Little Richard emerged in the first wave of rock and roll in the 1950s, with hits like ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. He and his contemporaries lost steam by the late 1950s; Elvis joined the army, Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash, while Jerry Lee Lewis’s career faltered after he married his 13-year-old cousin. Little Richard quit the music business, studied theology, and formed the Little Richard Evangelistic Team in 1958.
In the early 1960s, Little Richard released some gospel singles, and eventually toured and recorded more secular music. By the mid-1960s he had been pushed to the side of the mainstream by emerging new artists but was still touring with a band that included organist Billy Preston and a young Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was only in Little Richard’s band for a few months – his stage antics, like playing the guitar with his teeth, hogged the limelight and he was fired – but he stuck around long enough to record the single ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me’.
The non-album single, with Part 1 on the a-side and Part 2 on the b-side, shows a different side to Little Richard. It’s a slow-burning soul number, written by Don Covay, that showcases Little Richard’s vocal chops. While Little Richard’s best known for his upbeat rock and roll songs, he could have made it as a soul balladeer, like Otis Redding or Sam Cooke. It’s fun to hear Hendrix and Preston before they made it big, and the soul ballad context is also unusual for Hendrix.
‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me’ missed the pop charts, but deservedly reached #12 on the R&B charts.
Speaking of little Richards, there was an amazing news story in New Zealand this week. A community volunteer in the Tararua district cut a phallus from a Maori carving, recently installed on the Manawatu Gorge Reserve walking track. He initially used a handsaw but had to return with a mini-chainsaw to complete the job.
He clearly viewed himself as a moral watchdog, but his action was condemned by Maori – removing the phallus is a “symbolic neutering” of the Iwi.
The incident smacks of 19th-century cultural imperialism, but there’s comedic gold given that the incident took place near the town of Woodville, where the perpetrator owns an organ museum.
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