This is Day 56 of our self-quarantine and Day 49 of KC’s Stay-At-Home order (currently set to end this coming Friday on May 15).
As of last Friday, I was working on some Royals nostalgia for this Hot Stove edition. On Saturday morning, Joe Downs gave me the news that Little Richard had died. So I made a pivot.
Little Richard – The Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll: On May 9, Little Richard died at the age of 87. He had been the sole survivor of my Mount Rushmore of rock ‘n’ roll. The other three: Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.
I was a freshman in high school when I bought my first Little Richard record – “Tutti-Frutti.” To this day, I remember that I got it at Mr. Z’s Record Shop on 11th Street in downtown Kansas City. I know the approximate date because the record hit the charts in January of 1956 and I would not have waited long. He had me at his opening shout of “Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom” (or something like that). He was an original.
One of the early issues for artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino was that it was difficult to get airplay on pop stations. The Top-40 radio format was pioneered in the country by Todd Storz who owned WHB in Kansas City (710 on the AM dial – there was no FM), but its early playlists did not include what they considered to be “race” music. Instead, WHB played covers by white artists. The worst examples were Pat Boone’s insipid versions of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti.” We were saved by KUDL (1380 on the dial), which had no problem playing the black artists leading the charge for rock ‘n’ roll. WHB ultimately followed the money and joined the trend.
Little Richard’s biggest hits were released over the next two years. Click on the song title to listen. Soon after “Tutti-Frutti” came “Long Tall Sally” (also covered by Pat Boone). Some others that followed: “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip It Up,” “Lucille,” “Jenny Jenny” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” He was a big draw for rock ‘n’ roll concerts and appeared in two 1956 films with Bill Haley and other artists (more on those films below in Lonnie’s Jukebox).
The cool thing for me is that I still have my records – they are displayed below. Rita and I played them over the weekend and got in some dancing.
In those teenage years, I was an aficionado of rock ‘n’ roll trivia. For example, on a record label, the name in parenthesis below the title listed the writer(s) of the song. That’s how I found that the “R” in “R. Penniman” was (Little) Richard. I noticed the company and color – the blue of Chess Records for Chuck Berry, the dark red of Imperial Records for Fats Domino and the black of RCA Records for Elvis Presley (succeeding his first label, the yellow Sun Records with Sam Phillips).
For Little Richard, it was the yellow and white of Specialty Records as shown above. I have another story on that. In 1978, there was a biopic on the seminal rock ‘n’ roll deejay Alan Freed. The title was American Hot Wax, and Rita and I saw it at a theater. I don’t remember much about the film, but I know how it starts. As the credits roll at the beginning, Alan Freed walks into his studio, and there is a record someone left on his desk. It has a yellow and white label, but you can’t read the title. I whispered to Rita, “Little Richard.” Freed spins the record and out comes the shouting rock of “Tutti-Frutti.” Check it out on the first three minutes of this clip.
On October 4, 1957, Russia launched Sputnik. Little Richard was on tour in Australia and oddly considered the launch of Sputnik to be the sign from God that he had been waiting for to convince him to leave the evils of rock ‘n’ roll and become a minister. But he returned to rock ‘n’ roll in 1962 and successfully toured Europe where his opening acts included the then relatively unknown Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Rita and I saw Little Richard perform at the Gala Concert as part of Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inaugural. In 2007, we encountered him in the Delta lounge in Kansas City the day after he played one of the casino showrooms. We chatted with him, and our regret is that we did think to ask for a photo.
Influence: Little Richard’s influence on other artists is widespread. A sampling:
Bob Dylan: Although the music they made would not be similar, Dylan wrote in his high school yearbook that his goal was to “join Little Richard.” Dylan was then known as Robert Zimmerman.
In a series of tweets over the weekend, Dylan wrote…
“I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do. I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him. In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.”
Mick Jagger: “He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and his music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid 50’s. When we were on tour with him I would watch his moves every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience and he was always so generous with advice to me. He contributed so much to popular music I will miss you Richard, God bless.”
Below, Jagger and Little Richard with Bruce Springsteen at a show honoring Otis Redding in 1989. Click here for their set.
Bruce Springsteen: The Boss has covered a number of Little Richard songs in his concerts. Click here for “Long Tall Sally” in Sydney in 2017.
Prince: Little Richard and Prince can each be described by these traits: Flamboyant. Pompadour. Pencil mustache. Eyeliner. Sexual ambiguity. Theatrical shows. Little Richard liked to say he wore purple before Prince (click here). Two great artists.
Spike Lee: His tweet: “Rest In Peace To One Of The True Creators Of Rock And Roll. This Is The Commercial I Directed With Little Richard And Michael Jordan, 1991.” Click here.
And on and on. The blogs and papers over the weekend were full of stories to attest to Little Richard’s influence and talent. Rita liked this description by David Remnick in the New Yorker:
“The core of Little Richard’s career was brief—he recorded an incandescent string of hits in the mid-fifties and then went off to rediscover his faith. In the years that followed, he’d dip in and out of show business, and there were some inspired moments, but he was a comet, not a planet. The trail of light that he left behind was, and is, everywhere…Banging boogie-woogie time with his right hand and singing miles beyond anyone’s idea of a ‘register,’ he is a human thrill ride. There is more voltage in one of those three-minute performances than there is in a municipal power station.”
RIP Little Richard.
