Little Richard is one of the very few artists who can really claim to have defined rock’n’roll and influenced a whole generation of eager young musicians all around the globe. Recording for Specialty in the famed Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans, he issued a string of 13 singles between 1955 and 1959 that set the world alight. Despite many white-owned radio stations being hostile to his music, and having to endure watered-down covers of his songs by artists such as Pat Boone, his music proved to be so powerful that his versions were what everyone eventually realised they had to have.
Little Richard’s success was not overnight. Well before linking up with Specialty, he worked around a wide variety of venues on the chitlin circuit. Especially influenced by blues singer Billy Wright, he made some recordings for RCA in 1952 and the Peacock label the following year. He took to the road with his band, wowing club audiences with his earlier, much more suggestive version of ‘Tutti-Frutti’. His first contact with Specialty and their producer Bumps Blackwell led to some recordings of blues and gospel numbers. Blackwell eventually asked him to try some more up-tempo material; ‘Tutti-Frutti’ was unleashed, setting the tone for the run of hits to follow.
From the outset at Specialty, Richard sold strongly, with most of his singles going Top 3 R&B and many also making the upper reaches of pop charts. ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Keep A Knockin’’ peaked at #6 and #8 respectively in 1956 and 1957. ‘Long Tall Sally’ became one of his biggest UK hits, reaching #3. Richard also landed a starring spot in what many consider the best rock film ever made, The Girl Can’t Help It, where many thousands probably got their first sight of him.
The collection also features Richard’s versions of some songs originally popularised by others: ‘I’ll Never Let You Go’, ‘Baby Face’ and ‘By The Light Of The Silvery Moon’, while his 1964 recording ‘Bama Lama, Bama Loo’ finds him in no-holds-barred 50s territory, but without the driving saxes.
With notes from Richard’s biographer Charles “Dr Rock” White, this is a winning package in every sense.