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PASSING: Little Richard and Richard Penniman, December 5, 1932-May 9, 2020

June 13, 2020 1 comment

Little Richard/Richard Penniman passed on May 9, 2020 from bone cancer at his home in Tullahoma, Tennessee surrounded by his brother, sister and adopted son Danny Jones Penniman who gave the cause of death as bone cancer.

Little Richard came into my ears upon my Dad’s 1970 purchase of the Gallanter family’s Harmon Kardon Slimline AM-FM/Turntable/Cassette stereo.

WCBS FM 101 SOLID GOLD became my first choice of radio as the Rock & Roll Revival of that time had spawned a radio format.

I had heard of Little Richard…

…hearing him was a whole other thing. A screaming messianic yell  filled with what this 12 year-old was just figuring out was sexuality along with an evangelical intensity that I associated with my Mom’s Mahalia Jackson records.

“Rip It Up,” “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Reddy Teddy” prompted my begging my folks for headphones so that I could hear Little Richard as loudly as possible.

So taken with Little Richard was I that my brother Peter purchased me FRIENDS FROM THE BEGINNING-LITTLE RICHARD AND JIMI HENDRIX an album that purported to be from Hendrix’ time as a sideman for Little Richard.

(Whether either Jimi or Richard is on this LP is argued at Wikipedia).

en.wikipedia.org>wiki>Friends-from-the-Beginning

(Boston proto punks Reddy Teddy took their name from “Reddy Teddy” as sung by Little Richard in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT).

On that note, listening to Little Richard’s singing of “The Girl Can’t Help It” with Bobby Troup’s lascivious lyrics while watching  Jayne Mansfield clutching 2 bottles of milk to her 2 bottles of milk brings the glory of repression to fruition!

https://youtu.be/W4XVKl4j1VA

Sylvester’s masculine femininity wouldn’t exist without Little Richard.

Ru Paul’s feminine masculinity wouldn’t exist without Little Richard.

Richard Penniman played piano for Little Richard.  To listen to “Lucille” is to hear the caffeinated left hand banging out rapid rhythm on 80 gauge strings over an enthusiastic snare while the right hand plinks dainty suggestions of melody.

“LOU…SEAL..UHHH,” with the last elongated syllable adding a scoop of beat to Little Richard’s full throat declaration and then the sax comes in with a sensual wail echoing and commenting on Little Richard’s voice,which is a saxophone while Richard Penniman hammers away.

By beginning “Lucille’s lyrics with the title Little Richard anticipated James Brown’s vocabulary template of funk.

Femme? Yes.

Soft? Never.

Little Richard’s chart run began in January, 1956 with “Tutti Fruitti,” and ended with “Good Molly Miss Molly” in February, 1958, per MusicVF.com perhaps not a long run by today’s standards but remember that this era was the the rise of rock & roll.

It is integral to Little Richard’s story to understand that America was on the cusp of the civil rights era.  “Cover version” referred to versions of R&R and R&B hits, “race records,” as they were called at the time, were remade over by white artists as retailers such as Sears Roebuck were loath to display records with black performers.   Indeed, Little Richard his own self proclaimed in LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL that “Pat Boone couldn’t move his mouth fast enough to get around “a wop bop a lu bop a bomp bam boom.”

Indeed, Pat Boone’s version went to #12 while Little Richard’s original went to #17 per MusicVF.com

Richard Penniman took over from Little Richard in October, 1957.

“That night Russia sent off that very first Sputnik.  It looked as though the big ball of fire came directly over the stadium about two or three hundred feet above our heads.  It shook my mind.  It really shook my mind.  I got up from the piano and said ‘This is it.  I am through.  I am leaving show business to go back to God.”

Richard Penniman enrolled in Oakwood College, (now Oakwood University), and became an ordained Minister of the 7th. Day Adventist faith.

In 1958 Little Richard formed the Little Richard Evangelistic Team that criss-crossed the South bringing 7th. Day Adventist faith and gospel music.

In 1959 Richard Penniman married Ernestine Campbell.

As recounted to biographer Charles White in The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock; the 7th. Day Adventist faith “cured” Little Richard’s “contagious” homosexuality.

(This book will also tell you more than you could possibly want to know about Buddy Holly’s love life.  Not for the religious).

Richard Penniman was no more politically correct than Little Richard was correct.

1959 also brought Richard Penniman’s GOD is REAL LP.

The tension between the rock and roll sexual love of Little Richard and the gospel spiritual love of Richard Penniman love was to remain the dynamic for the rest both lives.

To see Little Richard discuss his faith and life as Richard Penniman this interview is very revealing .

https://youtu.be/OXldBnWFjB8

Richard Penniman had a certain machismo that shocked The Advocate in yet another twist in Richard Penniman’s challenge for the soul of Little Richard.

www.advocate.com..people.2017/10/06 “Little Richard, once Gay is Now Antigay-Again”

1961 brought his Mercury LP King of the Gospel Singers, produced by Quincy Jones no less, featuring Richard Penniman, billed as Little Richard singing the gospel classic [There Will Be] Peace in the Valley(For Me).  This is not similar to the version sung by Elvis on How Great Thou Art, but a more traditional rendition with a pipe organ behind Little Richard’s throaty tenor.

https://youtu.be/Ovz-98UAt80

Little Richard returned to rock in 1962, touring England and being watched and emulated by Paul McCartney as  Mr. McCartney relates in the Introduction to The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock.

