Neil Young optimistically sang “Rock and Roll Will Never Die” back in 1978. He was echoing and amplifying the words sung by Danny and the Juniors from two decades earlier, “Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay/ It will never die”. Forty-two years after Young’s proclamation and sixty-eight years after David White and his group’s prophecy I think I can safely say that, for now, rock and roll is moribund if not totally dead.
I have only written one article in this blog since late last year. It had started to feel like a futile endeavor. I was tired of writing one long obituary. We have lost so many of the architects and originators of rock and roll; There are few left. The list is long but I should mention Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, all who passed in recent years. Of course, previous greats who are no longer with us are Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Ritchie Valens. And now, Little Richard is gone.
Little Richard Penniman had an incredible voice. He arguably had a better voice than the other greats I mentioned. It had the timbre of a saxophone and he could string out syllables indefinitely with his melisma. This was copied ingeniously by Paul McCartney, but, even Paul could only do this sparingly. Richard could do it endlessly.
The Beatles toured with him and ‘borrowed’ his signature “Woooo”. Jimi Hendrix played guitar with him and also was influenced by his style as was Prince much later. James Brown got his start fulfilling gigs that Richard had booked but couldn’t appear at due to his leaving for the west coast to record. You can hear and see the influence on the Godfateher of Soul.
Richard was also a hit songwriter. Too many people are under the impression that Singer – Songwriters emerged from nowhere sometime in the 1970’s. Little Richard’s songs have been covered by too many to recount here, but some I remember are, Johnny Winter, Frank Zappa, Fleetwood Mac, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Elvis himself. Songs you need to hear before you die include, Long Tall Sally, Lucille, Rip It Up, Tutti Frutti, Jenny Jenny, Slippin’ and Sliddin’, The Girl Can’t Help It, Keep A-Knockin’, Good Golly Miss Molly, She’s Got It, Reddy Teddy, Miss Ann and Directly From My Heart To You.
I am not trying to condemn Gen X or millenials. I am also not enamored with much popular music from the late 1800’s. But, I don’t know of any music that currently is as exciting, fresh and revolutionary as the original rock and roll. I sincerely hope that “Rock and Roll will never die”.