Here in May 2020 we’ve had the news that Little Richard has just died. And in grieving him and commemorating his importance many have mentioned John Lennon’s “I couldn’t even speak” memory of the drama of first hearing him. Compiling my own ‘without whom’ list of his musical descendants brought me very quickly to Prince, of course. And even Bob Dylan made a rare social media appearance with this:
“I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.”Bob Dylan
So here’s my own little boy memory, from a juke box on Walton Vale.
My Nan lived near Walton Vale in Liverpool and my mother and I would come here after visiting her to get the bus back home to the suburbs, where we’d moved in the late 1950s. Sometimes while waiting for the bus we’d get to go to a Coffee Bar that had magically opened along here. They had a Juke Box, and I loved to press my face up against it while it played the records my mother would put on. Mostly by Cliff Richard, her favourite. Then this one time, pronouncing the just learned letters carefully I said to her:
“What does L-i-t-t-l-e R-i-c-h-a-r-d sound like?”
Fearing he might be a diminutive version of his near namesake Cliff, heaven was with me. She went with my choice and the sound when the needle hit the record nearly knocked my head off:
“A wop bop a loo bop a lop bop bop!”
I’d had no idea until that moment that a human being could do that. That music could be not just exciting, but wild on a scale that would normally get you sent off to bed without your tea for a week. It was my rock’n’roll moment. And it changed the rest of my life.
So that even today, walking along Walton Vale, if you passed a man with a camera singing ‘Tutti Frutti’ by Little Richard it was almost certainly me. Though I could only ever dream of sounding half this good: