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With Little-Queen of rock’n’roll-Richard, a star camp goes out

In A wop Bop A Loo A Bop Lop Bam Boom (title taken precisely from the “lyrics” of the first hit recorded by Little Richard, Tutti Frutti (1956), the famous British rock theorist, Nick Cohn writing : “The first rock ‘n roll record I bought in my life was a Little Richard record, and in one fell swoop it taught me everything I needed to know about pop.”

The Black Architect of Rock

Richard Wayne Pennimanwho just died at a very unexpected age in a rocker (87 years old) was a character “ larger than life as the Americans say. Black, homosexual, flamboyant, unpredictable, he is the exact antonym of the other inventor of rock’n roll, Elvis Presley. He was “the underrated architect“of this subculture, as he proclaimed. What if Elvis was”the king of rock’n roll”Little Richard was amused to have been “the queen”

To listen again:
Little Richard, the cry of the future

In 1990, in an interview with the magazine RollingStonehe observed:

I think if Elvis had been black, he wouldn’t have risen so high. But me, if I had been white, I would have climbed on the roof of the White House…”.

Elvis’ musical culture came from the gospel he sang with his parents in the temple on Sundays and from the white country music he listened to on the radio at home. That of Little Richard, she mixed the gospel and the rhythm’n blues black. It was from the fusion of these different genres, in the southern states, where ruthless racial segregation reigned in the 1950s, that rock’n roll was born. Elvis came from Mississippi, Jerry Lee Lewis from Louisiana, Buddy Holly from Texas, Little Richard from Georgia.

To listen again:
1953-1958: when Presley became Elvis

Tutti Frutti…

Richard Wayne Penniman was born into a family of twelve children in 1932, in Macon. At thirteen, his father kicked him out of his home after discovering his homosexual tendencies. Obliged to earn his living and soon that of his family, after the death of his father, assassinated, he began to perform in magazines, learned to sing there, to make up, to cross-dress. He sets up rhythm’n blues groups, records a few pieces, without any success. Discouraged, he quits show business for the first time, and survives by washing dishes in a Greyhound bus station.

Luck finally smiled on him in 1955, Robert A. Blackwell, gave him carte blanche to record his own songs in New Orleans, with the accompanists of Fats Domino. Tutti Frutti was a hit in 1956. Rock’n roll was born. Little Richard’s version is by far the most frenetic and crazy. He howls on a boosted boogie tempo, always on the verge of breaking.

This side “borderline” will remain the hallmark of Little Richard’s records and concerts. But with him, the hypersensitivity, the intensity of the emotions, this tension at the edge of the tear which was specific to him, were sublimated by an aesthetic camp. With his huge wigs raised a good 15 centimeters above his head, his sequined costumes and his abuse of mascara, he was constantly on the verge of parody. Standing in front of his white pianos, he anticipated culture”drag queen“. A form of humor consisting of playing with conventions and levels, and blurring genres by caricaturing them.

Rock’n roll, devilish music…

As a Southern Baptist, he maintained an ambiguous relationship with his music and his own stage character, made up of a strange mixture of pride in having dared and devouring guilt. Like cousins ​​Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, he wasn’t far off considering rock ‘n roll itself like an invention of the devil

Also, in 1957, at the height of his glory, in the middle of a concert, he claimed to see a prophetic cloud in the sky. The following night, he wakes up hearing a voice ordering him to ” prepare for eternal life “. The next day, he announced at a press conference that he had made the decision to abandon rock’n roll and to “return to God”. “If you want to live according to the Lord, you can’t rock’n roller at the same time” he explains. And, as a sign of repentance for his sinful youth, he throws his rings into the city’s port, before embarking for America.

In 1958, having become Richard Penniman again, he followed a theology training at Oakwood College in Huntsville (Alabama), from where he emerged with his title of pastor.

In 1959, however, he returned to singing, but now claimed to dedicate his voice to God: he preached and recorded only gospels, dressed in splendid togas. These will be the albums Coming-home (1964) and It’s Real (1965).

Rock’n roll is here to stay… the Beatles in Hamburg

But in the meantime, in 1962, Little Richard, he had done a short tour in Germany and, in Hamburg, he had come across the Beatles.

It was the time when the new British pop scene was learning music by rediscovering American rock and blues of the 1950s. The Beatles themselves sang then Long Tall Sally, the most famous of the songs created by Little Richard. This is perhaps what brought us the return of Petit Richard to hard and pure rock, with unforgettable tracks, such as Bama Lama, Bama Loo (1964). The “live” version of Tom Jones, one of the best I know shows which rocker we missed…

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We often had fun with these “lyrics” of songs, reduced to simple onomatopoeia, Nick Cohn going so far as to claim that their inept side was a simple way of taunting parents. In fact, some of the texts written by Little Richard were so salty that his producers asked him to censor them. This is, in particular, the case of Tutti Frutti which, in the original version, was a hymn to sodomy:

Tutti Frutti, good Booty / If it don’t fit it, don’t force it / You can grease it, take it easy / Tutti frutti, good booty

“Why am I wearing makeup? he said in an interview. For the same reason that you butter your sandwiches and put sugar in your coffee”.

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