For generations of aspiring musicians from the Deep South, country music and R&B are inextricably linked. That was part of the inspiration for a unique blending of performers from both genres for a duets album and corresponding PBS TV special in March of 1994. Rhythm, Country and Blues, released on the MCA Nashville label, featured combinations of like-minded artists, one from country music and one from the R&B world, with performances of songs from both genres.
Produced by Nashville titan Tony Brown and iconic rock-pop producer Don Was, the LP opened with Vince Gill and Gladys Knight singing the soul classic, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and was highlighted by more such unique pairings, including Al Green and Lyle Lovett (“Funny How Time Slips Away”), Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood (“I Fall to Pieces”), Sam Moore and Conway Twitty (“Rainy Night in Georgia”), B.B. King and George Jones (“Patches”), Natalie Cole and Reba McEntire (“Since I Fell for You”) and more. A Number One country album, Rhythm, Country and Blues also reached the Top Twenty on the Top R&B Albums and Billboard 200 charts.
One of the most electrifying performances on the album was delivered by “the architect of rock & roll,” Little Richard, who teamed with country superstar Tanya Tucker for a reworking of the 1959 Eddie Cochran barn-burner, “Somethin’ Else,” with its lyrics describing both a shiny new convertible and a desirable young woman that are both out of reach. In the fall of ’94, the duo re-teamed for a live performance of the tune during the CMA Awards. Decked out in a red suit with white trim, Richard pounds away at the piano and inserts a number of hoots and hollers throughout his solos. Standing beside the piano in a short leather dress and knee-high stockings, Tucker keeps up with the rock icon in terms of yelps, ad-libbing and vamping her way to the song’s conclusion, while the more staid members of the CMA Awards show audience were likely trying to catch up to their energy level.
Nominated for CMA Album of the Year (with another nod to Moore and Twitty’s performance – the last before Twitty’s death – as Vocal Event), the LP lost that award to the Eagles tribute album, Common Thread (although Tucker participated in both projects). Regarding his own view on musical genres, Little Richard told Jet magazine at the time, “Soul is when you sing from the heart and it reaches the heart.”
In addition to the LP’s release and the PBS special, later that same month many of the same participants would gather for a live performance at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheater, with additional surprise appearances from Ben E. King, Mickey Gilley, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.