When I was in high school in the 1980s, I thought I wrote a joke that went something like this…
Q: If Elvis Presley is the King of Rock and Roll and Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, who is the Queen of Rock and Roll?
A: Little Richard.
Ha ha…that is so funny. I thought I wrote that joke. The punch-line is, Little Richard had been telling that joke for years before I even got here. Oh well. I’ve been a little Richard fan almost as long as I’ve been a Beatles fan. I remember being young and hearing McCartney belt out the lyrics to “Long Tall Sally”, which was basically a 12 bar blues song on cross-tops. Perfect.
Little Richard –Long Tall Sally; almost “impossible” to cover…
In 1955, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” was big. Little Richard’s first song had made it to #2 on the R&B charts. This helped make him and his label–Specialty records–very happy. Soon thereafter, Pat Boone’s cover version of the song reached #12 in the pop charts. Although Little Richard was making more money than he had ever seen, Pat Boone was making as much, if not more, than he or the label were. As you can imagine, this pissed Little Richard right off. So, Richard and A&R man and producer “Bumps” Blackwell decided to write a song that was so up-tempo and the lyrics so fast that Boone would not be able to handle it. Pat Boone eventually did record his own version of “Long Tall Sally”. It went to #8 on the pop charts. but like so many weak recordings of good songs, Pat Boone’s music isn’t nearly as good–or bad?–as Shatner’s.
Little Richard–Little Girl with a Sick Mother Writes a Song…Beautiful
Blackwell said that he was introduced to a little girl named Enotris Johnson by a popular local disc-jockey. And it goes that this little girl had written a song for Little Richard to record so she could pay the costs of medical treatment for her ailing aunt Mary. The “song” was only a couple of lines on a piece of paper. The written lyrics went like this–
“Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally
They saw Aunt Mary comin’
So they ducked back in the alley”
Blackwell didn’t want to piss off an influential disc-jockey, so he “accepted” the offer and took the idea to Richard, who wasn’t sure about it either, at first. Nevertheless, there was something about the line “ducked back in the alley” that seemed to fit what they were looking for. And, they kinda liked it. Richard kept practicing until he could sing it as fast as possible. They worked on the song, adding verses and a chorus, until they got the record they wanted. “Long Tall Sally” was the best-selling single of the history of Specialty Records.
Little Richard–He taught the Beatles to go “Wooo!”
Little Richard was a guy whose music my dad introduced me to when I was seven or eight years old. In the 1950s, Paul McCartney grew up listening to Little Richard, as did my dad. There was something in Little Richard’s voice and music that caught my attention in me as a kid in the 1970s. Perhaps it was because I am and always was a McCartney guy, but Little Richard had something that no one else had at the time had.
Dad has talked about being a Little Richard guy when he was in high school in the ’50s. He said that he and his friends had just discovered Elvis and Chuck Berry when they heard “Long Tall Sally” for the first time.
Back in the 1950s and early ’60s, as American records made their way overseas to England–the BBC wasn’t playing rock and roll–the music caught the attention of everyone, including very young Yardbirds, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Move, Small Faces, the Troggs. Fleetwood Mac–? Yeah, before Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie ruined the band, Fleetwood Mac was a convincing Chicago sounding blues band–and the Beatles. It is difficult to impress how important American music was to British music at that time. From blues to Elvis to the Everley Brothers, everyone wanted part of what America had.
My dad was stationed someplace outside of Paris, when he first heard the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” in 1963. shortly thereafter, he heard the Beatles’ version of “Long Tall Sally”. He and I haven’t really talked about Little Richard or the Beatles lately, but he did say that some of his early interest in the Beatles was how much this McCartney guy sounded like Little Richard.
During the early 1960s, when the Beatles were playing clubs in Hamburg, Germany, they would often open for larger, more established acts. Little Richard was one of those acts. In a radio interview in the early ’90s, Little Richard talked about how well the Beatles played his music and how by the time he was going on stage, they had already played 20% of his set-list, leaving a gaping hole in his act for the evening.
Little Richard has since forgiven the Beatles for ‘stealing’ his material.