Life was rarely dull around Richard Penniman. A pioneering rock ‘n’ roller whose “Tutti Frutti” invigorated generations beyond its’ 1955 release, his career was in a downturn by the time the late ’60s arrived.
Television specials were still popular, as were the casinos and ballrooms of Las Vegas and other cities. Chart success eluded him; “Poor Dog (Who Can’t Wag His Own Tail)” was the last to trouble the US R&B charts in 1966, reaching #12. Since then, 13 singles failed to bother chart collators of any genre. He hadn’t released a studio album since January 1967.
Live performances and a strong back catalogue kept the wolves from the door but the new material wasn’t lighting any fires.
So Little Richard went back to basics, writing with Esquerita and ‘Bumps’ Blackwell, his long-time collaborator. And “The Rill Thing” delivers a solid dose of southern blues and funk-infused soul ‘n’ roll.
The album’s opening track “Freedom Blues” was the only single, backed with Dewdrop Inn released originally by co-writer Esquerita in 1967. Here it’s a rollicking romp inspired by the-then 35-year-old Richard’s younger self. Given a Muscle Shoals makeover, it keeps the trademark manic keyboards and rock ‘n’ roll feel.
Freedom Blues, the other Esquerita co-penned song, with its’ slower, bluesy funk vibe is the obvious stand-out track. The gritty sound of Greenwood, Mississippi and Spreadin’ Natta What’s The Matter suit his vocal style perfectly, with the keys lower in the mix subsumed into the insistent backbeat.
Much criticism of the album focuses on the ten-minute title track. Self-indulgent it may have been but the lowdown introduction of bass, drum and electronic piano would sit comfortably on any blaxploitation soundtrack. For a song which attracts so much negativity in reviews, it must have something about it for the likes of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Maroon 5, The Prodigy and Eminem to sample it.
It’s one of the three records Run Out Groove has put up for repressing this month, Solomon Burke and Miss Lorraine Ellison are the others. The choice with most votes will appear in coming weeks as double-vinyl release.