Little Richard (and The Upsetters) in concert – circa 1965 – Bellaphon Records, Germany – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
This has been a terrible day for Music – beyond it being a terrible year, with an obscene amount of loss to deal with – having icons leave is almost too much.
Little Richard leaving us at age 87, after a good long run, is probably okay, but that doesn’t mean the loss and the feeling that the music world has suffered an irreplaceable blow has made it any easier. He made his mark and it’s indelible – those of us who grew up listening to him, sticking up for him when our parents made the inevitably disparaging remark (bad enough they didn’t like Elvis Presley, but Little Richard was just too much), scraping together our nickels and dimes and wearing out every record of his we bought – he’s never going to be forgotten. He hit every resonant tone in our youthful psyches – he was part of our lives and he spoke to us in ways we always wanted Music to speak to us; in loud, no uncertain terms – he absolutely freed everything up.
So I was trying to find some adequate representation of Little Richard as the live artist; the take-no-prisoners chaos that is the credo of early Rock n’ Roll and the personification of Richard Penniman’s stage persona. Concert recordings from the 1950s are almost impossible to run across, mostly because of the bulky equipment needed to adequately make a live recording (there were no “sounboard mixes” to speak off, simply because the technology just wasn’t there yet) and the fact that, during the early years, making a live album didn’t seem anything a record label would be interested in doing. Most live performances were relegated to TV or radio appearances and that was pretty much it and even those were more often than not lip-synched.
This concert (or this patched together series of concerts) appears to be from 1965 – it falls roughly into Richard’s Vee-Jay period and most likely wasn’t issued at the time because of Vee-Jay’s financial mess (they went bankrupt). So it’s hard to say where or for whom this concert album was intended or if it was ever intended for release at all. Also not known is who owned the original masters and who did the deal with Germany?
But the reason I am posting this today is because I think most people (younger than say, 40) have probably never heard Little Richard in a live setting. Richard frequently toured during the 1960s and so most everyone of a certain age has seen him in concert, most likely more than once. No. This is for the person who isn’t all that familiar with Little Richard, has probably heard a few of his hits, but otherwise draws blanks as to who this guy was and what he was like in concert.
This is a far-from-perfect representation of Little Richard the artist and concert entertainer – but it does give some idea of who we saw during the course of growing up and who had a wide-ranging influence on our musical paths.
No question Little Richard was a pioneer – he was more than an influence, he was an inspiration for countless artists over the years. If anyone was responsible or smashing glass ceilings and challenging perceptions, it was Little Richard.
To say he was a key factor in the careers of everyone from Bob Dylan to The Beatles is to state the obvious. To say that his presence on this planet was absolutely necessary goes without saying. To say he is missed and mourned today like the loss of a dear friend or teacher is a given.
The music may not have died today, but it certainly fell into a coma. It may come back around, but it won’t be the same.
Enjoy the show.