Little Richard: The Architect of Rock & Roll

by Chris Murray on May 13, 2020
Little Richard onstage at the Star Club in Hamburg by Siegfried Loch, 1963.

My own rock & roll DNA rests on two pillars, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. I was fortunate to be old enough to collect and play 45 rpm singles by Little Richard and Elvis in 1956 and beyond.  It was hypnotic to see Little Richard’s Specialty Records label, and Presley’s RCA label, spinning around and around on my 45 rpm turntable, while at the same time listening to this mesmerizing music coming out of the speaker. It was my baptism into rock & roll, and what a great one it was. They remain, to this day, my favorite musical artists.

Little Richard always had the best band, and it blew my mind. And he was the star of the show, as well as the bandleader. Big time! His music, singing, and performing were beyond good…they were the best. Nothing came close.

Little Richard backstage at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium by Jim Marshall, 1971.

I have exhibited images of Little Richard frequently at Govinda Gallery over the years. The previous image by Siegfried Loch in 1963 was part of our exhibition “Hamburg Days.” Thanks to my friend Ulf Krüger for introducing me to that photograph. The photo above by the legendary music photographer Jim Marshall was in the traveling museum exhibition, “Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock & Roll Photography,” co-organized and curated by Govinda Gallery. It is a remarkable image of Little Richard in 1971.

Little Richard was the first to challenge sexual stereotypes in rock & roll. David Bowie, Prince, The Rolling Stones, Boy George, Rod Stewart, Marilyn Manson, Queen, The New York Dolls, and so many other great musical artists of the rock genre owe a massive debt to Little Richard.

Little Richard by Barrie Wentzell, 1972.

I have always loved this photo of Little Richard at the piano looking into the lens of Canadian photographer Barrie Wentzell. He could bang on the piano like no one else! His gospel and soul roots in his vocals were like none other. With his voice, musical genius as a songwriter, style, and charisma, he surely is The Architect of Rock & Roll.

 I saw Little Richard and his band on January 21, 1972 at the Kennedy Center, around the time of this photo, and it was one of the greatest concerts of my lifetime. It was too exciting not to go to the front of the stage, which was not an easy thing to do at the Kennedy Center. What a great vibe.

Little Richard etching by Ronnie Wood, 1987.

In December of 1987, I hosted Ronnie Wood’s first exhibition in America. It was a grand time, and this etching by Ronnie was in that first exhibition. I still have it. Little Richard was also the DNA for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. No doubt.

It was a great pleasure for me to assist my friend Donovan in 2013 while he was recording his beautiful country-inspired album Shadows of Blue. Donovan’s first hit “Catch The Wind” was released in America on Hickory Records, a Nashville label. John Sebastian joined us and it was a great time.

One late afternoon I got on the elevator at the hotel we were staying in, across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. There was a gentleman in a wheelchair directly in front of me as I got on, facing the opposite direction. He was accompanied by three strong-looking men who eyed me as I got on the elevator, almost as if they were saying, “do you really need to get on this one.” The five of us filled the elevator. I heard the older gentlemen make some remarks as we were heading down. The voice was unmistakable…no other like it. I spoke out “Is that you Richard?” as I still could not see his face. His head slightly turned my way and he said, “Yes…of course it’s me!!” As we continued down I excitedly told him I worked with Donovan and we were here in the hotel while he was making an album. I then said, “Do you remember Donovan?” He replied, “Of course I remember Donovan!!” As if I was a fool for asking, because who would not know Donovan. I loved being gently chastised by my hero….it made my day. I went on to introduce him to Donovan in the hotel lobby later that evening. A great moment indeed. It turned out Richard was living in the hotel, and the others accompanying him were nephews and a son.

Though I had seen Little Richard in concert several times in my life, to have that moment in the elevator with him was very special. And to bring two musical masters together was a great pleasure. God Bless Little Richard.

These artworks are available through Govinda Gallery at www.govindagallery.com.

Category: Blog, The Back Room   
  • Comments

    • Christine Nassikas

      Love these photos!!! You were very lucky to see both Little Richard and Elvis. And what a special encounter
      in the elevator.

    • Jane Charlotte Jones

      Thanks for sharing these fantastic moments with those of us not lucky enough to have met the legend himself- I always thought of him as the first punk – He had the balls to push boundaries in a time that we can so easily forget was rigid in its conformity, not to mention the thick walls of racism- It’s as though his personality and talent were so great they exploded and neither the time or place could hold back this musical tsunami- loved reading this , he lives on in so many that came after – RIP

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