Little Richard died last week at the age of 87. The world became a lot less flamboyant with his passing. But the music we hear today, and the music a lot of us enjoy known as Rock and Roll would not only be different without his influence, it probably wouldn’t exist.
One of the best Little Richard sighting stories comes from me of my best friend’s wives, who’s from Knoxville:
I am so saddened by this news. Saw him in his Escalade in Nashville when he was living at the Hilton. Said to Miles “I think that’s Little Richard” Little Richard then yelled and waved across the parking lot “It’s me baby. It’s me!”
Little Richard, and Chuck Berry, were highly influential in their styles, both musically and in their attitudes. Little Richard is tame by today’s standards of fringe wildness and musically infused sexuality. Or should I say “sexually infused musicality?” But back in his day, he was new and transformational. And the budding young rock and rollers of the 60’s and 70’s took notice. Everyone wanted to be like them in their uninhibited vocal stylings, which was the embryonic stage for what became Rock and Roll. Even Elvis and The Beatles took close notes from them.
Little Richard was from Macon, Georgia, the home of the Allman Brothers as well, and birthplace of my own father. I was born down the road in Atlanta, and my mother was born over near Savannah in Brunswick. She and my Dad grew up in Albany, Georgia. But Little Richard heard and saw Esquerita, who was from South Carolina, where I’m from, and took his stylings from him. Small world. James Brown was from SC as well. And Don’ forget Jerry Lee Lewis.
And one of the biggest influences in Jerry Garcia’s playing was Chuck Berry. He played Johnny B. Goode at the ending of many shows, often as an encore, and one that he would shred in playing his guitar. It was a crescendo to make the night of music memorable and a song Jerry knew well.
Jerry went on to direct the Grateful Dead Movie, which was made available for free on YouTube. I uploaded there myself and it’s still there, amazingly, but I think YouTube made it private, to ensure I wasn’t making money from ads or anything from it. In any case, here it is: