Little Richard – The Rill Thing and King of Rock & Roll
Some may argue how could Little Richard be Americana or a roots artist? It’s just pure early rock & roll. But that’s the point. Pure rock & roll, like blues, jazz & country is American roots music. Especially if performed by a founding father.
These 2 basically forgotten LPs by the 35-year old Mr. Penniman on Reprise Records (Frank Sinatra’s label) was not a slipshod effort despite some critical press in Stereo Review in Nov. 1970.
Rereleased with bonus tracks & new liner notes this will interest completists. Expanded CDs of The Rill Thing (Produced Aug 1970 by Little Richard with FAME studio legend Rick Hall – Muscle Shoals, AL) & King of Rock & Roll – Produced Oct 1971 by H.B. Barnum (drops Sept 18 – Omnivore).
When initially released Creedence Clearwater Revival had been riding high in a Little Richard-type showcase. Critics said that though these were marketed as a “comeback” (something Elvis Presley did as well but with more success) the general consensus was that songs on The Rill Thing sounded dated, straight out of 1955.
Some toyed with innovation (The 10-minute jazzy jam instrumental “The Rill Thing,” is a souffle that didn’t rise despite fine solos & Little Richard on electric piano). No list of musicians? None. Musician credits were sorely absent from the original LPs. Blame Reprise.
I will admit — today this would be better appreciated than in 1970.
Little Richard’s vocals are in fine form. “Freedom Blues,” is a scorcher with acoustic guitar, steady beat, snaking funky guitar leads, & a basic R&R sax solo. Maybe too many na na na’s. Was this what we were listening to in 1970? No.
Little Richard maintained a cool acrobatic vocal style. “Greenwood, Mississippi” – a good performance hovered in the lower top 100 & Travis Wammack’s aggressive twangy guitar-dominated. “Two-Time Loser,” — great groove with a hot harmonica & wonderful vocal despite its dated sound. Even for 1970.
In the insert, some musicians’ names surface Freeman Brown (drums) & Jesse Boyce (bass). A great piano burner “Dew Drop Inn,” has sax & Richard being Little Richard. Nothing more. It’s not “Long Tall Sally,” or “Good Golly Miss Molly,” but it sizzles.
“Somebody Saw You,” has an excellent dynamic sax solo with terrific drums. Penniman tries his hand at a Hank Williams’ classic – “Lovesick Blues.” Hank doesn’t have to worry. He returns to Hank for a fine “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” & makes me wonder why he didn’t do slower, warmer songs.
On the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” Richard Penniman is in his element with fiery exciting horns. As an influence, there’s no doubt Little Richard was substantial. With the song “The King of Rock & Roll?” Not exactly. The tune was a little condescending toward others, but no one mentioned worried. That was the personality we all knew. A cool ensemble number it sounded like a Creedence Clearwater melody lift.
Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World,” with its Little Richard intro — a mess. Richard should’ve covered Hoyt’s “The Pusher,” seriously & he would’ve gotten attention. The Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” — a good attempt but Richard fills it with vocal over-indulgence in an embellished arrangement. Some songs that are great are just not suited to certain vocal styles.
“Dancin’ in the Streets,” is another flat mess. What was he thinking? Does he believe he’s only effective if he screams & over-emotes? Even James Brown took it down a notch.
Richard called this LP The King of Rock & Roll but it’s all old country & soul-oriented songs.
The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” is a well-arranged cover & showcases Richards’ potential as a soul singer. It was there. “Green Power,” has Richard in a more Al Green tone with Ray Charles intonations. The song cooks except for the ‘sock it to me’s’ – that dates it. Eliminate the big talk intro & Little Richard would’ve had a great swampy cover of CCR’s “Born on the Bayou.”
Bonus cut “Still Miss Liza Jane,” & the instrumental “Open Up the Red Sea,” are fortified late-career Little Richard.
Don’t ever under-estimate anything by LR. He never uses additives or substitutes…it’s all pure ingredients.
Available at https://omnivorerecordings.com/shop/the-rill-thing/