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Good Golly Miss Molly
poetry [ ]
History Of Music Part X

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
by [wipperud ]

2008-11-27  |     | 

Those fast tracks
always ending
in a shrill shriek,
branded upon young Lennon's soul.

Penniman, Penniman,
full grown pompadour,
outlandish gestures
and costumes -

The band of fifty-seven
like a runaway train,
featuring Casey Jones on sax.

A string of pearls,
loose women,
getting their
high-pitched praise.

Come out of the closet?
Man, in fifty-seven
not even a drawer
was at hand.

One shout, recorded live
as a glimpse of my inner movie:

"I'm the best-looking
man in show business!"

You dunno
how it feels...

Rev. Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), better known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American singer, songwriter and pianist, who also became a born again Christian and evangelist.

A key figure in the transition from rhythm & blues to rock & roll, Penniman blew the lid off the 1950s, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll.[1] and influenced generations of rhythm & blues, rock and soul music artists. In addition, his original injection of funk during this period, via his saxophone-studded mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters,[1] also influenced the development of that genre of rock music. Little Richard was subsequently honored by being one of seven of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986[2] and was one of only four of these honorees (along with Ray Charles, James Brown, and Fats Domino) to also receive the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award.[3]

Little Richard's early work was a mix of boogie-woogie, rhythm & blues and gospel music, but with a heavily accentuated back-beat, funky saxophone grooves and raspy shouted vocals, moans, screams, and other emotive inflections that marked a new kind of music. In 1957, while at the height of stardom, he became a born again Christian, enrolled in and attended Bible college, and withdrew from recording and performing secular music.[4][page # needed] Claiming he was called to be an evangelist, he has since devoted large segments of his life to this calling, [4][page # needed] though he has returned to recording secular music on numerous occasions over the years.

Little Richard has earned wide praise from many other performers. James Brown called Little Richard his idol[5] and credited him with "first putting the funk in the rock and roll beat."[1] Dick Clark described his music as "the model for almost every rock and roll performer of the '50s and years thereafter.[6] Ray Charles asserted that Little Richard was "the man that started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today.[7] In his high school year book, Bob Dylan declared that his ambition was "to join the band of Little Richard."[8], In 1966, Jimi Hendrix, who played and recorded with Little Richard's band from 1964 to 1965, was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."[9] In addition to James Brown, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding,[10]Wilson Pickett,[11] Paul McCartney,[12] George Harrison,[13] Mick Jagger,[14] John Fogerty,[15] Bob Seger,[16] David Bowie,[17] and numerous other rock & roll icons have also cited Little Richard as being a first major influence on their music. He was chosen as the eighth greatest artist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine[18], although at least six of the seven artists who preceeded him on the list were influenced by Little Richard's music.

Early life

Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of Leva Mae (née Stewart) and Charles "Bud" Penniman, who was a bootlegger.[1] He grew up in a religious family, amid poverty and racism, and it was singing that made his family feel closer to God. His family had a group called the Penniman Singers, who would go around and sing in local churches, and enter contests with other singing families. His siblings called him 'War Hawk' because of his loud, screaming singing voice. His paternal grandfather, Walter Penniman, was a preacher, and his father's family were members of the Foundation Templar African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Macon, Georgia. Richard's maternal grandmother was a member of the Holiness Temple Baptist Church, also in Macon. Richard regularly attended the New Hope Baptist Church in Macon, where his mother was a member. However, of all the churches he frequented, Richard's favorite were the Pentecostal churches because of the music and the fun he and his friends would have doing the holy dance and talking in tongues along with members of the congregation. When he was as young as ten, he would go around as a healer, singing gospel songs and touching people, who would testify that they felt better after he ministered to them. Inspired by Brother Joe May, a singing evangelist known as 'The Thunderbolt of the West', Richard wanted to become a preacher. It was in and through the church where Richard's life in music all began.[19]

Nearly all of Richard Penniman's dramatic phrasing and swift vocal turns are derived from Black Gospel artists of the 1930s and 1940s. He referred to Sister Rosetta Tharpe as his favorite singer when he was a child. She had invited him to sing a song with her onstage at the Macon City Auditorium in 1945, after hearing him sing before the concert. The crowd applauded and cheered and she paid him more money than he had ever seen after the show.[20] He was also heavily influenced by Marion Williams, from whom he got the trademark "whoooo" in his vocal, Mahalia Jackson and Brother Joe May.[21] He was heavily influenced in appearance (hair, clothing, shoes, makeup, etc.) and sound by late 1940s gospel-style, jump blues shouter Billy Wright, who was known as the 'Prince of the Blues'.[22]

One of Penniman's main influences on his piano-playing was Esquerita (Eskew Reeder Jr.), who demonstrated to Penniman how to play high notes without compromising bass. Penniman met Esquerita when he traveled through Macon with a preacher named Sister Rosa. Another influence was Brother Joe May. Penniman explained, "I used to get in a room and try to make my piano sound just like him. He had so much energy." May generated energy by moving from a subtle whisper to a thunderous tenor and back in a four-bar phrase.

