If you had to name one influence that Minnesota’s biggest rock acts had in common, it would probably have to be Little Richard. Bob Dylan, Prince, the Time and the Replacements all showed off his imprint on them at various points in their careers; or in young Bobby Zimmerman’s case, well before he had a career.
On the occasion of the real-life Richard Penniman’s death from cancer Saturday at 87, here’s a rundown of how each of these Minnesota giants paid homage to Little Richard in their own individualistic ways.
BOB DYLAN: “To join Little Richard.” Those are the words that appear under Robert Zimmerman’s senior photo in the 1959 Hibbing High School yearbook. His classmates were already all-too-aware of how much the future Dylan idolized the singer, though.
Maybe the most groundbreaking moment in Hibbing history aside from when the entire town was moved to make way for bigger mine pits, Bob famously imitated the “Tutti Frutti” hitmaker — with less than fruitious results — in his first-ever public performance for a talent show in the high school’s ornate auditorium in 1957. With his first group the Cashmeres, he sang “Jenny, Jenny, Jenny” and “True Fine Mama” so loudly and wildly the principal allegedly pulled the curtain early on them.
Cashmeres guitarist Larry Fabbro recounted to the Brainerd Dispatch in 2003: “Their initial reaction was one of shock. Bob was singing really loud. He was a relatively quiet guy and most of the audience had known him as such since first grade. They were shocked not only at the music but at Bob.”
A funny lo-fi recording of Bob rehearsing "Jenny Jenny Jenny" during that era has resurfaced in recent years.
No need to go way, way back to confirm Dylan's love for the rock 'n' roll pioneer, though. Not usually one for Twitter threads, he posted a lovely three-part tweet in tribute to Richard on Saturday afternoon.
I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.— Bob Dylan (@bobdylan) May 9, 2020
In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.— Bob Dylan (@bobdylan) May 9, 2020
PRINCE: Richard’s influence in this case is as obvious as the fact that “Little Red Corvette” isn’t really about a car. His feisty, fiery stage demeanor and flamboyant attire were certainly inspired if not outright mimicked by the rock star who was 26 years his junior. The newly unearthed “Piano & Microphone 1983” recording may be the most clear-cut of the musical influence, the way Prince playfully plunks the keys throughout the session. He covered his songs in concert at least a few times, too, including a version of “The Girl Can’t Help It” at Paisley Park in the mid-’90s.
The two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers met many times over the years, though given Prince’s penchant for privacy there isn’t much documentation of their interactions aside from public comments Richard himself made.
“Prince is an old friend of mine, and really he’s me for this generation,” was one of those comments, from the premier party for “Purple Rain,” where Richard brought a personalized Bible as a gift. He also made similar comments to Joan Rivers on “The Tonight Show” in 1987, talking smack directly to the younger star: “I looked just as good as you do today. I was wearing purple before you was wearing it.”
THE TIME: With Prince as their behind-the-scenes ringleader, Morris Day and the crew arguably showed off the little guy’s love for Little Richard more than Prince himself did. Day’s stage persona was pure Richard, from his iconic squawk in “The Bird” to his ever-present mirror-and-comb stage stunt with Jerome Benton. Richard was also a big inspiration to original Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, enough for the hitmaking production duo to give the speech when Richard was given the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.
THE REPLACEMENTS: On a much less obvious note, Minneapolis’ great little-band-that-couldn’t tore their way through Little Richard songs in concert from time to time. And the ’Mats, too, had memorable in-person encounters with Richard.
When they recorded their final album “All Sook Down” in Los Angeles in 1990, they stayed at the famous Riot House (Hyatt) hotel, where Richard kept up a permanent two-room residence that happened to be adjacent to Paul Westerberg’s room. Replacements biographer Bob Mehr recounted the story — an outtake from his book “Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements” — in a post on Richard’s 86th birthday.
Mehr quoted Westerberg saying, “You could smell him coming down the hall with his perfume, and there were all kinds of dudes following behind going ‘Richard! Richard!’ Sometimes I’d be lying in bed and it’d be all quiet. And then, through the wall, you’d hear, ‘….Whooooo!’”
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Happy 86th birthday to the Originator, the Emancipator, the Quasar, the King (and Queen) of Rock and Roll, Little Richard. While I was writing "Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements" Richard came up occasionally in various contexts. But the 'Mats’ most memorable encounter took place during the L.A. sessions for All Shook Down in 1990, while Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson were lodging at the Riot House on the Sunset Strip. * The band's stay there was made memorable due to Richard's decidedly flamboyant presence. The singer kept a permanent residence, two suites in fact, at the hotel which happened to be on either side of Westerberg’s room. * “You could smell him coming down the hall with his perfume, and there were all kinds of dudes following behind going ‘Richard! Richard!’” recalled Westerberg. “Sometimes I’d be lying in bed and it'd be all quiet. And then, through the wall, you’d hear ‘….Whooooo!’” * Westerberg would place his famous neighbor into the lyrics of the All Shook Down outtake “Stain Like Blood”: “Looked in the mirror and I heard/Little Richard in the next room, run out of words.” (PW photo by Donna Ranieri) -#troubleboys #thereplacements #littlerichard