1964 brought the LP Little Richard is Back(and There’s A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On) which slipped into obscurity. 

Little Richard’s time as a popular American  recording artist had passed.

Dedicated fans of Little Richard can enjoy his very swampy 1970 US hit #48, UK hit #27 “Freedom Blues”

https://youtube/zRNLyACJcSK

Indeed, England remained a vital market for Little Richard until the end of his performing career.

Richard Penniman continued to perform at 7th. Day Adventist churches on a regular basis adding straight up preaching to his gospel stylizations.

While Little Richard’s recording career had withered away his appeal as a live entertainer was about to skyrocket.

1973’s LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL movie showcased Little Richard performing as part of Richard Nader’s Rock & Roll Revival collated with footage of Little Richard performing in his 50’s heyday.

To see Little Richard fluffing his bouffant and proclaiming “Ooh, my soul,” in front of a mirror is to see a man who would be totally at home today.

By the filming of LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL Little Richard was performing in a flowing aquamarine caftan with trapezoids of mirrors affixed.

Little Richard’s drama queen persona was never in finer fettle than while chatting with manager Bump Blackwell in a limo on his way to a Rock n Roll Revival show, saying

“I was washing dishes in a Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia.  I was the only Jewish cat there.  Everyone else was colored.”

https://youtu.be/9vcGZdPxNBw

Humor aside Little Richard had most of his vocal range during his Rock n Roll Revival phase and the hyper dynamic left hand of Richard Penniman enabled all.

All through the 70s Little Richard was a staple guest of Dick Cavett on late night TV as the oldies radio format declined.

https//youtu.be/eSylFhKk8

Little Richard-Lucille and Lawdy Miss Clawdy (The Dick Cavett Show 1970).

  It is often offered that celebrities become “self parodies” but Richard’s makeup encrusted face seemed as natural as his appearance was unnatural.

The 70s also saw Little Richard drinking prodigiously and taking cocaine while performing up to 100 nights a year.

Richard Penniman remained in my mind when viewing the Cleophus Robinson show whose gospel enlivened my teen and Nassau Community College years.  When Al Green retired from popular music with the Belle LP’s  title pronouncement of “It’s you that I want, it’s Him that I need,” I wondered whether Little Richard had had such a thought and whether Richard Penniman had the LP.

Little Richard never really left my mind completely as his hysterical cameo in the 1986 movie DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS inspired my playing of “Lucille” as on the soundtrack of LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.

Richard Penniman continued to wrestle with spirit and sex his entire life.  In 2017 telling GOD REPORTS, “If I had my life to do over again, I would be ‘Little Richard the Preacher,’ standing on street corners.”

At a certain age those who reached us at an early age pass.  On May 9, 2020 the passing of Little Richard prompted a digital wave of remembrances from rockers, critical evaluations of his musical legacy and lengthy treatises on Little Richard as a signifier of Afro-queerness.

It is Richard Penniman who has passed. His contradictions are now eased forever.

Little Richard?

A WOP BOP A LU BOMP A BOMP BAM BOOM!

SOURCES: 

MusicVF.com for chart positions. 

The Billboard Hot 100 as a combined chart of retail, jukebox and airplay began August, 1958.  MusicVF.com combines the previously separate Billboard charts and is the citation for all chart positions noted.

Little Richard, GOD IS REAL Peacock GOSPEL CLASSICS, 1959

http://www.amazon.com>God-Real-Little Richard

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LITTLE RICHARD: THE QUASAR OF ROCK  Little Richard as told to Charles White. 1985. 269 pp. 33 B&W photos. New York

A chronological biography in the ‘as told to’ vein that recounts Little Richard’s rise to fame and the religious life of Richard Penniman.  Paul McCartney’s Introduction credits Little Richard with his ambition to become a musician.  Cool pix.  Available in the Boston Public Library.

God Reports

godreports.com.2017/10>little-richard-his-truth-frutti

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

https;//youtu.be/C90UuBWV8TS

A wonderful non-fiction film that includes wonderful performances, some not-so-wonderful performances and more than a little sadness.  Filmed at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. and Cobo Hall, Detroit, MI.

http://www.bostongroupienews.com>ReddyTeddy

This website gives a short chronological history of the Boston proto-punk band that appropriated its name from Little Richard.

The Belle Album, Al Green, Hi, 1977

This was Reverend Al Green’s, now State Rep. TX/D, last secular L.P. of the 1970s.  The title track’s “It’s you that I want, it’s Him that I need,” sings the contradictions of Little Richard and Richard Penniman.

THE MULE and…the Senior Discount

January 4, 2019 1 comment

“1 for THE MULE.”

 

“That’ll be $14.19.”

“From $20..”

 

“Were you born before 1959?”

 

“Uh…yeah.”

 

“That’ll be $12.56 with the Senior Discount.”

 

“From $20.”

 

“Theater 7, enjoy the show.”

 

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