He learned to mix ministerial qualities with theatrics by watching the traveling medicine shows that rolled through his native Macon. Colorful medicine men would wear lavish capes, robes and turbans, all of which left an impression on Penniman.

[edit] 1950s

In 1951, Little Richard began recording for Peacock Records. Although the records did not make the commenrcial splash that the record company had hoped, one of the songs, "Little Richard's Boogie", did offer a glimmer of the style that would later made him famous and change the world of music. In 1954, he prepared a demo tape that was received by Specialty Records on February 17, 1955. Specialty's owner, Art Rupe, purchased Richard's contract from Peacock and placed Richard's career in the hands of A&R man Robert "Bumps" Blackwell.[23] Blackwell had nurtured and groomed Ray Charles (then known as R.C. Robinson) and Quincy Jones at the start of their careers in the music business.

Blackwell had intended to pit Little Richard against Ray Charles and B.B. King by having him record blues tracks. He arranged for a recording session at Cosimo Matassa's recording studio in New Orleans in the late summer of 1955, when, during a break, Penniman began singing an impromptu recital of "Tutti Frutti", in his raspy, shouted vocal style, while pounding out a boogie-woogie based rhythm on the piano. Blackwell, who knew a hit when he heard one, was knocked out and had Little Richard record the song. However, in order to make it commercially acceptable, he had Little Richard's lyrics changed from "tutti-frutti, loose booty" to "tutti frutti, aw rooty."[24] The song was released on Specialty in late 1955, and became the first of Richard's many hits.[23]

The song, with Little Richard shouting its unique introductory "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!", was the start of a rapid succession of Little Richard hit songs, characterized by a driving piano, boogie-woogie bass, funky saxophone arrangements, and screams before sax solos performed by Lee Allen, such as "Long Tall Sally", "Lucille", "Rip It Up", "The Girl Can't Help It", "Slippin' and Slidin'", "Jenny, Jenny", "Good Golly, Miss Molly", and "Keep A-Knockin'". His performing style can be seen in such period films as Don't Knock the Rock (1956) and The Girl Can't Help It (also 1956), for which he sang the title song.

In the commercial fashion of the day, several of his early hits were re-recorded in other styles. Little Richard's first national success, "Tutti Frutti", was covered by Pat Boone, whose version outdid the source record, #12 to #17. Boone also released a version of "Long Tall Sally" with slightly bowdlerized lyrics. But this time, the Little Richard original outperformed it on the Billboard charts, #6 to #8. Bill Haley tackled Little Richard's third major hit, "Rip It Up", but again, Little Richard prevailed. With the record-buying public's preference established, Little Richard's subsequent releases did not face the same chart competition.

Then, suddenly, when at the top of the music world, Little Richard, fearing his own damnation, abandoned rock and roll music to become a born-again Christian, in which he was called to be an evangelist. Although his secular music career in the 1950s was rather brief, his impact on twentieth and twenty-first century music was incalculable and arguably unparalleled.

While Little Richard's retreat to the faith in which he was groomed as a child resulted in an abrupt halt to the recording style that made him famous and changed the world of music, he continued in and out of rock & roll and the ministry into the twenty-first century. He recorded only Gospel music after his spiritual conversion from 1957 to the early 1960s, claiming at the time that rock music was of the devil and that it was not possible to be a rocker and please God at the same time. He was married in 1959.


In 1963, with the Crickets as his opening act, on a tour of parts of Europe, Little Richard backslid from the ministry. He returned to recording and performing secular material. In the autumn of 1963 he toured England with a then little-known band called The Rolling Stones. He was divorced in 1964; and that same year he brought a fledgling Jimi Hendrix into his band, who was then known as Maurice James. Soon to become world famous as Jimi Hendrix, he toured with Little Richard and played on at least a dozen Little Richard tracks between the spring of 1964 and 1965. In 1966, Hendrix was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.".[9] Little Richard recorded funky soul music in the mid-1960s with Hendrix jumping in some sessions, along with Johnny Guitar Watson on guitar and his old friend from the mid-1950s, Larry Williams as producer at the Okeh Club in Hollywood and London.[25]


Little Richard had minor hits in the 1960s and 1970s, although not with the greater success of his 1950s recordings. In 1977, following the death of a nephew that he loved as a son, along with a violent clash with his long-time friend Larry Williams over a drug debt,[26] Little Richard repented for his wayward living and returned to evangelism. He then recorded more gospel music and remained fully in the ministry until the mid-1980s. He also represented Memorial Bibles International and sold their Black Heritage Bible, which highlighted the many black people in the Bible. In many sermons during this period, he once again proclaimed that it was not possible to perform rock and serve God at the same time.


