32 Little Richard

Who is he?

Discover new musical continents that others will explore later. To a mix of blues, rhythm and blues and gospel, add rhythmic speed and vitality to create exhilarating and disturbing sounds.

His songs are a meeting point for blacks and whites in the racist southern states. He is not rewarded for his skin color and quirky personality. But he does inspire legends, such as: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix or Prince.

Little Richard – Long Tall Sally (1956)

Song composed by Enotris Johnson, Robert Blackwell and Richard Penniman, his real name. It is a clear example of their passionate style.

Richard Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, into a large and religious family. From a very young age he attended church, where he learned gospel music and played the piano. With a slightly deformed body and feverish expressive energy, at the age of 13 his father throws him out of the house scandalized by his homosexuality. Free from the family’s oppression, he releases his repressed passions and devotes himself to singing in the streets to earn a living. Luckily, he is adopted by a white couple who allow him to perform in the club they run, the Tick Tock.

How did his career start?

At the end of the 1940s, he travelled around the south playing with different characters in all kinds of shows and stages. Finally, he uses the name Little Richard and becomes interested in rhythm and blues, which he imprints with acceleration.

In 1951 he records for a local radio station, accompanied by the band of rhythm and blues musician Billy Wright. The RCA label became interested in him and released several singles that did not quite take off.

Little Richard – Taxi Blues (1951)

A song composed by Leonard Feather and the first single that RCA released to Richard. He is accompanied by The Willie Mays Band, which gave this rhythm and blues an air of jump.

From a very young age, Little Richard dominated gospel music, thanks to the influence of artists such as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, his greatest idol and whom he got to know in person. But in the second half of the 1940s, he opened up to other styles such as boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues. Among the artists he met was pianist Billy Wright, his greatest influence and the one who encouraged him to embark on a solo career, giving him all his support.

How does he continue?

In 1952, faced with the commercial failure of his records, he was forced to leave RCA. He was in dire financial straits and lived with precarious jobs. When he can, he continues to perform with the band The Tempo Toppers.

In 1953, he returns to record on the Peacock Records label in Houston, Texas, but he does not achieve any notable results. As he evolves towards new sounds, he gains a good reputation thanks to his forceful live performances.

Little Richard and the Johnny Otis Band – Little Richard’s Boogie (1956)

This song was composed by Richard Penniman himself, who recorded it in 1953, accompanied by Johnny Otis’s band. It was not released by Peacock Records until three years later.

Between 1952 and 1953, Little Richard and The Tempo Toppers were introduced to the southern blues club circuit. At the Matinee Club in Houston, he met Don Robey, a director of Peacock Records who recorded several singles for him. But the relationship between the two did not go well and some recordings were stored. They would be released years later, when Richard was already a star. After the break-up, Richard founded the band The Upsetters. Like other musicians, he drifted towards an even more rhythmic rhythm and blues that many were already calling rock and roll.

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