A whop bop-a-lu la, a whop bam boo: Little Richard takes his final bow

Roundtable May 9, 2020

J: The music world lost a legend today with the passing of Little Richard. He was without a doubt one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (one of the Original 10). His music influenced generations of musicians that came after and is still deeply ingrained in pop culture; babies emerge from the womb knowing “a-whop bop a lula, a bop bam boom.” Thanks for the memories, Richard.

Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87 (Rolling Stone Magazine)

T: He was maybe the biggest influence on the Beatles and Stones, plus Fogerty … between those three acts, that means pretty much every musician since about 1965 learned how to play guitar based on Little Richard’s musical sense.

J: In about 1980 where the interviewer asked him what he thought of super-flamboyant acts like Elton John and Queen. He paused for a second, and then said “Man, I was ahead of my time.”

T: There aren’t that many of his type, really … a pioneer in the real sense, a guy who did things first.

J: All those flamboyant ’70s acts should have said a silent thanks to Little Richard every time they cashed a check. He showed them the way.

T: It’s funny; you focus on the show while mostly focus on the music; I guess that’s because I’m a musician and you are—

J: Flamboyant?

T: I wasn’t going to—

J: I haven’t worn a feather boa since band camp; get off me, man. (Editor’s note: Terry made this up; John doesn’t own a feather boa. As far as Terry knows, anyway. Ask him.)

J: And I hadn’t even heard of band camp before American Pie. 

T: I’d heard of American Pie. 

J: The song?

T: The food.

J: Ffs, the food?

T: And I think it’s a bird. 

J: Ffs, Little Richard? 

T: Oh right, sorry … to me, the diminutive Dick was—

J: Knock it off. A man died here.

T: Sorry; to me, the diminutive Richard was a musical pioneer; the mascara was a prop. To you, I suppose it’s the other way around; the glitzy show was the pioneering thing, the music just your basic uptempo blues.

J: Yeah, there were other artists doing the uptempo blues thing, guys like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, but they weren’t wearing mascara and purple suits. Little Richard stood apart from them not just by virtue of his music, but his showmanship too. He was unique in that he influenced generations of musicians who followed him both musically and stage-stylistically, if that’s a word.

T: As a musical pioneer, the first thing I think of is how he used his voice … Lennon and McCartney, early in the Beatles days, used that same sort-of banshee scream, while John Fogerty (and others) later used it as a signature.

And that power-drive beat he used, straightening out the beat more than his contemporaries, became the template for the rock n roll beat.

Before Little RIchard, the straightened-out beat was mostly used in some types of Latin music. Blues artists tended to swing the beat, shuffling it. Chuck Berry is usually given credit for the straight driving rock n roll beat, but LIttle Richard was doing it first; in Chuck Berry’s early recordings his band was still shuffling. sometimes while Berry himself was mimicking Little Richard’s straightened out style. Here’s an example:

It’s kind of weird, listening to the songs from the transition period; the drummer would be cutting out a straight beat with the guitar, bass and piano shuffling along, and then 30 seconds later the drummer would be shuffling and the rest of the band would be playing it straight.

A lot of songs, a lot of bands, were like that. But Little Richard was rocking it straight in 1956 and I don’t know of anyone doing it that early, with that much conviction. And his banshee vocals, that reckless abandon with which he hit the high notes, was what inspired the Beatles, Fogerty and other bands later.

J: He wrote the template for a lot of rock n roll’s greatest songs. 

T: For sure; here’s my favorite Little Richard song, with two guys who covered it:

J: Still cooler than you, and he was in his seventies.

T: We can only dream of being as cool as Little Richard.

G:A great favorite for millions of us, of course, not just me. Just to pick out one little thing … I really dug his use of the horn players, the sax players as on Lucille.

T: Don’t ya’all do your daddy’s will, now.

J: Is that racist?

T: Probably to somebody. Fuck ’em. Rock on, Little Richard!

 J: A-whop bop a lula, a bop bam boom.

T: And here we go!




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