On Dec. 5, 1932, Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon, Ga. And every Zappadan, I wish that man a happy, happy birthday and many, many more.
I know. Little Richard’s birthday falling on the second day of Zappadan is merely a happy accident. Some might stretch that out a bit and call it a Zappadan miracle. Because, as it happens, Little Richard wrote and originally performed a little song called “Directly From My Heart to You.”
Now, I think the best recording of Little Richard performing this tune was the first. It’s slower, bluesier, dragging that limp left foot so deftly as it does. And Richard’s voice here is especially powerful:
There are, of course, many covers of this wonderful song, including a new one for me this year, as performed by Holly Golightly:
But, of course, the reason I obsess over this song and this particular day is due to the sublime performance of it by Zappa and a fiddler known as “Sugarcane.”
So one of the great things that happened in 2017 was that Howard Stern had a gentleman in the studio named Robert Plant.
I often listen to Howard on Sirius XM 100/101 as white noise. Gary’s phlegm. Ronnie’s weird obscenities. Cocktober. Robert Plant’s appearance, however, was one that demands strictly attentive listening.
And, did he offer a lovely fact.
Let me explain. Some time ago, I came across a book, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll by David Kirby. I have found the introduction in this book to be quite illuminating, in that it lays out the truth: That Little Richard’s work was vital and paradigm-shifting like no other person’s contribution to the genre known and loved as rock and roll.
Little Richard was the one who explained to every subsequent performer how the music would be performed. How it would be sung. What energy you should bring to it. Before him, they crooned. Afterwards, they wanted to make their voices sound like Richard. He was the first new bud in a huge tree. Without Little Richard, Jim Morrison does not scream like that in “Love Me Two Times.” John Lennon does not sing “Yer Blues.” Jimi Hendrix’s GUITAR would not have existed without Richard, something that Hendrix acknowledged. Lou Reed cribbed lyrics from Little Richard and gushed as a rabid fan. As I wrote in 2013: “The ones we revere most routinely, the ones most frequently rotated in our playlists, they revere Little Richard.”
That’s true. Testify. Little Richard is, truly, the originator. And Mr. Plant has given us yet another example.
Listen to the first six seconds of this:
and then listen to the first six seconds of this
Indeed. John Bonham’s apparent earworm of that day? “Keep a Knockin'” by Macon’s best. The revelations of the man’s greatness and evidences of his importance as a rock innovator continue.
Before him, rock and roll singers crooned.
After him, they howled.
Little Richard is the man who showed the rest of all rock vocalists the way. And today, on this, his birthday, we thank him for it.
Little Richard, you are the originator. Happy birthday as always.
WE APPRECIATE YOU.