In the mid-1980s, the world's attention was refocused on Little Richard, following the release of Charles White's authorized biography The Life and Times of Little Richard, in which he candidly explains his struggles with substance abuse, homosexuality, and his repentance from same which coincided with him reembracing the born again Christianity that he was raised up in as a child. At the same time, the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored Little Richard as one of the first inductees. This resulted in a show business comeback for Little Richard.

In 1986, Little Richard finally reconciled his role as a minister and as a rock & roll artist. He recorded an album of inspirational songs for Warner Brother Records that he called "message music" and "messages in rhythm." He had his old friend Billy Preston help him write a song with spiritual lyrics that sounded like rock & roll for the soundtrack of the motion picture Down and Out in Beverly Hills in which he also co-starred. The result was "Great Gosh A'Mighty", which became a hit; he also received critical acclaim for his acting performance.[citation needed] During the second season of Miami Vice, he had a small part in the episode, "Out Where Buses Don't Run."

He made a commitment to his mother before she died that he would remain a Christian, saying that he would "stay with the Lord and just travel around." He began performing his old classic rock & roll hits again in the late 1980s, but continued to evangelize by performing some gospel material in his original rocking style, testifying to people on and off-stage, distributing a born-again Christian booklet, and reminding people of God's love for them on his photographs.[citation needed]

1990s - 2000s

Through the remainder of the 1980s, 1990s and into the twenty-first century, Little Richard has remained a popular guest on television, in music videos, commercials, movies and as a recording artist. He has contributed new recordings to movie soundtracks (eg Twins, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Why Do Fools Fall in Love) and wrote and performed a song for the 2001 film The Trumpet of the Swan. He also sang background vocals on the U2 / BB King hit song "When Love Comes to Town," and in the extended "Live From The Kingdom Mix" of the track he preaches as well, sometimes amid funky saxophone playing. Penniman appeared on Living Colour's "Elvis Is Dead", and also recorded new tracks for tribute albums, such as Folkways: A Vision Shared ("The Rock Island Line", backed by Fishbone) (1989) and Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to Johnny Cash ("Get Rhythm") (2002).

He also recorded duets in the 1990s with Jon Bon Jovi, Hank Williams Jr., Living Colour, Elton John, Tanya Tucker, Solomon Burke, and in 2006 with Jerry Lee Lewis, in which they covered the Little Richard-influenced, early 1960s, hit Beatles track "I Saw Her Standing There". He also recently headlined the University of Texas event "40 Acres Fest".[27]

In the 1990s, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) catapulted Macon, Georgia wrestler Marc Mero to fame under the ring name Johnny B. Badd by promoting him as a Little Richard look-alike.[28][29] Little Richard also guest starred in an episode of Columbo (Columbo: Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star [30]), playing himself.

In 1994, Penniman was featured on an episode of Full House entitled "Too Little Richard Too Late". He played himself in the 1999 film, Mystery, Alaska, singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada" before a pond hockey game between the local team and the New York Rangers.

In 2000, Robert Townsend directed a biopic about Little Richard's life from childhood to his early 30's (circa 1962). Leon Robinson received an Emmy Award nomination for his outstanding performance in the starring role.

In 2001, he performed at the July 4 music event in Dublin, Ohio. In 2006 he also appeared as judge on Celebrity Duets on FOX. In 2006/2007, he was featured in a Geico advertisement, wherein he uses his signature "whoop" to denote the joy he would receive while consuming "mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce" at a Thanksgiving dinner. In 2007, his song "All Around The World" was featured in a Cravendale advertisement for an animation by PicPic. In 2007, he also performed at the Capitol Fourth - a July 4 celebration (televised live on PBS) in front of the White House in Washington D.C. On July 25, 2007, he made an appearance on the ABC show The Next Best Thing.[31] On November 22, 2007, he headlined the halftime show for the Thanksgiving football game of Arizona State University vs. the University of Southern California at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, broadcast on ESPN.[32] In June 2008, Little Richard also made a cameo appearance on the CBS daytime drama, The Young and the Restless as an ordained piano-playing minister marrying a doubting Gloria and Jeff Bardwell for the second time.[33]

In recent years, Rev. Richard Penniman's spiritual fervor and calling to the ministry has remained obvious, such as when he spoke at his old friend Wilson Pickett's January 2006 funeral,[34] when he officiated at a wedding of twenty couples in December 2006,[35] and when he spoke at Ike Turner's December 2007 funeral.[36] He also allowed a DVD to be recorded of him preaching in the middle of his performance of "Precious Lord" at one of his bandmembers mother's funeral in June 2008.

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