Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Little Richard

Still rifflin’ through the big box o’ records given to me by my sister’s boyfriend, who is also a DJ at a cool radio station.  This one was a bit of a head scratcher for me, until I put needle to vinyl.  The Rill Thing by Little Richard is from 1970, a time when many of the artists from the first rock and roll era had moved on to movies and live shows (Elvis, Chuck Berry) or just got plain psychedelic (Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters).

Little Richard had a bunch of seminal rock hits in the 1950s, then turned religious and became a preacher in the early 1960s.  But by the late 1960s he had gone back to performing in big live shows in the big “Rock and Roll Revival” craze of the era.  And he was also drinking and drugging pretty heavily – guess he’d lost Jesus at that point.

So by 1970 he signed with Warner Bros./Reprise after a three-year layoff from recording.  The resulting album, The Rill Thing, is just that – and it’s pretty good. It kicks off with the joyous “Freedom Blues,” a return to form (at least vocally) for Richard.  Presto- “Freedom Blues” cracked the Billboard Top 50 and became Richard’s first hit single in 13 years.   His scream going right into the sax solo was a refreshing reminder that the Georgia Peach was still a force to be reckoned with.

The psychedelic guitars kick in during “Greenwood, Mississippi,” which became the second single off the album.  “Dew Drop Inn” is another rocker of Little Richard’s old blueprint, and “Somebody Saw You” is one of the swamp rockers that serves as this album’s filler.  Attempting to reach the current audience, Richard wrote “The Rill Thing,” which was a 10-minute instrumental that kind of brings an otherwise fine album to a screeching halt.  It’s a horn-drenched kind of funk thing that wears out its welcome after about two minutes or so.

After that ill-advised title track, the album wobbles to a close with two covers: Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” and Paul McCartney’s “I Saw Her Standing There.”  Richard turns the former into a New Orleans-styled jaunt and blisters through the latter to at least end the album on a rockin’ note.  The Rill Thing is a return to form for an artist who’d been out of the spotlight (on record, at least) for a while.  The album failed to make a splash, and Richard cut a followup for Reprise that mirrored his traditional sound more closely – but it wasn’t nearly as good as The Rill Thing.

After a close call with death and the demise of some people close to him, Little Richard finally went back to the Lord for good in 1977.  He has maintained a pretty decent career in entertainment over the years while also fulfilling his heavenly obligations.  In recent months, he’s given a few interviews where he says he plans to retire soon.  After all, he’s 77 years old!

MP3: “Freedom Blues”

MP3: “Greenwood, Mississippi”

MP3: “Dew Drop Inn”

MP3: “Lovesick Blues”

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