Little Richard
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

, /10
Links:

(Translated by Giovanni Radaelli)

Little Richard was one of the first rockers, and especially one of the first rockers who embodied the savage and libidinous soul of rock and roll. He was one the very first who wore make-up in a decadent way (without hiding his homosexuality, too), who burst out during concerts, who altered his voice in sensuous or roughly ways. His musical style filled the gap between the rhythm and blues coming from New Orleans and Chicago’s one, in the period where the latter was turning into a new genre. Differently from Chicago and Memphis rock, which used guitar as the main instrument, Little Richard used piano, that wasn’t "black" (blues) nor "white" (country) but gospel and boogie. Moreover, no one had ever played (or rather, shook) the piano like him.

Richard Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, and came out from anonymity thanks to his visceral way of singing gospel, gaining his first jobs in 1951 as a rhythm and blues singer. When he found out piano, he gained success (on December, 1955) as a rock and roll singer and pianist, with his old non-sense song Tutti Frutti (september 1955) readapted. Thanks to his intensity and his non-sense, this song infected a lot of rockers but none of them succeeded in imitating his hasty and childish appearance. His on stage antics were impressive , especially when he drew his face and played the piano with feet; moreover his performances included narcissistic and self-absorbed monologues . His spectacular scenic ultra-boogie was re-called "thang". In reality Little Richard was inspired by two underground musicians: Billy Wright, an unknown blues singer from Atlanta who was the first one wearing make ups and decadent clothes; and Esquerita, another maniacal pianist.

In 1956 Little Richard performed a lot of hits, all built on his principles of feverish and clownish aggressiveness: Long Tall Sally (february 1956) (The first of his heroines: "she`s built for speed/ she`s got anything uncle John needs"), a frenzy syncopated rhythm and blues in the limits of his vocal possibility, Bumps Blackwell's Rip It Up (may 1956) (the closest song to gospel, spelled by claps in a very speedy rhythm, with also guitar and winds) and the ironical The Girl Can’t Help It (october 1956) (soundtrack of his first movie).

The following year, his sound got even naughtier, and every songs entered the charts soft as hurricanes: Lucille (july 1956), an anthropophagic boogie as well as one of his most epileptic performances; Jenny Jenny (october 1956), hallucinated as well, with the best non-sense lyrics of the period, and Keep A Knocking (january 1957) (based on a LOuis Jordan hit that was based on an old hit of the 1920s), wherein his ferocious singing had apparently the same rhythm of percussions, winds and guitars (its drums introduction will soon become a rock standard). Bumps Blackwell's Good Golly Miss Molly (october 1956, but released only in 1958) was his swan song, or rather shout. Here’s Little Richard (1957) was his first album, and included a lot of hits.

However, a lot of this songs became internationally famous in the (more rational) form of whites’ performances, because of an old racist tradition.

His shouting singing, with usual uninhibited howls and syncopated phrases in progression, excelled in his highly cadenced and full of saxes rhythm & blues, performed by a fantastic accompanying band (with Earl Palmer playing drums, Lee Allen tenor sax, Alvin Tyler baritone sax; and two or three guitar player). Moreover, his songs were absolutely non-sense and more his lyrics got meaningless, more his singing got sensitive and evocative. All of this was the most maniacal and dissolute apology to chaos, the apocalypse of rock and roll. His volcanic and frenzy boogie became a symbol of the aggressive, impolite and extroverted young man of the era.

In the history of rock and roll, Little Richard’s music was the first sacrilege of gospel, the first declaration of sound excesses and theatrical antics; he used both his voice and his piano as powerful and flexible percussions, through which he hit the listener in a savage, uncontrolled and emotional primitivism.

After this period, he surprised fans when, after a serious religious crisis, he left music business (in reality he had left in 1957, but his record company hid it until his last hit). His best gospel album was King Of Gospel Singers (september 1961 - Mercury, 1962). In this period Little Richard’s band features a young guitar player, Jimi Hendrix. However, he only recycled his own songs in a docile soul-rock style; one of the best efforts in this period (and of his whole career, as well) was Bama Lama Bama Loo (april 1964). He remained close to religious even during the "revival" which could have allowed his great come-back as a protagonist.

Little Richard (nato in Georgia) fu uno dei primi rockers, ma fu soprattutto uno dei primi rockers a impersonare lo spirito selvaggio e libidinoso del rock and roll. Fu uno dei primi a truccarsi in maniera "decadente" (senza far molto per nascondere le sue tendenze omosessuali), a esplodere sul palcoscenico, a storpiare la voce in maniera animalesca e sensuale. Il suo stile musicale costituisce il ponte naturale fra il rhythm and blues di New Orleans e quello di Chicago nel momento in cui il secondo diventava un nuovo genere. A differenza dei rocker di Chicago e Memphis, che usavano la chitarra come strumento guida, Little Richard usava il pianoforte, uno strumento che non era ne' "nero" (blues) ne' "bianco" (country) ma gospel e boogie. E nessuno aveva mai "suonato" (o, meglio, "percosso") il pianoforte come lui.

