Little Richard passed last month at 87. RIP: Richard Wayne Penniman.
In 1955, he exploded out of the Rhythm & Blues (R&B) backwaters of the deep South and crashed into the early days of rock and roll with his hit song: Tutti Frutti. Granted, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Bo Didley had previously crossed over from R&B to white rock, but Little Richard initiated a revolution and rightfully deserves to be called the Godfather of Rock and Roll!
As Tim Weiner explained in his New York Times obituary: “Little Richard, pounding the piano furiously and screaming as if for his very life, raised the energy level several notches and created something not quite like any music that had been heard before – something new, thrilling and more than a little dangerous.”
Dangerous, indeed: Take my favorite Little Richard tune: Long Tall Sally. Most renditions muted the theme of the song that Uncle John was having an extra marital affair with Sally. The significant verse is:
Well, long tall Sally
She’s built for speed, she got
Everything that Uncle John need.
This verse was altered to:
Well long tall Sally’s
Kind of sweet, she got
Everything that Arkansas need.
Really! If it’s about Arkansas, then why did Uncle John have to duck back in the alley when he saw Aunt Mary coming?
But I digress. I was on my way home alone on a Friday afternoon at the end of another London business trip. (I made over a one hundred from 1976 to 2000.)
Seeking a hidden treasure, I stopped at the bookstore in the Heathrow’s Terminal Three. Luck was with me as I discovered a cassette featuring the mid-century R&B entertainers / song writers who became the roots of rock and roll.
Of course, Little Richard was one and the tape featured four of his songs: Good Golly Miss Molly, Lucille, Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally.
Pleased with my discovery, I made my way to the British Airways lounge to relax, have a bloody Mary and listen to my new tape as I waited for my flight to be called for boarding. When I saw it flashing on the departure board, I left the club and headed for my gate.
Back in the day, BA’s gates for flights to America were a relatively long distance from the club. From repetition, I knew my gate’s location, so I strolled along the corridors listening to these great singers filling my headphones with songs like Long Tall Sally.
I was in the groove by the time I reached the gate. Cassette player off, I received my boarding pass. I thanked the agent and made my way on to the jetway. As I stepped onto the 747, I offered my boarding pass to the flight attendant at the door who examined it and directed me to my seat.
I began my usual drill to settle in for the long flight home. I removed the items I expected to use during this flight before I put my carry-on into the overhead.
Suddenly, I heard the following announcement: “Would John Delach please identify himself?”
I rang my call button identifying my location.
“Mister Delach, may I see your boarding pass?”
I handed it to the flight attendant. She examined it, then asked, “Where are you traveling to with us today?” (Got to love Brit-speak!)
“New York’s JFK”
“I see. The problem is the destination for this airplane is Boston. It seems that you boarded the flight at Gate 73. Our British Airways flight to JFK is at Gate 75.”
Fortunately, time was on my side, the correct gate was only one away and this crew had alerted the JFK crew that I was on my way.
“Long Tall Sally” had been my undoing but I wasn’t the only one asleep at the switch that Friday afternoon.