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When exploring the vast landscape of rock ‘n’ roll, two names consistently shine brightly: Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix. While Jimi Hendrix is universally hailed as one of the greatest guitarists to ever grace a stage, his unique style did not emerge in a vacuum. A substantial part of his musical inspiration can be traced back to the electrifying performances and groundbreaking music of Little Richard.

Born Richard Wayne Penniman in 1932, Little Richard grew up in Macon, Georgia. By the mid-1950s, he had transformed the music scene with his innovative blend of boogie, rhythm & blues, and gospel. His explosive performances and charismatic stage presence set a standard for the genre.

Songs like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” became anthems for a generation and laid the groundwork for many artists, including the Beatles and Elvis Presley (Jimi Hendrix hero in his teens). However, it was his influence on a young Jimi Hendrix that remains one of his most profound legacies.

How did Jimi Hendrix meet Little Richard?

Before Jimi Hendrix became a household name, he was a backing musician searching for his voice in the competitive music world. In 1965, Hendrix joined Little Richard’s backing band, The Upsetters. This period, albeit short-lived, was a pivotal chapter in Hendrix’s musical journey.

Being exposed to Little Richard’s flamboyance and unparalleled energy night after night gave Hendrix a first-row seat to raw musical genius. Richard’s vocal prowess and larger-than-life personality undoubtedly played a role in molding the future guitar hero’s stage presence.

It is essential to note the mutual musical influences shared between the two artists. Little Richard’s piercing vocals, strong piano riffs, and fervent rhythms made a lasting impression on Hendrix. And it was during his tenure with The Upsetters that Hendrix began to infuse his guitar playing with some of the fiery spirit that was Little Richard’s trademark.

On the flip side, Jimi’s budding guitar artistry and innovative techniques surely didn’t go unnoticed by Richard. Their time together represented a fusion of creative energies, with both artists feeding off each other’s talents.

Visual Impact: Little Richard’s Influence on Hendrix

Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix, 1965.
Credit: Pinterest

Beyond the musical notes, there’s a captivating tale of how Little Richard’s electrifying presence left an indelible mark on Jimi Hendrix’s entire persona, from his iconic hairstyle to his stage attire and the electric energy he exuded.

Hairstyle and Fashion: Little Richard’s flamboyant hairstyles, characterized by their boldness and uniqueness, resonated deeply with Hendrix. The towering pompadours and extravagant locks that adorned Little Richard’s head became an inspiration for Hendrix’s signature afro and distinctive headbands. Hendrix’s embrace of elaborate and unconventional fashion choices, often featuring vibrant colors and unconventional patterns, could also be traced back to the bold sartorial choices made famous by Little Richard.

Stage Presence: One of the most vivid aspects of Little Richard’s performances was his frenetic and unrestrained energy on stage. His uninhibited and exuberant movements captivated audiences, leaving an unforgettable visual imprint. It’s this element of Little Richard’s stage persona that found its way into Hendrix’s performances. The uninhibited, wild, and at times almost chaotic energy that Hendrix channeled while playing his guitar was reminiscent of Little Richard’s electrifying stage antics.

Impact on Creative Expression: While Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix had their unique styles, there’s no denying that the extravagant, larger-than-life persona of Little Richard made an impact on Hendrix’s creative expression. Hendrix wasn’t merely performing songs; he was engaging in a theatrical experience that was as much visual as it was auditory.

Why was Jimi Hendrix fired from Little Richard’s band?

Speaking to UK newspaper The Times, Graham Nash, a member of the band The Hollies, vividly recalled a pivotal incident that unfolded during his inaugural trip to New York with the band in 1965. This significant episode took place on a night when The Hollies were playing a supporting role on a bill headlined by none other than the iconic Little Richard at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre.

As the night progressed, the stage was set for a collision of musical energies. Jimi Hendrix, at the time a member of Little Richard’s backing band The Upsetters, took center stage and delivered an electrifying performance that showcased his signature move: playing the guitar behind his head. The audience response was a testament to Hendrix’s captivating showmanship, an element that had consistently enthralled audiences before.

After witnessing Hendrix’s extraordinary guitar theatrics, Little Richard himself confronted the situation. Offstage, he engaged in a charged exchange with his guitarist, “Don’t you ever play your fking guitar behind your head again, don’t you upstage me, I’m fking Little Richard.”

This incident, perhaps more than any other, underscores the intricate balance between mentorship and artistic expression. Jimi Hendrix’s time with Little Richard was marked not only by musical exchanges but also by the profound influence they had on one another’s artistry. Remarkably, Little Richard’s decision to part ways with Hendrix was realized in the subsequent month of July, signaling the end of their professional partnership.

In the recollections of Little Richard’s brother, Robert Penniman, who took on the role of the flamboyant rocker’s tour manager, an intriguing portrait of Jimi Hendrix emerges. Penniman distinctly observed that Hendrix had an inclination for arriving late and stealing the limelight from the headliner – two cardinal sins that no session guitarist should commit. Penniman’s vivid remembrance captures the essence:

I fired Hendrix, who was using the name Maurice James all the time I knew him. He was a damn good guitar player, but the guy was never on time. He was always late for the bus and flirting with the girls and stuff like that. It came to a head in New York, where we had been playing the Apollo and Hendrix missed the bus for Washington, DC. I finally got Richard to cut him loose.

What songs did Jimi Hendrix record with Little Richard?

Jimi Hendrix’s collaboration with Little Richard resulted in the recording of several tracks that showcased their combined musical talents. Among the notable songs that Hendrix recorded with Little Richard are:

  • “I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me)”: This bluesy and soulful track, recorded during their time together, reflects the fusion of Little Richard’s energetic vocal style and Hendrix’s innovative guitar work.
  • “Dancing All Around The World”: Another track that emerged from their collaboration, capturing the essence of their combined musical prowess.
  • “I’m Back”: This song is a testament to the dynamic range of Little Richard’s vocals and Hendrix’s evolving guitar technique, marking a convergence of their respective strengths.

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Little Richard discussing Jimi Hendrix from a 1973 documentary about the late guitarist.

Is just a guy who got tired of bothering his friends talking about music, and decided to create a blog to write about what he loves the most.
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