Little Richard, the Beatles and the Royals: Since 2003, the Royals have played a Little Richard song to celebrate their victories at Kauffmann Stadium. It’s a Beatles cover version of “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” that is played in a medley with their cover of “Kansas City.” In 1958, Little Richard had a big hit with “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and the B-side of the record was “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey.” Little Richard also made a couple of recordings of “Kansas City,” but neither was a big hit. The version of “Kansas City” that went to #1 was by Wilbert Harrison (that’s the one played after Royals losses).
Little Richard combined “Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” with “Kansas City” in one of his recorded versions and also in his stage shows. When touring Europe from 1962 to 1964, one of Little Richard’s opening acts was the Beatles. So I think we can guess how the Beatles got the idea for the combining the two songs for a raucous cover in the style of Little Richard.
Kauffman Stadium is not the first baseball stadium in Kansas City to feature the Beatles singing this medley. On September 17, 1964, they did it in person at Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn. They were there at the generous invitation of Charlie Finley, owner of the A’s. As previously reported in Hot Stove, Rita was one of the teenagers in that concert crowd. The “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” medley was not on the setlist for the other tour stops, but it was a natural add for KC.
When the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, George Harrison said “Thank you all very much, especially the rock ’n’ rollers, and Little Richard – it was all his fault really.” Paul McCartney tweeted yesterday: “From ‘Tutti Frutti’ to ‘Long Tall Sally’ to ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ to ‘Lucille’, Little Richard came screaming into my life when I was a teenager. I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it. He would say, ‘I taught Paul everything he knows’.”
Lonnie’s Jukebox (1) – Willie Mays and the Treniers: Last week, on May 6, Willie Mays turned 89. In one of the tweets wishing him happy birthday, there was a link to a 1955 song titled “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” – it’s also on the soundtrack in the Ken Burns baseball documentary. Click here for a good music video that ends with a play that brings together three Hall of Famers. Willie slides safely into home under the tag of the Dodgers Roy Campanella (39). Campy argues vehemently and is joined in that by Jackie Robinson (42).
The song was by the Treniers, and that sounded familiar to me. And Google told me why. Back in the mid-‘50s, there were some jukebox movies that came out to catch the wave of the then-new rock ‘n’ roll music. That’s where I had seen the Treniers. Joining acts like Bill Haley and Little Richard, the Treniers appeared in two films that I saw back then.
The pairing of Haley and the Treniers matched up with their being regular performers at the resort town of Wildwood, New Jersey, in the early 1950s. The music in the clubs ranged from R&B acts like the Treniers to country-swing groups like Bill Haley and the Comets. Those genres began melding with gospel, folk and jazz to become rock ‘n’ roll. There is a good argument that Wildwood is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll (click here if you want more). Haley was influenced by the Treniers, both in his stage show and his sound, and he went on to many big hits. The Treniers successfully toured for years, but never had a hit record. As for the Treniers in the movies…
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956). The girl was Jayne Mansfield. Click here for the trailer and here for a Treniers scene. The title song was sung by Little Richard (click here). The full lineup of music acts:
[Treniers Trivia: In 1958, the Treniers went to the U.K. to be an opening act for Jerry Lee Lewis on a big tour. When Lewis arrived, a reporter asked about a young girl in the entourage – he said that the 13-year-old was his wife (also his cousin). The fan reaction was so negative that Lewis gave up after only three shows. The promoters added a couple of British acts and the Treniers continued with the tour, playing 34 consecutive one-nighters. The poster below for Sheffield was printed before Lewis dropped out in May.]
[Jerry Lee Lewis Trivia: In 1986, the first ten honorees were named for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. With the death of Little Richard, the remaining survivors are Don Everly (83) and Jerry Lee Lewis (84).]
Lonnie’s Jukebox (2) – Gregorian Chants (Week 7): KC Star sportswriter Vahe Gregorian continues his daily tweets of shelter/home/quarantine songs. Click on the song title to listen.
Day 43 (May 5) of Stay-At-Home Order: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Vahe chose a video “accompanied by dogs (and a cat) because they make the world such a better place.” I guarantee a few minutes of smiling when you watch this.
Day 44: “Hello Sunshine” by Bruce Springsteen. “Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?”
Day 45: “American Tune” by Simon & Garfunkel. The two artists reunited for their Central Park concert in 1981 and drew a crowd of 500,000. The song came from a 1973 solo album by Simon and was written in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam. As an anthem for a troubled nation, it is compared to “This Land is Your Land” and “Born in the U.S.A.”
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest
Day 46: “This Land Is Your Land” by Bruce Springsteen. A cover by the Boss of Woodie Guthrie’s anthem. Live from the 1985 “Born in the U.S.A.” tour.
Day 47: “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. Finding peace away from the crowds.
Day 48: “The Wish” by Bruce Springsteen. Vahe gave a “Mother’s Day wish” and linked the version of the song from Springsteen on Broadway, his concert residency. Good memories for Rita and me because we were lucky and saw that show in New York in 2018.
Day 49: “The Ties That Bind” by Bruce Springsteen. Vahe: “Family and friends and colleagues and neighbors staying close even at a distance.” At our home yesterday, Rita and I connected with our four generations of family through a nine-screen Zoom call to celebrate Mother’s Day and granddaughter Emersyn’s 18th birthday. The ties that bind.
Bonus Pick: In honor of Little Richard, I’ll add “Keep a Knockin’” – a song with lyrics that could be used by someone in self-quarantine. “Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in/Come back tomorrow night and try it again.” Maybe not even tomorrow night. Come back when it’s safe.