Richard Penniman (nato a Macon, in Georgia) era emerso grazie al suo modo viscerale di cantare i gospel, e aveva ottenuto i primi ingaggi discografici (nel 1951) per cantare brani di rhythm and blues, ma, scoperto il piano, trovo` il successo (nel dicembre del 1955) come cantante e pianista di rock and roll con un suo vecchio brano-nonsense riadattato: Tutti Frutti (september 1955). Quel brano, esagitato, cadenzatissimo e assolutamente senza senso, contagio` decine di rocker, ma nessuno seppe riprodurre il suo piglio iper-cinetico e bambinesco. Il suo modo di tenere la scena era impressionante, soprattutto quando si truccava il volto e suonava (letteralmente) con i piedi; come se non bastasse di solito intercalava alle canzoni monologhi da invasato narcisista e mitomane. Il suo spettacolare ultra-boogie scenico fu soprannominato "thang". Little Richard si ispirava in realta` a due personaggi underground dell'epoca: un oscuro cantante blues di Atlanta, Billy Wright, che fu il primo a truccarsi e vestirsi in maniera decadente, e Esquerita, un altro pianista maniacale.

Nel 1956 registro` una serie di hit, tutti fondati sullo stesso principio di frenesia, di ferocia e di clownerie: Long Tall Sally (february 1956) (la prima delle sue eroine, "she`s built for speed/ she`s got anything uncle John needs"), un tempestoso rhythm & blues sincopato, tirato al limite delle sue possibilita` vocali, Bumps Blackwell's Rip It Up (may 1956) (la piu` vicina al gospel, scandita dal battito di mani a ritmo velocissimo, con chitarra e fiati) e l'ironica The Girl Can't Help It (october 1956) (colonna sonora del suo primo film).

Il sound si incattivi` ulteriormente l'anno dopo, quando ogni sua canzone irrompeva nelle charts con la delicatezza di un ciclone: Lucille (july 1956), un reboante boogie antropofago, una delle sue interpretazioni piu` epilettiche, Jenny Jenny (october 1956), non meno allucinata, con le liriche piu` insensate dell'era, e Keep A-Knockin' (january 1957) (un vecchio hit di Louis Jordan basato su un hit degli anni '20), nella quale il canto stesso, feroce e ululante sembra avere lo stesso ritmo delle percussioni, dei fiati, delle chitarre (e l'introduzione di batteria diventera` una sigla standard del rock). Bumps Blackwell's Good Golly Miss Molly (october 1956, but released only in 1958), con la piu` tipica cadenza del boogie di palude, fu il suo canto, o meglio urlo, del cigno. Here's Little Richard (1957) fu il primo album, e contiene i primi hit.

Molti di questi brani ottennero la consacrazione internazionale nelle (piu` ragionevoli) interpretazioni dei bianchi, secondo la vecchia tradizione razzista.

Il suo canto sgolato, con frequenti ululati incontrollati e frasi sincopate in progressione, si faceva largo nel bailamme rhythm and blues, fortemente ritmato e con tanto di sassofoni, del suo favoloso gruppo di accompagnamento (Earl Palmer alla batteria, Lee Allen al sax tenore, Alvin Tyler al sax baritono e due-tre chitarristi). Per di piu` i versi erano del tutto sconclusionati. Ma Little Richard era tanto piu` espressivo quanto piu` insignificanti e sconnessi erano i suoi testi. Nell'insieme era l'apologia del caos piu` maniacale e dissoluto, l'apocalissi del rock and roll. E per la massa dei fan il suo boogie vulcanico e iper-cinetico venne ad identificare il giovane aggressivo, estroverso ed incolto.

Primo sacrilego del gospel, primo cultore dell'eccesso sonoro, primo teatrante del rock, il vulcanico pianista della Georgia usava sia la voce sia lo strumento come potenti e duttili percussioni; martellava l'ascoltatore con un selvaggio incontrollato emotivo primitivismo da cavernicolo. I testi assurdi e surreali delle sue sceneggiate musicali, accoppiati all'esibizionismo maniacale, costituirono il veicolo ideale per un suono che era tutto istintivo e irrazionale.

Sorprese tutti abbandonando di colpo la scena per la religione, colto da una autentica crisi esistenziale (abbandono` le scene gia` nel 1957, ma la sua casa discografica tenne il fatto segreto fino all'uscita dell'ultimo hit). Il suo miglior album di gospel rimane King Of Gospel Singers (september 1961 - Mercury, 1962). Little Richard assunse persino il giovane chitarrista Jimi Hendrix per rifare tutti i vecchi pezzi in un tiepido stile soul-rock. Incise almeno un brano degno del passato, Bama Lama Bama Loo (april 1964), ma sostanzialmente rimase votato alla religione, anche quando il revival gli avrebbe consentito un ritorno in grande stile.

During the 1970s Little Richard tried in vain to restart his career as a rock and roll musician, but The Rill Thing (Reprise, 1970), King Of Rock'n'Roll (1971) and Second Coming (1972) were rather mediocre albums by the standards of that decade, and following ones fared even worse. He was still a convinced Christian, repenting his youthful sins, who had renounced his old decadent habits. In the 1990s he recorded songs for benefits and children.

(Translated by Giovanni Radaelli)

Negli anni ’70 Little Richard cercò di ritornare al successo come cantante rock, ma The Rill Thing (Reprise, 1970), King Of Rock'n'Roll (1971) e Second Coming (1972) erano album mediocri, soprattutto per i standard dell’epoca; i suoi album successivi erano addirittura peggio. Little Richard rimase un cristiano convinto, che si era oramai pentito dei suoi peccati giovanili ed aveva rinunciato ai suoi comportamenti decadenti. Negli anni ’90 registrò altre canzoni per i ragazzi e per beneficenza.

What is unique about this music database