The Rill Thing & King of Rock & Roll
The King Who Never Really Abdicated.
This must be the first time I have reviewed any album(s) by an artist who I actually saw about 60 years ago, and who made the first 78 that I can recall purchasing and who was genuinely one of the music ‘all time greats’.
That single was ‘Tutti Frutti’ and that man was ……… Little Richard.
If I am asked which artist had the immediate impact on me he is one of the first to come to mind – everything about him was dynamic and different from his stage outfits to his actual performances on the piano.
Omnivore Recordings have re-issued (with bonus tracks) 2 of his comeback albums from 1970 and 71 THE RILL THING and KING OF ROCK & ROLL; in very commendably packaged CD sets and for readers of certain age these will be ‘must haves’; and for the younger readers these are a chance to hear someone who was a legend.
King of Rock and Roll saw Little Richard allowing H B Barnum to handle production and the result is a heady mix of Motown, Rolling Stones and CCR covers plus a couple of Little Richard originals, but from the very first minute you hear those first words you just know that this can only be Little Richard and his take on the likes of ‘Dancing In The Street’ and ‘Brown Sugar’ bear comparison to the original artists.
However, do not fall into the trap of assuming this is just another outright R&R album, as he demonstrates on ‘Midnight Special’ where his voice moves from that of a gospel singer to hammering out a superb track in a way that is totally unique.
In the same manner, he attacks ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ as well as any other offering I’ve ever heard of this tremendous song.
To me, the outstanding track is The Three Dog Night ‘Joy To The World’ as he details
‘all of the folk here tonight to hear the man who started it all’
and he never spoke a truer word – the Georgia Peach was the star and he just kills this song.
I can honestly say Little Richard sounds every bit as good and dynamic as he did in the mid 50’s when he was hardly ‘allowed’ on TV because of his unpredictability.
The original album was 11 tracks but the new version has the addition of 6 further tracks which include two instrumentals.
Moving onto ‘The Rill Thing,’ originally released in 1970, we see a different side to the man – the voice is still great but the emphasis is more towards a Blues sound, backed by a rhythm section set out together by Rick Hall at his Muscle Shoals studios and with Bumps Blackwell, now Richard’s manager, he gives a tremendous performance.
The opener ‘Freedom Blues’ is a song of hope, that freedom should replace oppression with a killer groove from Travis Wammack we are up and running.
‘Greenwood Mississippi’ was apparently intended for John Fogerty but LR took it into the Top 100 Singles Chart, but the reverse side of that single was one known to everyone as a Beatles standard, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and he gives this a completely new treatment, one that was really special to him.
Little Richard’s vocal range gets the full treatment on ‘Somebody Saw You,’ moving from falsetto to a low whisper and back again; but it’s the backing that makes this a highlight track – nobody played sax like they did back then or so it seems to me!
New listeners to LR would probably not have previously appreciated his depth of music leanings and ‘Spreading Natta What’s The Matter,’ has a hint of Good Golly Miss Molly and Lucille, but LR keeps it moving along 20 years after those unforgettable tracks.
There was a feeling that once his highly succesful ’50s era had come and gone that LR would kind of fade away, but we are dealing here with an artist who once shone brilliantly and then adapted himself to set up a second career in the seventies; and a successful one at that.
He was now welcomed onto TV shows and the world saw this top class Soul and Blues artist – a type of Joseph but of many genres rather than many colours.
The 9 original tracks here have a further 4 bonus tracks added, and backed up with another smashing presentation set, this is a view to another side of Little Richard.
Two excellent albums for fans and (hopefully) newcomers alike, but to me I will still remember him as the small guy who walked onto a stage with only a piano on it, and who then launched himself into a set completely unlike anything I or anyone present that night had seen the likes of before or even; possibly since.
If only I still had that 78 it would be worth a blooming fortune.
Loved him then and I still do today.
I hope many more will want to join the Little Richard Club on the back of these two releases.
Review courtesy Bill Redhead (The Original Rocking Magpie!)
Released 18th September 2020
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