Brothers. Their harmony was just like the Everly Brothers. All they was singing was my music and Chuck Berry’s. They wanted to come on the stage and do a guest song and they wanted to sing my song, and I said ‘no, I got to come on the stage too! Because they didn’t have no other songs. Love Love Me Do, you know I love you, so please love me do. So that’s what they ended up singing.”
The Beatles would go on to record Richard’s “Kansas City /Hey Hey Hey” and “Long Tall Sally”, and often closed their show with it. For the BBC they played and recorded unique versions of “Lucille”, "Ooh My Soul" and “Long Tall Sally”. In the 70’s, John recorded “Slippin’ and Slidin”,"Send Me Some Lovin;" and “Rip it Up/Reddy Teddy” while Paul wrote “I’m Down” in a Little Richard style in 1965 and sang it the same day he recorded the ballad, "Yesterday".
The Beatles loved Richard so much, that they planned a Beatles recording session around watching his film, “The Girl Can’t Help It”. Producer Chris Thomas recalled the story in the book, “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”. “I had mentioned to Paul a couple of days earlier about “The Girl Can’t Help It” being on television during the evening”, said Chris. This was the first British TV transmission of the classic 1956 rock & roll film, shown on BBC2 between 9:05 and 10:40 pm in the series The Hollywood Musical. Chris continues, “They would start the recording session a bit earlier than usual, about 5 in the afternoon, and then nip around the corner to Paul’s house on Cavendish Avenue, watch the film and go back to work, recording “Birthday” for the White Album.
Every day that we think of Richard is like his birthday, a day to honor a true pioneer of rock and roll, after all, if there was no Little Richard, how could there ever be a Beatles?
Here is Paul's written tribute to Richard:
'From 'Tutti Frutti' to 'Long Tall Sally' to 'Good Golly, Miss Molly' to 'Lucille', Little Richard came screaming into my life when I was a teenager. I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it. He would say, "I taught Paul everything he knows". I had to admit he was right.
'In the early days of The Beatles we played with Richard in Hamburg and got to know him. He would let us hang out in his dressing room and we were witness to his pre-show rituals, with his head under a towel over a bowl of steaming hot water he would suddenly lift his head up to the mirror and say, "I can’t help it cos I’m so beautiful". And he was.
'A great man with a lovely sense of humour and someone who will be missed by the rock and roll community and many more. I thank him for all he taught me and the kindness he showed by letting me be his friend. Goodbye Richard and a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop.'
- Paul McCartney
To hear the Little Richard interview clips quoted in the story, and more, click Brunch Bytes @ brunchradio.com.