Gary: “I think we would all agree that the undisputed “King” of Rock and Roll, would be Elvis Aron Presley.
Well, aside from him, the person that we will deal with tonight thought highly of Elvis, but regarded himself as the King.
Elvis sang many of this artist’s songs. The man we will discuss, literally blew the lid off 1950’s Rock and Roll. He was one of the most Flamboyant, unpredictable performers. He went from Rock & Roll to Religion then back to rock then religion and so on…
December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020
Little Richard and the Upsetters!
We will concentrate only on the high points of his career. I read his book; it was both fascinating and depressing. The first time I heard Tutti Frutti, it was by Pat Boone and I purchased the 78. About 10 days later, the record store where I lived in Willowdale, Ontario, Higgins Radio imported on Specialty a recording of Tutti Frutti by Little Richard and the Upsetters, and once I heard that, I was hooked.
Little Richard was one of The Hound‘s (George Lorenz, WKBW radio in Buffalo) favourite singers. George would have him come to Buffalo for live shows. Now I realize that not many people will know or care, but that backing group, “The Upsetters” was a fantastic group and we will see how they became involved.
Richard was born in poverty and racism and was third in a family of twelve children. We will avoid all of the Gay connotations, except to acknowledge the fact.
When I was growing up, I had know idea what the song titles or lyrics meant; so if you wish to know what they meant, look them up; the information is available.
In 1952 he started recording for Peacock Records and it was then that he met Grady Gaines (Saxophonist) and told him that he needed a hard rocking group to record and go on the road with.
Grady assembled Willie Lee “Diamond” Smith on piano, New Orleans drummer Charles “Chuck” Connors, Buster Douglas on guitar, Olsie ‘Baysee’ Robinson on bass,and Clifford ‘Gene’ Burks another horn player.
In my opinion one of the greatest Rock Bands had just been formed, but unfortunately no hits from 52 – 54.
In February 1955, Lloyd Price suggested that Richard send a demo to Arte Rupe of Specialty Records. It was then that Richard would be introduced to Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, A&R man for Specialty and a man that would have great influence on Richard’s Career.
Rupe and Blackwell originally pictured Little Richard as a commercial rival to Ray Charles, who was experiencing success with Atlantic Records by taking gospel songs and developing them in a bluesy setting with a beat. Little Richard told Rupe he liked Fats Domino’s sound, so Rupe and Blackwell booked Cosimo Matassa’s J & M Recording Studio in New Orleans, and hired studio musicians who had worked with Domino (including Earl Palmer on drums and Lee Allen on sax) rather than members of Little Richards road band.
Following some recording that did not satisfy Blackwell, they took a break. Penniman began pounding out a boogie woogie rhythm on piano and hollering out impromptu recital of “Tutti Frutti” , a song he wrote and had been performing on stage for years. Blackwell was so impressed with the sound that he had Richard record the song. However, in order to make it commercially acceptable, he had Richard’s lyrics changed from “tutti-frutti, good booty” to “tutti frutti, aw rooty”. (All rooty was hipster slang for “all right”.)
The song featured a very short powerhouse acappella intro “Awop-Bop-a-Loo-Mop Alop-Bam-Boom!” that had also been altered slightly to make it commercially acceptable. The recording was released on Specialty in October 1955.
Original R&B songs had some pretty racy lyrics, especially for the puritanical fifties. [That’s not why they were called Race records, though 😉 -RS]
“Tutti Frutti” raced [There’s that word again 😉 -RS] up the chart on both R&B and Pop. Richard would place 16 more songs on the charts over the next three years. Why was he so important? His music of course, but he broke down the colour barrier; white and black teens not only enjoyed his music, but went to the same dances.
In early October 1957, on the fifth date of a two week tour of Australia, Little Richard was flying from Melbourne to appear in front of forty thousand fans in concert in Sydney. Shocked by the red hot appearance of the engines against the night sky, he envisioned angels holding up the plane. Then, while he performed at the stadium, he was shaken by the sight of a ball of fire that he watched streak across the sky overhead. He took what was actually the Russian rocket Sputnik as another sign to quit show business and follow God. The following day he departed Sydney on a ferry and threw his ring in the water to show his band members that he was serious about quitting. The plane that he was originally scheduled to fly back home on ended up crashing in the Pacific Ocean, which he took as confirmation that he was doing what God wanted him to do.
Now this is where I will leave Richard. I believe I have covered the most exciting aspect of his career. The impact that he had on future groups and the music industry was huge. Is he the true King of Rock and Roll? Well Elvis will always be it for me, but Richard comes pretty close.
Date & Pop Chart Positions.
11/55 Tutti Frutti #17
04/56 Long Tall Sally #6 Two-sided hit (This was my Favourite Single)
04/56 Slipin’ and Slidin’ #33