Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll preview clip
The new documentary, Little Richard: King & Queen of Rock n Roll, airs on BBC2 tonight. During a fascinating examination of the star’s seismic impact on music and popular culture, famous faces like Ringo Starr and Keith Richards confirm what an extraordinary influence the US icon was on The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. When Richard died on May 9, 2020, Paul McCartney paid public tribute: « I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it. He would say, ‘I taught Paul everything he knows’. I had to admit he was right… » But Ringo Starr also adds in the new film that not all Richard’s claims were completely true…
In the new documentary, Ringo recalls the impact the US star had long before they ever met him, through Radio Luxemburg.
He says: « Little Richard came on – first time we’d heard him, we were like, ‘Whaaat?’ He was just so great, but what was great, ‘cause we were young teenagers, he said, ‘shag on down to the union hall!’ Shag on down?! – you know. It means something different in England… Rock then became a force and Little Richard was always leading it. »
Within a few short years, Starr would find himself on and backstage with his idol. Before they were signed to a label or had their first hit record, The Beatles played on the same bill as Little Richard on October 12 and 28 at Liverpool’s Tower and Empire Ballrooms.
Little Richard inspired The Beatles
The Beatles at the Cavern Club on August 22 1962: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon
They finally met their idol properly when they shared a residency at Hamburg’s Star-Club the following month.
Starr says: « To play on the same stage as Little Richard was huge… And then, lo and behold – Brian the manager, brought us backstage. Little Richard, you know, was this close, it was so great!
« We were blessed! If you look at music and where rock came from, he is right in there. He was like a huge influence on us. »
In archive footage Richard describes how the whole band took hold of him for luck and inspiration: « Paul grabbed my hand and he rubbed my shoulders. John got my finger. And George got my finger. And Paul got my arm… »
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Little Richard and Mike Love
Over the years, Richard would tell everyone that he had taught McCartney his signature rock and roll yell, fondly making fun of the British star’s voice.
In archive footage he is shown saying: « He was standing in the wing of the stage, and I was there, ‘woo!’ (sings high note). He said, ‘woo’ (sings quietly out of breath). I said ‘woo!’ (sings high note). He said, ‘woo, woo’ (sings out of breath). »
Ringo however disputes this: « Well he didn’t teach him – that was always the joke! Paul just decided to, ‘woo!’ (sings high note). And, uh, Little Richard, from that day on, um, told him how he taught Paul to ‘woo!’ (sings high note).
« But that was Little Richard. You know, we loved the man. »
Before long, The Beatles became a global sensation. Richard himself, while achieving enormous fame, always felt he was denied the accolades and appreciation given other legends, particularly due to his race.
While Pat Boone and then, of course, Elvis were heralded as the creators of rock and roll, Richard was often overlooked, saying in one interview: « See they didn’t want a black guy to be the creator of rock and roll, ’cause white kids liked it and they don’t want the white kids screaming over no black boy. »
His friend Bobby Rush says in the new documentary: « In the back room when we was alone, he had tears in his eyes. You could see the hurt. I understood him so much. Not just as a man, as a blues singer, as a black man. They stole his music. And when they crowned people as the king of rock and roll and it wasn’t him – that tore Richard. »
Little Richard was the ultimate showman
Little Richard inspired The Beatles
Decades later when Paul McCartney was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1990 Grammys, Richard was right there in the audience. He had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 but still felt often overlooked by his own industry.
That year, he told Rolling Stone magazine: « It’s like they won’t even give me a Lifetime Achievement Award, and look at Paul McCartney. I was the first famous person he ever met, the first famous person he ever travelled with… They won’t even mention me! They don’t give me nothing! Don’t even mention my existence! It’s a shame, but that’s what it is. »
He was also hurt The Beatles star didn’t acknowledge him: « I just don’t understand some things sometimes. I was sitting there in front of him, and he didn’t say nothing. It makes you feel like crying, you know? »