Title: Here’s Little Richard
Artist: Little Richard (a.k.a. Richard Penniman)
Label: Specialty Records/Concord Music Group
Catalog no.: SPC-33300
Format: CD (enhanced; includes poster)
Release date: April 17, 2012
This deluxe-packaged CD is a reissue of Specialty LP 100, which collected Little Richard’s breakthrough singles of 1955-56 onto a single disc. The CD also includes two demo recordings made in Macon, Georgia, in February 1955, and a 9-minute interview with Specialty Records founder Art Rupe, focusing on Little Richard’s dealings with the label. In addition, there are two Quicktime videos of screen test performances of “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally.”
By the time Little Richard recorded these sides, between September 1955 and November 1956, he was an established and experienced regional performer, based in Macon, Georgia. He had started out performing on street corners as a child, then in traveling medicine shows as a teen. He had recorded for RCA and Peacock Records in the early ‘50s, but had not enjoyed chart success or long-term commitments from those companies.
In February 1955, Richard made the demo recordings included on this CD and mailed them to Rupe. They were ignored at first, according to Lee Hildebrand’s excellent liner notes. Richard continued to write and telephone Rupe and Specialty producer Bumps Blackwell until they listened to the demo. According to Hildebrand, Rupe and Blackwell “weren’t overwhelmed by what they heard, but Rupe was impressed enough to dispatch Blackwell to New Orleans to record Richard with some of the same studio musicians who had played on (Lloyd Price’s hit) ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ three-and-a-half years earlier.” That first session netted “Tutti Frutti” and all of sudden the folks at Specialty Records had a hit on their hands.
Although Little Richard had chart success and definitely raised his profile with these recordings, the songs’ biggest impact came later. Elvis Presley covered “Tutti Frutti,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Rip It Up.” The Beatles covered “Long Tall Sally.” And “Slippin’ and Slidin'” was covered by Wanda Jackson and later by Otis Redding, among others.
Some listeners may be accustomed to the famous covers of these tunes, and Little Richard’s originals may be a surprise (or shock). The raw intensity leaps out of the speakers, thanks to the excellent remastering by Joe Tarantino. As over-the-top as the Beatles’ “Long Tall Sally” was, Richard’s was more so, more compact and focused in its delivery. That’s the case with every fast tune on this album. Richard and the band were hitting on all cylinders, pedal to the metal. Richard used his relatively high-pitched voice to great effect, confidently hitting whatever lyric, scream or guttural exclamation he attempted.
Following is a video of a UK 78-rpm pressing of “Tutti Frutti” played on a Decca phonograph—this may be exactly how the Beatles discovered Little Richard!
In October 1957, still enjoying radio play and chart success with his ground-breaking music, Little Richard quit show business and took up religion. He has gone back and forth many times since then. He never again enjoyed the music business success of the 25 months with Specialty Records.
The majority of the songs on this album were recorded in New Orleans by Cosimo Matassa and they are the most energetic and best sounding on the CD. As in the case of their excellent Stax Remasters and Orin Keepnews Edition jazz reissues, Concord has put together a fantastic package of good sound, good liner notes and interesting bonus content. This CD serves as both fabulous entertainment and a nice piece of music history.
Reviewed by Tom Fine