Review: Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard (Specialty, 1957/2012)
Fifty-five years after its initial release, Little Richard’s debut LP resounds with the primordial fire of rhythm ‘n’ blues’ jump to rock ‘n’ roll. Richard took everything up a notch – the tempos, the innuendo and above all, the volume and energy of his vocals. Recorded primarily at New Orleans’ legendary J&M studios, Richard was backed by the cream of the Crescent City’s musicians, including Lee Allen, Alvin Taylor, Frank Fields and Earl Palmer. Though the same crew could be heard on other artists’ records, with Richard in the lead, they heated up their New Orleans boogie-woogie as on few other sessions. There’s a level of fervor, abandon and outrageousness in both Richard’s singing and piano playing that none of his fellow founders could match.
The original dozen tracks clock in at just over 28 minutes, but it’s 28 minutes of killer rock ‘n’ roll, with zero filler. The first hits were “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip it Up,” “Ready Teddy” and “She’s Got It.” Three more – “Jenny Jenny,” “Miss Ann” and “True Fine Mama” – charted in ’57 and ’58. That leaves only three that didn’t chart – “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave,” “Baby” and “Oh Why?” – each of which has the same incendiary spark of the better known singles. The CD reissue adds three audio tracks and two videos. The audio includes Richard’s two original audition tracks and a previously unreleased interview with Specialty Records founder Art Rupe. Rupe talks about the audition tape, Richard’s persistence at getting signed, the New Orleans sessions, the impact of “Tutti Frutti” and the on-again, off-again career it created.
The audition tracks – Little Richard originals “Baby” and “All Night Long” – are surprising for their lack of indication of what was to come. Richard sang straight blues, with the band subdued behind him, not even hinting at the rock ‘n’ roll mayhem he’d bring to his Specialty sessions. Rupe, looking for a B.B. King-type singer, heard something he liked, but had no idea what he was really getting. The videos are color screen tests (for The Girl Can’t Help It) of Richard lip-synching “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” highlighted visually by his swanky suits, awesome pompadour, pencil-thin moustache and his uninhibited dancing in the instrumental breaks. The set’s 24-page booklet includes photos, the album’s original liner notes, new notes by Lee Hildebrand, and a poster of the album cover. Rock ‘n’ roll stars simply didn’t shine any brighter than this.