The Rill Thing, King of Rock and Roll and the Bumps Blackwell-produced The Second Coming were evidence of a still-vital artist who combined tradition with newer sounds.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Little Richard is well known as one of rock ’n’ roll’s great originators. His run of hits on Specialty Records between 1955-58 brought legendary hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip It Up,” “Lucille,” “Jenny Jenny,” “Keep A-Knockin’,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” At the end of the run, he opted for the sacred over the profane, emerging as a minister and recording gospel music on Atlantic, Mercury and Vee-Jay. Little Richard’s music was introduced to a new generation by The Beatles’ cover of “Long Tall Sally.” And in 1970, as ‘50s rock ’n’ roll enjoyed a revival of interest, Richard was signed to Warner Bros.’s Reprise label by Mo Ostin.
His three-album stint at Reprise created three excellent if commercially unaccepted albums: 1970’s The Rill Thing (from which Richard turned out a mid-chart hit with “Freedom Blues”), King of Rock and Roll in 1971 and The Second Coming in 1972. The albums demonstrate his incredible range, from ‘50s style rock ’n’ roll to soul, funk and rock music of the day. The three long-players will be released on CD in their original form for the first time by Collectors’ Choice Music on June 23, 2009. Music historian Gene Sculatti, author of the Catalog of Cool, contributed liner notes.
As Little Richard said at the time of The Rill Thing’s release: “I believe (the older people) will accept me for my sincerity and my contribution to rock ’n’ roll. But the young people are going to buy it because they want to hear the truth.”
-- The Rill Thing: Little Richard recorded with the Muscle Shoals rhythm and horn sections on his 1970 Reprise debut, which Rolling Stone called “a major artistic triumph,” noting that he “personally arranged, produced and recorded the album with five recently penned originals. The record faithfully exhibits Richard’s maturity as an artist.” The first single, “Freedom Blues,” notched #47 on the pop charts, #28 R&B. Its two additional singles were the Travis Wammack-written “Greenwood, Mississippi,” which stalled at #85, and a non- charting yet inspired version of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” The album also included cover of Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” done up in a New Orleans rhythm and “Dew Drop Inn,” which revisits more conventional Little Richard terrain: the patent scream, rollicking piano and booting sax solo of his earliest hits.
-- The King of Rock and Roll: The trade ad for this 1971 volume read: “Only Little Richard could top Little Richard.” Joel Selvin, reviewing in Rolling Stone, called the second Reprise set “a most significant chapter in the living legend of the greatest rock ’n’ roll singer ever . . .packed with the sort of stuff good rock is made of.” Richard paired with producer H.B. Barnum (Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, O.C. Smith) here, finding him working closer to the upbeat R&B style of “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly,” but performing repertoire culled from the Top 40 of the ‘60s and early ‘70s: “Brown Sugar,” “Joy to the World,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Born on the Bayou,” and takes on Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Leadbelly’s “The Midnight Special” and Fred Rose’s “Settin’ the Woods on Fire.”
-- The Second Coming: Little Richard’s third and final Reprise album (although portions of a fourth were recorded and shelved) finds him reunited with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, producer of his Specialty Records hits in the ‘50s. Four tunes (“Mockingbird Sally,” “Rockin’ Rockin’ Boogie,” “Thomasine” and “Saints”) feature New Orleans musicians who played on Richard’s (and many of Fats Domino’s) original hits: drummer Earl Palmer and sax man Lee Allen. Commenting on “Saints,” an update of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Blackwell, in his original album notes, explained that their aim was to mix “New Orleans jazz with the horns and guitars creating a big brass sound, with the wah-wah blending in what I call the Isaac Hayes and Bar-Kays rhythmic Shaft attitude.” The album also contains a Little Richard/Sneaky Pete Kleinow co-write, “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way You Do It,” with Kleinow’s pedal steel and Richard on electric piano reminiscent to The Beatles’ “Get Back.”