Little Richard – The Rill Thing + The King Of Rock and Roll + The Second Coming [reissues]

January 01, 1970

(Collector’s Choice Music)

 

www.collectorschoicemusic.com

 

These three albums, released in the early 1970s, were designed
to update the sound and image of an artist who had a string of 14 Top Ten hits
during 1956 through 1957 at a rate of one about every six to eight weeks. But
by the time the first of these albums – The
Rill Thing
(1970) – had been released, Little Richard had already been
relegated to the oldies circuit as a performer and even though his songs were
beginning to be used in soundtracks and appearing on other artists’ albums, his
own brilliant electrifying recordings had pretty much disappeared from the radio
airwaves and jukeboxes to be found mostly only in the bargain bins of record
stores. The last of them – The Second
Coming
– was released in September of 1972, three months before his
fortieth birthday. Now that the idea of rock and roll belonging only to the
young – not that a forty year old should be considered old by any stretch – is
dying a well deserved death it seems ridiculous to think that such a great
artist would have been put out to pasture at that point in his life and career.
Of course any songwriter’s creative juices can start to flow thin after twenty
years of output; how many times can one write about losing/finding/betraying/being betrayed by one’s baby? Even
great rock and roll composers like Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan who deal in an
even wider variety of themes have had their slumps. But they and other senior
rockers like John Fogarty, Van Morrison or Bruce Springsteen – all in their
sixties – are still pretty formidable on stage and even still sell the odd disc
now and then.  

 

Richard Wayne Penniman, the Georgia Peach, the Originator,
the Innovator, the Architect of Rock and Roll is/was, as a performer at the
equal of all of the above and more and possibly, probably, the superior of most
of them. The vote on this end – this writer having seen all of the above in
their prime – comes down on the side of the affirmative. That hearing these
albums doesn’t quite match the bone shaking excitement of hearing “Good Golly
Miss Molly” or “Long Tall Sally” for the first or the five hundredth time is
irrelevant. Compare the recordings of Little Richard of the 1970s to the
recordings of Little Richard in the 1950s and they come up a little short.
Compare them to the recordings of some of the young pups of the 70’s and you
have to use the accomplishments of older artists in other genres and fields –
B.B. King, Pablo Casals, the recently departed Les Paul, Brando in “The
Godfather”, Satchel Paige – as a yardstick.

 

Making concessions to their time, the main instrumental
thrust of the music was shifted from Richard’s piano playing to electric
guitar. Commercially it was the right move. The guitar had become and likely
will remain the true King of Rock and Roll. But even greats like “Sneaky Pete”
Kleinow on The Second Coming and
Travis Womack on The Rill Thing (the
best of the three recordings) couldn’t bring these albums quite up to the level
of quintessential Little Richard music; he has only ever really needed his
version of the Justice League of America – Alvin “Red” Tyler on baritone sax,
Lee Allen on tenor, Earl Palmer on drums, bass player Lloyd Lambert and one of
the Mighty Ivory Twins Baldwin or Steinway to move the heavens and earth. His personal
problems – including alleged cocaine use – may have been the main factor in
holding things down to a simmer. But if drug use had actually been completely
responsible for preventing rock and roll musicians from making great music the
1970s would have been one very mild and quiet decade. And despite it all the Voice
was still in top form; the excitement still palpable; the thrill far, far from
gone.

 

The music of the three albums is best described as “swamp
rock,” a sub-genre best exemplified by folks like Credence Clearwater Revival
and Johnny Jenkins among others. The Rill
Thing
– produced at Muscle Shoals by Richard himself -can be recommended
without hesitation. The other two, however, should not be dismissed. They are
uneven but there are plenty of bright spots on them to justify their place on
your shelves. The King Of Rock and Roll is hampered – but not much – by its faux live recording approach and sounds a
little busy but it is tremendously better than the reviews of the time would
have you believe. Richard’s version of Hank Williams’ classic “I’m So Lonesome
I Could Cry” is solidly and positively in the country R&B territory of Arthur
Alexander and – to a certain extent – Leon
Russell and Booker T and the MGs; “Born On The Bayou” is flat out exquisite.

 

Robert “Bumps” Blackwell who produced Richard’s early hits
also produced The Second Coming which
contains eight (out of nine) cuts written or co- written by Richard including
“It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way How You Do It” co – authored by Kleinow
(mis-credited as “Kleinman”). This one, which reunites Richard with not only
Blackwell but also Palmer and Allen – Chuck Rainey in the bass chair this time
out – is more miss than hit but, like “King” is better than contemporary
reviews reflected. “Nuki Suki” featuring Allen’s saxophone, what seems to be an
improvised spoken word vocal and “Shaft” style wah wah guitar, may have you
pushing the “repeat” button. “Rockin’ Rockin” Boogie”, a conscious evocation of
Richard’s glory days music – percussive piano and all – doesn’t fall much short
of accomplishing its mission; “Thomasine” comes even closer.

 

It may be a sin to quote a considerably lesser recording
artist whose star was just about to rise shortly after the original release of
these albums but -and you won’t ever again read these words in conjunction with
this byline – Meat Loaf was right; two out of three ain’t bad.

 

Standout Tracks: “Born On The Bayou”; “Brown Sugar”; “Thomasine” RICK ALLEN

 

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