Little Richard Raises Roof At B.B. King Club

The 67-year-old singer and piano pounder makes no concessions to age in high-energy rock show.

NEW YORK — Don't take Little Richard lightly — leave that to him.

The rock 'n' roll original was an inspired choice as the first artist to follow B.B. King to the stage of the just-opened B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Manhattan's Times Square. But the singer and piano pounder didn't fail to make the distinction between himself and his host Monday during the second night of his two-night stand.

"Tell your friends about Lucille," he told the sold-out crowd. "Not that one that won't do your sister's will that I sing about ... the one B.B. King be pullin' on and playin' on."

Lucille is the name King has long given all his guitars and of the restaurant that adjoins his new nightclub.

Many first-generation rock 'n' rollers — those who are still with us — have shown a willingness to ride on their laurels. Chuck Berry, for example, gigs with backup musicians he hires for one-offs and has long given fans little more in concert than the opportunity to say they saw him.

But from the moment the Little Richard Band — two drummers, two six-string electric bassists, two horn players, two guitars and a keyboard player — took their positions around the unoccupied baby grand piano and began pounding out an aggressive vamp, it was plain that Little Richard was going to rock.

He stepped onto the stage, with his mascara and a wide smile, wearing a sheer, sparkly black-and-blue shirt, blue trousers and blue-and-silver sequined boots.

"I am the beautiful Little Richard," he said, beaming. "I know you've heard me say it on TV, but now we're in person and you can see it's true."

Little Richard sat down at the piano and broke into "Good Golly Miss Molly" (RealAudio excerpt). After the first few bars of "Blueberry Hill," he took to his feet, egging on the crowd to sing with him as he segued into "Bony Marone."

Don't Take Him Seriously, Either

If you take him too seriously, Richard (born Richard Penniman) will eventually find something to insult almost everybody.

"You're going to make me scream," he said at one point. "Scream like a white girl."

He performed Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too," and after finishing, he broke back into it, saying, "I love that song. It makes me want to cry. Can we get two black people to come up and dance with us?"

As soon as that was arranged, he called for "two Jewish people," then "two Italians two Mexicans — we'll have tacos later — two white people, two Indians — leave your tepees behind — and two people who don't know what they are."

Whatever their makeup, he soon had the stage crowded with enthusiastic dancers as he covered Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll." As the dancers filed off, he launched into "Bama Bama Loo" and followed that with "Goodnight Irene."

"I've been singing for 60 years," he mused. "Ain't that something?"

He told the crowd he will be 68 in December and reiterated his claim to being Jewish, saying he never works on Fridays, Caesars Palace or no.

He followed that with "Tutti Frutti" (RealAudio excerpt), getting the crowd to trade verses with him a cappella, and then sat down at the piano to absolutely tear the lid off it.

"That song got me out of the kitchen," he said, after a long diatribe about how he'd worked as a dishwasher, having greasy, food-encrusted, ever-bigger pots to clean. His boss, he said, "didn't care how beautiful I was, he kept bringing bigger pots. I looked him right in the eyes and I said, 'Wop bop a loo bop, a wham bam boom! He didn't know what I meant, and I didn't either."

Richard went off on another tangent as he stopped to quaff some Gatorade. "I used to didn't like Gatorade. I was watching TV, and I saw Michael Jordan drinking it, I said I'm gonna get me some. It's been three years, and I'm still waiting. I want to go to the hoop!"

Throughout all the mania, there was an inescapable, irresistible, mischievous gleam in Richard's eyes.

He shook hands with a few front-row members of the crowd, signed a few albums thrust his way and did the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There," Gene Vincent's "Be Bop a Lula," "Lucille," a funky "Girl Can't Help It" and Hank Williams' "Jambalaya."

Out With A Bang

He paused in his ongoing narrative to play Count Basie's "Blues After Hours" before satisfying a request for "Going Back to Birmingham."

The Rolling Stones' "It's Only Rock and Roll" was a bit of a surprise. He stopped the band partway in, telling them to play it his way, then told the crowd how Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had slept on his floor, "and the Beatles, too." He reminded the audience that an 18-year-old Jimi Hendrix once backed him. He threw in James Brown's name and said, "If I'd have known, I'd have signed all those guys."

Richard closed the set with "All Around the World," "Keep a Knockin' " done at breakneck speed, Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," "Jenny Jenny" and finally, "Long Tall Sally."

As he left the stage, the band raged on. When it was all over, one bassist was standing on the piano bench, the other was on his back, and the two drummers had somehow swapped kits without missing a beat. There was no encore, but nobody seemed to mind.