Little Richard Penniman is a preacher, a churchman, a product of the early southern honky tonks, a bluesman, a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and one of the originators of rock and roll. His songs “Jenny Jenny,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Lucille,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” “Rip It Up,” and “Tutti Fruitti” helped define the sound and parameters of early rock and roll, while his personality and stage persona helped change American culture.
Little Richard’s hits have been released dozens of times in many formats during the last half-century. The latest entry into the Little Richard sweepstakes is the comprehensive 3-CD box set titled Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee Jay Years. While all of his hits are included; this new release digs deeper into his catalogue for a number of rarely released performances. This is especially true of his material from his time with the Chicago Vee Jay label.
Even the most casual rock and roll fan is probably familiar with Little Richard’s early hits but they were only the tip of the iceberg during his time with the Specialty label. “Chicken Little Baby,” “Heebie Jeebies Love.” “She’s Got It,” “Miss Ann,” and “All Night Long” are representative of the quality of energetic music that he constantly produced during the second half of the 1950’s. There may be a clunker here and there but when taken together his time with the Specialty label produced the best catalogue of early rock and roll recordings this side of Elvis Presley.
The Vee Jay material was recorded during the mid-1960’s, when music was changing and veers more toward classic rhythm and blues. While not as strong as his early material, it has more of a funky feel. Included is his rhythm & blues hit “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me,” which features a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar.
The sound is good by today’s standards and the 24 page booklet with archival photos contains an essay by Bill Vera, which gives an over view of Little Richard’s career and influences.
Directly From The Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee Jay Years is not for the casual fan as it delves deep into his musical legacy. On the other hand, if you want an overview of the best of his career, this new box set moves to the forefront of his definitive releases.