In a year that has brought many heartbreaking losses, one of the greatest was Little Richard, the undisputed architect of rock and roll who died on May 9, 2020 at the age of 87. Along with his peers, pianist Fats Domino and guitarists Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Richard secured a place in the rock n’ roll pantheon for Black musicians in the 1950s and managed to hold onto that success for the next 60 years through recordings and live performances. Though a number of compilations have been released in the past that cover his early years with Specialty, OKeh, and Vee-Jay Records, his recordings for Reprise Records in the 1970s have been somewhat neglected. Thanks to the reissue label Omnivore Recordings and producer Cheryl Pawelski, fans can now enjoy expanded CD editions of three of Little Richards’ Reprise releases as well as his 1986 Warner Bros. release, all with new liner notes by Bill Dahl.
Title: Here’s Little Richard
Artist: Little Richard
Label: Craft Recordings
Formats: 2-CD Deluxe Edition
Release date: November 3, 2017
In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Little Richard’s debut album, Here’s Little Richard, Craft Recordings has released a newly-expanded version of the iconic album. This 2-disc anniversary edition includes the original 12 tracks released in 1957 on the Specialty label, as well as previously unreleased alternate takes for all but one of the songs.
The high energy track “Tutti Frutti,” which was added to the National Recording Registry in 2010, kicks off the album just like in the 1957 version. The bonus tracks are also presented in the same sequence as the original album, making up a second disc of 22 demos, alternate versions, and unreleased takes. While some of the alternate takes on disc 2 sound similar to their original counterparts, others, like “Rip It Up” include commentary from Little Richard himself and are significantly different from the tracks that ultimately ended up on the 1957 release.
Here’s Little Richard offers an intimate glimpse into the development of the songs that helped Richard Penniman become one of the artists “who put the soul in rock and roll.” Little Richard, who will be celebrating his 85th birthday on December 5, has left an undeniable impact on rock ‘n’ roll and this 60th anniversary edition is a testament to his fame and significant contributions to music.
Reviewed by Chloe McCormick
Title: Louisiana Rocks: The True Genesis of Rock & Roll
Author: Tom Aswell
Format: Hardcover book (500 p.)
Publication date: January 2010
“Let us not forget the role that Louisiana—literally every corner of the state— played in shaping the new sounds that came roaring out of the swamps, the prairies, the red clay country, and the “colored” night clubs of New Orleans where no white man could legally go.” — Tom Aswell
Tom Aswell’s opus is a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining ride through the history of rock using the state of Louisiana as the nexis. Kicking off with a chapter on the “Birth of Rock and Roll,” he uses Cosimo Matassa and the J&M Studio as ground zero, which makes perfect sense for anyone familiar with New Orleans recording history. Between 1947-1956, J&M Studio literally gave birth to the New Orleans sound. It was here that Matassa recorded many of the legendary figures in rock and R&B—Roy Brown, Professor Longhair, Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino, Guitar Slim, Shirley & Lee, Lloyd Price, Big Joe Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles —even Little Richard was brought in to record “Tutti Frutti.” Obviously, Aswell did not have a particularly difficult time proving his thesis.
Though the book is divided into chapters—The Birth of R&B, The Baton Rouge Connection, Blues Artists, Cajun and Zydeco, Swamp Pop, The Louisiana Hayride—each consists of relatively short vignettes (in alphabetical order) of the individual musicians and groups that contributed to the various styles. While much of the biographical information could be gleaned elsewhere, Aswell does an admirable job of presenting a regional musical history, weaving the stories in and around the clubs, studios, radio stations, record labels, and record stores of Louisiana. The volume concludes with an alphabetical appendix of the artists and their top songs. Sadly, the complete discography that Aswell compiled was cut by the publisher, but if we’re lucky it will surface in the future as a separate volume or perhaps a website.
Author: David Kirby
Format: Hardcover book (218 p.)
ISBN: 978 0 82642 965 0
Publication date: November 2009
“Tutti Frutti occupies a finite space smack in the middle of our huge-ass Crab Nebula of a culture. It’s like the skinniest part of an hourglass; everything that came before flows into this narrow pass, and the world we live in today flows out the other side.” —David Kirby
David Kirby, a Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University as well as a noted poet and music writer, has written a passionate treatise on Little Richard—or more precisely, why “Tutti Frutti” is the single most important song in rock (and pop) history. As evidenced by the above quote, the book is a highly amusing read, and short enough that you can devour it in an evening. But you’ll definitely want to keep a copy on your bookshelf, if for no other reason than the numerous examples of truly inspired prose and the overabundance of quotable passages.
Kirby’s book makes an excellent companion volume to Aswell’s history, since scarcely a page goes by without some mention of Cosimo Matassa or Louisiana. For example, this quote from Laura Dankner and Grace Lichtenstein, featured in the introduction, demonstrates the common thread between the two books: “Much has been written about the transition of rhythm and blues into rock ‘n’ roll . . . But the transition was summed up best during a session at the J & M studio, when a flamboyant gay black pianist from Georgia sang ten syllables that shook the world.”
Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll will most certainly appeal to a very broad market, including fans of Little Richard, R&B music, and music lovers in general, as well as teachers of popular music and creative writing.
To hear Kirby discuss his book and Little Richard on Bob Edwards Weekend Hour, go to (http://www.wcpn.org/index.php/WCPN/an/25826/)
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss