Directly From My Heart: The Specialty And Vee Jay Years By Little Richard

September 19, 2015


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.

That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk by Larry Williams

June 20, 2013


Larry Williams (1935-80) is best remembered as a 1950s rock and roll pioneer. While he began his career as a pianist for such artists as Lloyd Price, Roy Brown, and Percy Mayfield, it was his two-year stretch with Specialty Records, 1957-58, that cemented his place in rock and roll history. Hits such as “Short Fat Fanny,” “Bony Moronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and “Slow Down” not only sold millions of records for himself but went on to be recorded by dozens of artists.The 1960s found him moving in a different direction. He produced two albums for Little Richard and recorded with Johnny “Guitar” Watson. He also acted in several films. During the 1970s he wrestled with drug addiction and an unhealthy lifestyle.

The year 1978 found him in the studio one last time. The result was That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk. Two years later he was dead from a bullet to the head. Whether suicide or murder (arguments have been made on either side), it brought to an end the career of Larry Williams. His last release has now been re-issued by Real Gone Music.

The album is one of the great lost releases of the late 1970s. It combines the joy and energy of Sly Stone and the style and rhythms of George Clinton. It demonstrated that Williams had moved far beyond his 1950s rock and roll roots and was exploring territory that was very modern and cutting edge at the time.

He created a full and layered sound. He provided the lead vocals and keyboards and was supported by second keyboardist Rudy Copeland, guitarist Tony Drake, bassist Gary Brown, drummer Joe Brown, and percussionist Antoine Dearborn. He also was supported by a full brass section and a backing vocal group.

“Bony Moronie (Disco Queen)” is re-imagined with a combination of synthesizers and electric piano in addition to some horn accents to create rhythms that are far different from the original. “ATS Express” and “One Thing or the Other” are built upon a deep bass beat, with the brass filling in the gaps. The album’s best track is “The Resurrection of Funk (Funk Comes Alive).” It has a depth to the rhythms as they come at you from several different directions. Very close in quality, and somewhat out of place, is the album’s only ballad, “How Can I Believe (What You Say).” It is a look back to the 1950s when sentimental slow songs were in style, yet it has a timelessness that holds up well.

Williams’ tragic death in 1980 at the age of 44 deprived the music world of an artist who was moving in a creative and exciting direction. That Larry Williams: The Resurrection Of Funk is a good look into the emerging funk scene of the late 1970s and is well worth a listen.

She’s Together 45 by Little Richard

May 12, 2012

Little Richard is considered one of the fathers of early rock ‘n’ roll. His catalogue of music for the Specialty label, 1956-1959, is one of the best in music history.

While he would continue to perform for decades and produce a number of fine performnces, his early work would be the peak of his commercial popularity.

He would record for a number of labels down through the years. “She’s Together” was typical of his post-Specialty label material. It may not have had the frenetic brilliance of his early material but it was competant rock ‘n’ roll. Just about all of the Little Richard material is worth seeking out.