With the announcement today that Little Richard has passed away, it’s easy to run through the obvious reasons why this outlandish character was so important to the birth of rock and roll. But, of course, here in the Modern Listener realm Little Richard looms large as an enabler of Jimi Hendrix’s life as a musician – however bad the pay might have been and how grueling the road trips.
“I had to do an audition for him in Atlanta,” Hendrix later recalled, “and he thought I was OK. With him I went all over America.”
Hendrix first signed on with a Little Richard tour at the tail end of 1964, initially laboring under the auspices of opening act Gorgeous George before graduating to Richard’s headlining band. The tour made its way gig-by-gig across the United States, heading west in a cramped bus. Having finally reached Los Angeles, by April they were on the other side of the country, in New York City. By the end of July, Hendrix had enough of his famous employer.
After years of school and a stint in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, Jimi Hendrix had had more than his fill of conformity by the time he enrolled himself in the employment of the groundbreaking rock and roll star. The only problem: Little Richard demanded just such conformity from his band. After his own star had ascended, when Hendrix would speak of his time with Little Richard his main complaint was almost always the dress code regulations and Richard’s insistence that his show had room for only one star. The guitarist later recalled being taken to task not only for clothes, but his hair style as well. Jimi Hendrix was expected to blend in and tow the line.
“Everybody on the whole tour was brainwashed,” was Jimi’s compact assessment.
Fortunately for all of us, within two years after leaving Little Richard’s employment, Hendrix would begin definitively charting his own course. In the first serious documentary film released after Jimi’s death, 1973’s Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard flamboyantly reminisced about Jimi with one of the more unusual complements ever tossed in Hendrix’s direction: ‘At times he used to make my big toe shoot up in my boot!”
For more on the discovery of that fantastic 1965 photograph above, please visit: