The Night I Said No to Little Richard

Posted: May 9th, 2020 | Filed under: Culture, Music, Personalities | 2 Comments »

Of the Founding Fathers of Rock & Roll, the quintet whose mugs would be on Mount Rushmore, two were frankly more incendiary than the rest.

It’s not that Elvis, Fats Domino, and Bo Diddley weren’t rockin’ and rollin’ in a totally new fashion in the mid 50s.

It’s just that the music of the other two blasted from the tinny speaker of the 7 transistor portable radio I got for my Bar Mitzvah, the device I could put in my bike basket, and thereby take my life’s preferred soundtrack with me wherever I roamed.

One was Jerry Lee Lewis.

When you’re 12 years old and you hear “Great Balls of Fire,” you turn to your pal and scream, “Holy shit, did you hear what he just sang?”

To get a sense of how raucous Jerry Lee could be, youtube his ’64 concert at the Star Club in Hamburg.

(Aside: That Jerry Lee Lewis is the last of those Founding Fathers standing is one of the wonders of the universe.)

The other who pushed the boundaries of the new teen culture to other dimensions was Little Richard. RIP.

His songs propelled. They were insistent. They were outrageous.

And all those ladies he sang about — Long Tall Sally, Miss Ann, et al — they weren’t ladies at all.

Not only was Richard Penniman’s music from the other side of the tracks, you had to turn down a dark road and know exactly where you were going to get there. Then know the password to get in the door.

The cover of the first album I ever owned is that one at the lede. Bought for me by my hip grandparents, Max and Tillie Kaplan, at a music store in the then newfangled Northland Shopping Center in Detroit.

The last time I heard Little Richard in concert, it was sad really.

At JazzFest maybe 15 or 20 years ago. His first song ripped it up.

Then it turned to Vegas shtick, male dancers in thongs and all.

He was but a caricature of himself, which persona was cartoonish enough as it was.

Little Richard, like Jerry Lee really, had a constant inner struggle between the primal and spiritual. So, Richard Penniman would take periodic sabbaticals from rock and roll, and preach the gospel and life lessons according to Little Richard.

It was during one of those hiatuses in the late 60s or early 70s that I perpetrated one of the most egregious regrets of my life.

He gave a lecture at U of L.

And, for some unfathomable reason, based on some reasoning hard to comprehend in retrospect, I passed.

How stupid.

I mean, really, what was I thinking?

Apparently there were only a few people who showed up, and he was accessible, and I could have probably chatted him up for awhile.

That hole in my soul feels a bit emptier today, having learned of Little Richard’s passing.

He’d been in ill health for some time, and stopped performing years ago.

Anyhow, he was like no other, that Little Richard.

Here’s my favorite Little Richard tune, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” the eponymous title song of the lascivious ’56 movie, starring Jayne Mansfield.

— c d kaplan

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2 Comments on “The Night I Said No to Little Richard”

  1. 1 Dougie K Doe said at 8:16 pm on May 9th, 2020:

    You missed that encounter with Mr.Penniman cuz Bo Didley was at the Highland VFW that night?

  2. 2 Slim Hormone said at 8:37 pm on May 9th, 2020:

    You missed the lecture because you’re stoned or wrecked or both-bummer.

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