AS PART OF THE 14-page Lou Reed tribute in this month’s MOJO magazine we’ve reproduced extracts from a 2000 interview the late singer gave to Phil Sutcliffe, where he held forth on the soulful, primal force of the sound made by Little Richard and his saxophonist Lee Allen on the 1956 Specialty 7-inch, Long Tall Sally.
“I don’t know why and I don’t care,” says Lou. “But I wanted to go to wherever that sound was and make a life.”
With a lot of pre-Beatles music it’s hard to comprehend or convey the shock experienced by those first-time listeners exposed to the elemental force of early rock’n’roll. Time has turned it quaint and small.
But sometimes a clip can help.
It’s Little Richard was recorded at Manchester’s Granada TV studios in November 1963 and broadcast in the UK in January 1964. Richard had recently returned to the world of secular rock’n’roll after three years as a devout gospel singer, and in that context It’s Little Richard is a remarkable document; the taped testimony of a wild conversion back to the dark side of rock’n’roll.
It begins in Squaresville, with Richard buttoned up in a too-tight single-breasted Rat Pack suit, backed by the plodding clods of the Sounds Incorporated horns on a hand-clapping square-dance versh of another 1956 Specialty side, Rip it Up.
Everyone in the audience is smiling, fresh-faced and a little nerdy, looking more like some junior temperance wing of the Greater Manchester Conservative Party than, say, the mob who turned up for the Jerry Lee Lewis recording at the same studio eight months earlier.
As the show progresses, however, a change begins to take place. Following an interlude performance from the Shirelles, Part Two finds Richard bent over a grand piano with a wild glint in his eye performing a version of Lucille that suddenly shifts in mood and pace from curious mid-tempo ballad to foot-on-the-keys dexedrine stomper.
Something is unleashed. For Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On the jacket is off, the tie is loosened and the shirt is untucked: this 31-year-old crooner in the mohair suit is now a man possessed, pogoing and screaming and drenched in sweat, consumed by the teenage demon of his former self.
Whatever he has is infectious. Somehow Sounds Incorporated find their sleaze groove, playing down and dirty like The Fabulous Wailers or Big Jay McNeely while the kids in the audience appear literally transformed, the nice bespectacled nerds in close-up now wild-eyed demented, joined by a bad element who just weren’t there at the start of the show: kohl-eyed bottle-blondes and sneering boys with motorcycle grease in their hair.
“It’s not an ephemeral thing. I can listen to Little Richard forever.”
The final number, a frayed and maniacal version of Tutti Frutti, is a thing to behold: rock’n’roll reduced a relentless elemental chant of delirium and release. There are teenagers in the audience still sat on folding chairs in smart suits and party frocks, but look at them. Look at their mad hand-clapping, their turbulent head-shaking. Look at the young man in the black polo-neck who appears to be leaping furiously across the studio floor.
It is chaos. It is the triumph of rock’n’roll five years after the premature announcement of its death. It is terrifying. It is glorious. It is eternal.
“Do you still like rock’n’roll,” Phil Sutcliffe asks Lou Reed in the same feature.
“Are you kidding?” says Lou Reed. “It’s not an ephemeral thing. I can listen to Little Richard forever.”