Saturday, May 9, 2020

Little Richard was the Architect of Rock and Roll

In two years time, Richard Penniman of Macon, Georgia cut a series of unstoppable hits that became the rule of rock and roll music: “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” in 1956, “Lucille” in 1957 and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958. He never hit the top 10 again after 1958, but he didn't have to. His influence was massive, stretching across musical genres, from rock to hip hop. His music helped shape rhythm and blues for generations to come. His contemporaries, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, all recorded covers of his works.

The Beatles were also heavily influenced by Penniman. Paul McCartney idolized him in school and later used his recordings as inspiration for his uptempo rockers, such as "I'm Down." "Long Tall Sally" was the first song McCartney performed in public. McCartney would later state, "I could do Little Richard's voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing. It's like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it."

During the Beatles' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, George Harrison commented, "thank you all very much, especially the rock 'n' rollers, and Little Richard there, if it wasn't for (gesturing to Little Richard), it was all his fault, really. "Upon hearing "Long Tall Sally" in 1956, John Lennon later commented that he was so impressed that he couldn't speak.

For decades literally every single band covered, not only his top 10 hits, but also songs like "Rip it Up," "Ready Teddy," "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Lucille," "Jenny Jenny" and "Keep A-Knockin'." His stage persona and wardrobe also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship.

Elvis may have been the king of rock and roll, but clearly Little Richard was the architect.


In memory of Richard Wayne Penniman, born on December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia and died on May 9, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 87.

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