Friday, October 24, 2003

The pompadoured Little Richard in his earlier days.

See Little Richard’s
big show

The 67-year-old Little Richard says
this will be his last Hawaii concert

Rock icons

Featuring Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis
Where: Blaisdell Arena
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $45 and $55 at the box office and Ticketmaster outlets

Call: 591-2211

'Wop bop a loo bop, a lop bam boom! Goood Morning! This is Little Richard."

His cheery voice pours out of my home phone at 5 a.m..

"Is this a joke?"

"Oh good golly Miss Molly no! Little Richard never, ever jokes with journalists! It is me, ready, willing and able to do an interview as planned at 11 a.m. And it's 8 a.m. in L.A. right this very moment. So let's go!"

Uh, but Hawaii is three hours later, not earlier.

"Oh my and boo a-hoo, a-hoo, a-hoo, I am sooo sorry! You have an official apology from Little Richard, the architect of rock 'n' roll! May I call you back?"

No, no, that's OK -- we must be flexible and show some respect to one of the legends in the biz who'll be in concert tomorrow at the Blaisdell Arena, sandwiched in between fellow legends Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Little Richard's name brings back images of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and Ed Sullivan's television shows, with the flamboyantly dressed singer-piano player pounding the keys, leaping around, jumping atop the instrument and singing those gospel-inspired "woo hoos."

"I still do all that," the 67-year-old insists. "I keep all my shows fresh, just like when the original record was released and became hits.

"But I tell you, when I hear everyone in the audience screaming, man, that's electrifying to me. I still wear all those pretty clothes, too. Haven't changed a thing.

"My audiences get a full meal, not just a taste of my music," he said. "I don't do medleys, like a lot of artists saying 'Oh here's a little thing I did a long time ago,' no siree."

BORN RICHARD Wayne Penniman, he is one of the wildest and most influential of the '50s rock 'n' roll singers and songwriters. Richard burst on the music scene in 1955 with the classic "Tutti Frutti," followed by "Long Tall Sally," which topped the R&B chart and was the first of his three U.S. Top 10 hits.

One of 12 children, Richard learned gospel music in the Pentecostal churches of the Deep South. As a teenager, he left home to perform rhythm-and-blues in medicine shows and nightclubs, where he was given the name "Little," though he stands 5-foot-11.

Chuck Berry will be the final act.

Richard grew up poor during the Depression in Macon, Georgia and music was his escape.

"I started singing when I was oh so small," he said. "I sang anything: blues, country, gospel, vaudeville.

"I have been many things and I am many things," he says, laughing. "I am a creator, emancipator, inventor, the king, originator, a beauty, the Bronze Liberace, original Georgia Peach, a Human Atom Bomb, international treasure, living flame and a Southern child.

"Rhythm and blues had a baby and it's called rock 'n' roll and I am the architect of rock and roll -- did I already say that?"

Richard made good on his "Bronze Liberace" tag, wearing sequined vests, mascara, lipstick and a pompadour that shook with every wiggle.

"This is just the way I am," he says. "Can't be any other way."

When Richard decided to record, black artists were only played on black radio stations. The music was called "race music," he said.

"Fortunately my music ... crossed over, so my audience was white and black, because I had been performing in white clubs," he says.

White parents worried that black music would be a bad influence on their children.

"They called it 'jungle music,' said it would put a spell on their children," Richard says, laughing. "It was a spell, but one that made you have fun and enjoy life."

AS RICHARD'S success grew, he toured more and appeared in two classic 1956 films: "Don't Knock the Rock," and "The Girl Can't Help It."

But in spite of his exposure, it still wasn't first-class hotels and limousines for him.

"We couldn't stay in white hotels or eat at white restaurants," he says. "We had to stay in black boarding houses, and most were dives -- very bad places.

"So we slept in our cars or ate on the side of the road because, at restaurants, we had to go to the back door just to order a sandwich."

But Richard harbors little anger for those bigots of bygone days.

"I was sad and felt sorry for them," he said. "We knew that God made everybody. The races are God's bouquet.

"If we became angry, we'd be no better than the people who felt that way toward us."

At the height of his career, Richard quit music to enter theological college (he is a Seventh-Day Adventist). Between 1958 and 1962, Richard recorded only gospel music. But then he toured England and was a huge success. In 1963, he worked with some admirers of his music, namely the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

In the '60s, Richard packed clubs and concert halls by singing his old hits. In recording studios, he freely mixed '50s rock and '60s soul. Much of the 1970s was spent jumping from record label to record label, recording in supergroup-type projects and playing oldies shows.

In 1976, he rejoined the church and, for the next decade preached throughout America. He became one of the first artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Richard says retirement is not far off and, like the true salesman he is, claims that the Hawaii concert will be his last here.

"This is your last chance to see me perform in beautiful Hawaii," Richard says. "So do yourself a favor and come and see rock 'n' roll history alive and well.

"And one thing -- wop bop a loo bop, a lop bam boom!"

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