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Richard Penniman: Rock Music's Real Father

Updated on August 12, 2010

Who is Richard Penniman? Who is Richard Starkey? Hey, what is in a name anyway? How about, Long Tall Sally, Tutti Frutti, Slippin and Sliding, Ready Teady?

Okay, Richard Penniman = Little Richard. Richard Starkey = Ringo Starr (the Beatles).

Now 77 yrs., Little Richard really is THE father of rock and roll in many ways. It began with the recording of Tutti Frutti (the original had seriously dirty words, which was cleaned up prior to its release) on Sept. 14, 1955. It is about a girl who knows what to do. Enough said.  Elvis was still a fledgling and when he did smash into rock history in 1956, he recorded four of Richard Penniman's songs. From 1955-58, he had15 hit records and appeared in three films.

Little Richard came from a family of 12 kids from the back woods of Macon, Ga. Lived off a dirt road, poor. The family sang at church which is where he got his vocal training and his first stage gig did not happen until he was a teenager. He is a high school dropout and worked for Dr. Hudson's Medicine Show belting out songs and melodies. He did this until the late 40s, when he started singing for various bands and it was with one of them he took on the name, Little Richard. Between 51-53, he recorded four nowhere records. His first hit, Tutti Frutti, he wrote one day while having lunch. After eating, he sat down to a piano and the song simply "came" with lots of X rated lyrics.

A couple of teenagers in Liverpool, UK, heard the song. Went ballistic. They were Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Elvis and Little Richard were their idols. If only they would be as famous as them??! (they thought). Both emulated them in vocals and song.

Seven years later, his fame, waned. Rock had changed and Elvis was the king, Richard was lesser. It was now 1962. Those Liverpool teenagers had grown older, yet, still going nowhere. Thus, their fledgling band, The Beatles, got to tour with their idol, Little Richard, and gave vocal lessons to Paul so he could emulate Little Richard's scream. Paul learned it well. It became one of his trademarks. However, the girls screamed for the guys with their hair on foreheads, not Little Richard.

Little Richard's influence on all of the 1964 British bands that invaded America is profound. The Beatles' LPs are littered with his songs. In their, I'm Down, released in 1965, Paul master's the Little Richard scream, as he does three years later in 1968 in Helter Skelter. The Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina, David Bowie, Prince, have all done his songs. Since the 70's, Little Richard has done mostly gospel music except when touring on the rock circuit.

His songs include: Long Tall Sally, Lucille, Sliping and Slidin, Ready Teddy, Rip it up, Tutti Frutti and more. The best covers of his songs have been done by The Beatles.


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