Not long after the sad news of Fats Domino‘s death hit yesterday, we put in an interview request for Little Richard. They may have risen out of different scenes and approached their craft a bit differently, but both pianists are inarguably two of the most important figures in rock history. They also spent years touring on the same circuit from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, and became good friends during that time. Along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard is one of the very last surviving 1950s rock pioneers. But he’s been off the road for over four years, and has rarely been seen in public. Rumors that he was in grave health circulated in early 2016, which he emphatically denied via his lawyer William Sobel.
Much to our surprise, Sobel phoned us up not long after we put the request in, and said he had Little Richard on the line, eager to talk to us about Fats Domino. We only spoke for about five minutes, but he was sharp, energetic, and funny. At age 84, he may have some mobility issues that make touring impossible, but it’s clearly had no impact on his mind. Here’s the complete conversation, with his lawyer occasionally popping in with some thoughts.
It’s an honor to speak with you.
It’s an honor to speak to you too, bro.
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Tell me your first memory of ever hearing Fats Domino’s music.
Oh, I love…When I was a boy in Macon, Georgia, Fats used to come here. He was managed by a guy I can’t quite recall, but he used to play at a club in Macon. I didn’t have the money to go see him, so I used to try and sneak in because I loved him. I loved his piano playing. I love his music, period.
What was special and unique about his piano playing?
Well, he was just a little, short guy with little, biddy hands, and he could make a piano talk. He could play anything. He’s not just a banger. He could really play for real, you know?
How did he influence you as a piano player and as a singer?
He influenced me as an entertainer, period. I loved him. I loved his kids, his wife, I loved all of them. He was a good man. We were just real close friends, real close. His daughter would call me every weekend. I would talk to Fats and he would say he wanted to cook dinner for me. He wanted to cook gumbo.
What songs of his were your favorite?
I loved all of his songs. I used to like “The Fat Man,” “Goin’ Home,” “Blueberry Hill.” I loved all of Fats’ songs. I don’t know nothin’ he made that I didn’t like.
How would you describe his personality to somebody that knew nothing about him?
Well, he was a guy, if you were a good fella, you would have liked him. He had that kind of personality, he was quiet. He was just a good guy, you know?
Did you see him much in the past twenty years?
Yeah, I did an interview with him a little while back.
William Sobel: You went to New Orleans with Fats and Chuck Berry. You did a great session for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
He was pretty quiet in recent years.
He wasn’t a talker, and neither was he a walker. But he was just a good guy. One of them good old guys. And a good musician. He loved music.
Do you have any favorite memories of your time with him?
Whenever he saw me he’d go, “Open the door, Richard. Open the door, Richard.” I’d say, “Fats, the door is already open. Come on in.”
It’s sad to think there’s so few of you guys around from the old days.
Me and Jerry Lee.
William Sobel: And Richard’s going to here for a long time. He’s going to carry the torch.
How are you doing, Richard? It’s been a while.
I’m doing fine. God has been good to me. And every Saturday I’m in church, every Saturday. I never miss a Saturday. Every Friday I open the Sabbath. I just feel wonderful.
William Sobel: He’s the most spiritual man I know.
I won’t take more of your time, but thanks so much for calling in.