Rock and roll lost a founding father this year with the passing of Richard Penniman, a.k.a. Little Richard. Now, the outrageous, charismatic, and ahead-of-his-time piano-pounder is being celebrated by Omnivore Recordings with the reissue of his first two Reprise albums originally released in 1970 and 1971. Both titles are due in expanded editions on September 18.
The 1960s saw the peripatetic Richard moving from label to label (and genre to genre) including Mercury, Atlantic, Specialty, Vee Jay, Modern, Okeh, and Brunswick. But at Reprise, his “comeback” found full flower. 1970’s The Rill Thing transported the superstar to Rick Hall’s FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Joined by an eclectic group of musicians including his own band members and Muscle Shoals’ finest session vets, he cut a blistering set of southern soul rockers. He was rewarded with his biggest hit in over a decade when “Freedom Blues” reached the top 30 of the Billboard Pop chart. “Greenwood, Mississippi” cracked the Hot 100 at No. 85 and fared even better at No. 56 on the Cash Box R&B survey. But those were far from the only highlights. The title track was an epic, 10+-minute jam unlike anything else in the Little Richard discography; he also brought his barnstorming sensibility to new interpretations of classic songs such as The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” and Irving Mills and Cliff Friend’s “Lovesick Blues,” most famous in Hank Williams’ rendition. Omnivore’s expanded edition adds four bonuses: Richard’s non-LP Reprise re-recording of his oft-covered 1959 single “Shake a Hand (If You Can),” the single edit of “I Saw Her Standing There,” and two promotional radio spots.
Little Richard’s next Reprise LP was perhaps the most aptly titled of his long career: The King of Rock and Roll. Always eager to change up his sound, Richard teamed with prolific producer-arranger H.B. Barnum, whose credits are too numerous to mention. (Highlights include The Supremes, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and currently, Second Disc Records’ own Blinky!) Barnum’s charts inspired some of Richard’s most impassioned performances on material popularized by Three Dog Night (Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Born on the Bayou”), The Temptations (“The Way You Do The Things You Do”), Martha and the Vandellas (“Dancing in the Street”), The Rolling Stones (“Brown Sugar”), and once again, Hank Williams (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”). Barnum and Bradford Craig penned the triumphant title track for their star. Although it didn’t yield any hits, The King of Rock and Roll remains an electrifying high point for Little Richard. Omnivore has added six bonus tracks including outtakes and an alternate of Richard’s own composition “In the Name.”
While the material on these discs was previously released on CD in the long out-of-print (and quite pricey) Rhino Handmade collection titled King of Rock and Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings, Omnivore has plenty of incentives for an upgrade including a fresh remastering and deluxe booklets including new liner notes by Bill Dahl as well as photos and period memorabilia.
Look for both reissues from the one and only Little Richard at the links below! They’re out September 18 from Omnivore Recordings.
- Freedom Blues
- Greenwood, Mississippi
- Two-Time Loser
- Dew Drop Inn
- Somebody Saw You
- Spreadin’ Natta, What’s the Matter?
- The Rill Thing
- Lovesick Blues
- I Saw Her Standing There
- Shake a Hand (If You Can)
- Radio Spot A
- Radio Spot B
- I Saw Her Standing There (Single Edit)
Track 10 released on Reprise single 1005, 1971
Tracks 11-12 released as Reprise promo single 416, 1970
Track 13 released on Reprise single 942, 1970
- King of Rock and Roll
- Joy to the World
- Brown Sugar
- In the Name
- Dancing in the Street
- Midnight Special
- The Way You Do the Things You Do
- Green Power
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
- Settin’ the Woods On Fire
- Born On the Bayou
- In the Name (Version 2)
- Why Don’t You Love Me
- Still Miss Liza Jane
- Open Up the Red Sea
- Settin’ the Woods on Fire
Tracks 12-17 released on King of Rock and Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings, Rhino Handmade RHM2-7888, 2004
Track 18 released on Reprise single 1043, 1971