Just a quick note ahead of this blog post. I did have a plan next week Thursday to drop another Tale of Rock & Imagination bonus piece – a piece I’ve got sketched out but will hold off on for another week. I was also planning another episode of this Rock & Imaginaton series for a few weeks’ time and calling it something like ‘Sex & Religion’ or something similar. In it I wanted to discuss people like Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Johnnie Ray…. maybe Jackie Shane? and in it share a story of a Sister Rosetta gig in Macon Georgia – some time in 1946 or 47 where she invited some 14 year old kid up on stage with her to play a few songs – and how this young, flamboyant kid was dynamite and would go on to revolutionize popular music. Seeing that kid has just passed this does seem timely. Apologies dear readers I’m pasting my Facebook post up here today, unvarnished as it is. RIP Little Richard.
Sad news this morning to read ‘the architect of rock and roll’ Little Richard has passed on. Musically, over the space of a little over two years he turned out several of the greatest rock songs ever. As a person I think it has to be said this vibrant, larger than life personality lived a life often darkened by the caprices of his strict pentecostal upbringing, and his thuggish church deacon father who never accepted his bissexual, non-binary child. This caused Richard to vacillate between his true, authentic self, and the man his God, or his father, or the congregation demanded of him.
There was Little Richard, the flamboyant, iron lunged piano thumper – came up through the carnival circuit opening for snake oil salesmen, then on to a drag revue before being discovered by Specialty records. Androgynous, flashy, overtly sexual. A preacher of the gospel of free love, good times and hedonism. The kind of guy who would write a song about having sex in an alley with a drag queen (Long Tall Sally) and just smile to himself knowingly when stuffy old Pat Boone stole his song……
Then there was Richard Wayne Penniman, deeply religious and terrified he was going to hell – aboard a ferry in Australia in October 1957. The Russians had just launched Sputnik days earlier, he had just endured an extremely turbulent flight to Aussie. Sputnik had been playing on his mind all night and he had been having nightmares of apocalyptic fireballs, hellfire and thunder. This Richard stood at the edge of the boat throwing $100,000 worth of jewellery overboard and proclaiming as soon as this tour was over he was done with rock and roll, boyfriends and partying – he would go on for some time to become a preacher.
I love Richard’s music, feel a little sad to think of the turmoil he must have gone through in life. No doubt will be playing some Little Richard around the house today.