Although they only met a few times, the bond between John Fogerty and Little Richard, who died Saturday at 87, was strong. Fogerty grew up on Little Richard’s music and, with Creedence Clearwater Revival, covered “Good Golly Miss Molly.” (Fogerty’s own “Travelin’ Band” was itself a nod to the wild singles Little Richard made early in his career.) In turn, Little Richard remade Fogerty’s “Born on the Bayou” on one of his post-ministry comeback albums in the late Sixties. While hunkered down in southern California, Fogerty discussed the architect of rock & roll’s impact and legacy.
Little Richard was the greatest rock & roll singer of all time. I was a kid when his records were coming out, so I got to experience them in real time. I bought every one of them, and they were amazing. Those records were so full of energy and so wild.
When rock & roll was born, each new record that came out during that period was exciting. But then here comes Little Richard and it’s everything multiplied by a thousand. Relentless recordings like “Long Tall Sally” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” — they knocked you over.
His singing had this edge to it. There were some blue singers doing that, but they were singing blues. This was rock & roll, and it was very aggressive. By the time the records ended, your jaw had dropped to the floor and you weren’t able to breathe. It was that exciting.
Later I saw the movie The Girl Can’t Help It, and there’s a scene where Jayne Mansfield is in a club and she’s walking around and Little Richard starts singing. And even though I was a precocious 13-year-old, I was really looking at Little Richard more than her! I didn’t think of him as weird or strange. I thought, “Man, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” I didn’t know words like “uninhibited” back then. I thought he was just normal.
When he went away [to become a minister], I didn’t know why. I didn’t understand it. There were so many great records out by then. And then he came back and I was just happy he was back in the world again. He was a grown-up Little Richard, but he was still over the top and would wear a vest with mirrors all over it and destroy the piano bench. It was a little Vegasy, but you put up with all that because you wanted to hear the music.
I was able to meet him a few times. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [in 1986], I was sitting at a table pretty close to his, so I thought, “What the heck.” I walked over and introduced myself and told him that I loved him and his music. You can imagine the level of idolizing. I was like a fanboy. He seemed happy and said he knew who I was.
Then we did a Grammy performance in 2008 [with Jerry Lee Lewis as well]. Richard sat down at a grand piano and started playing the intro to “Good Golly Miss Molly.” The band kicked in and he did a few high falsettos and it just stunned me. He was 75 years old and it was stunning that he could still do that. When you look back, I don’t think there have been many, or any, that have come close to his energy; that pure white-hot rock & roll. I loved Elvis, but Little Richard was a rocker over the top of everybody.