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Timmy84

GQ article on Little Richard

GQ Men of the Year - Little Richard: LEGEND

Legend: Little Richard

***

He belted out the blueprint for Elvis, Elton, the Beatles and the Stones, while backstage he set the benchmark for bad behaviour with a penchant for orgies, angel dust and alcohol. Meeting friends, fans, lovers and the 77-year-old Southerner himself, GQ chronicles the life of the 'king and queen of rock'n'roll'...


Sitting face-to-face with Little Richard, looking at my reflection in his dark glasses, I find my thoughts turning to other things his eyes have seen. These images include, in no particular order: church congregations observing him preach in a way that led one worshipper to describe Richard as "the most Christ-like figure I have ever met"; a friend of his leading a naked man around a dressing room by a penis "so long that it looked like a towrope"; a low-flying Soviet satellite which persuaded the singer Armageddon was imminent so he must quit performing; and countless orgies distinguished by a degree of athleticism, stamina and ingenuity so remarkable that, if Richard's own memory is to be trusted, they might have shocked the Marquis de Sade.

"I remember one night," Little Richard once told his friend Charles White, the Scarborough-based chiropodist who is the unchallenged global authority on the star, "we had this wonderful orgy going. It was one of the best I have ever been to. And in the middle of this orgy that was" - Richard repeats, as if fearing his point might be lost - "fantastic, somebody knocked on my door. I said: 'Just a moment! This is an orgy!'"

For a man of God who has been increasingly reclusive of late, his reminiscences about his life have been notable for their candour.

"Me and a lady," he once recalled, "one night were having a big orgy. We got naked. Me, the lady and three fellas. We smoked angel dust. We were crawling about on the floor like dogs, naked. We got dusty from the angel dust. We were afraid to answer the door. We were afraid to answer the phone."

A seasoned voyeur, his preferred co-conspirator at "special parties" was his lifelong soul mate, exotic dancer Lee Angel. In Little Richard's words, "Angel was a wonderful lover. She would do anything to excite me, including having sex with other guys while I watched. I loved her and she loved me. She was like a magnet. She drew everything to me. You ain't never seen a woman like Angel."

I met Richard in his trailer at an outdoor venue near Anaheim, California, one summer evening in 2005. He'd just come offstage after a typically stunning performance, even though he was already in pain from the hip problem which meant that, for his last performances to date, on an American tour in October 2009, he had to be pushed to the piano in a wheelchair. At the time of writing, Richard, is living at his home in Lynchburg, southern Tennessee, where - following a hip replacement performed last November - he is undergoing physical rehabilitation. (The singer already had 36 pins in his right leg, the legacy of a car crash in 1985.) That Anaheim performance turned out to be one of the last in which the devout Seventh-Day Adventist, now 77, was able to climb - gingerly - and adopt his famous pose, arms raised, at his piano.

The protection of the Lord, as Richard has often said, is forever with him but, just to be on the safe side, the level of security after a show makes his dressing room resemble one of the better-defended corners in The Wire. His minders, whose manner is clinical rather than welcoming, search my bag. Richard himself is relaxed and friendly; his attitude coloured, I think, because I've driven down here with David Arden. "Little David", as Richard addresses him, is the son of the late Don Arden, the promoter who had the wit to bring Richard over to the UK, so reinvigorating his fortunes, in the early Sixties. David, whose sister is Sharon Osbourne, is two decades Richard's junior. The English television producer has known the star since he himself was a young schoolboy. We shake hands with the singer. Richard's shades come off.

The only man ever to claim the title "the King and Queen of Rock'n'roll" is wearing an immaculate white suit with sequins sewn into the lapels. But nothing about his appearance - not the diamond-encrusted collar around his neck, the extravagant rings or his trademark pompadour - catches your attention quite like those eyes: soulful, piercing, yet mischievous. On those areas of his face and neck not obscured by make-up, his skin looks flawless.

"I have taken this beauty," Richard says, "all over the world. I have taken it to places where people didn't even think it was beautiful. One man told me: 'Go back to Africa where you came from.' I said, 'Africa? Who told you I was from Africa? I'm from Macon, Georgia. I am a peach.' But I was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia. Can you imagine beautiful hands like these messing round with those things? Pots of rice and beans, pinto beans and black-eyed peas?"

If that sounds like crazed vanity, he delivers these lines with self deprecation and humour. (This is, after all, the same man who, when his former guitar player Jimi Hendrix told him he was making a record called "Purple Haze", asked: "But Jimi - just how purple is it?") On stage this evening he'd mentioned a band member who has Native American blood and "used to live in a tepee".

"I remember," Richard says, running his hand over his cantilevered hair, whose luxuriant structure clearly now benefits from some degree of artificial support, "when I didn't need a tepee myself."

In the early Sixties, Richard recalls, it was Little David's father, Don, who "booked me for a tour in Hamburg. I'd met the Beatles in Liverpool so I took them with me. We spent two months there. They would eat in my room every night." Back in England, "Mick Jagger used to sit at the side of the stage watching my act. Every performance. Where do you think he got that walk?"

----

Part 1. To be continued.

[Edited 11/10/10 17:12pm]

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Reply #1 posted 11/10/10 5:14pm

Timmy84

Anybody who ever sat at his feet, Richard says, "became a star. Even the bad ones."

Also present is the Reverend Bill Minson, who offers personal counsel to Richard, and is senior ambassador for the Tuday charity (tuday.net) which assists victims of 9/11; an organisation to which Little Richard - one of the few stars who devotes more energy to making donations than he does to flaunting them - has been a generous contributor.

"God bless you," the performer says, taking my hand. "Stay with Jesus."

The problem with assessing the importance of the man Charles White calls "the quasar of rock'n'roll" is that his musical inventiveness and defiant flamboyance have influenced so many performers so strongly: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Liberace, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Prince, David Bowie and Michael Jackson, among many others.

In 1967, Elton John was playing piano for a group called Bluesology, who supported Richard in London on 11 December 1966. "When I saw Little Richard standing on top of the piano, all lights, sequins and energy," he said, "I decided there and then that I was going to be a rock'n'roll piano player."

Richard is, without question, the boldest and most influential of the founding fathers of rock'n'roll; one of the few genuine originals in an industry populated by performers whose appetite for fame greatly exceeds their talent.

For all that, Little Richard's life and career have been subject to nothing like the degree of scrutiny or celebration enjoyed by, say, Presley, Jerry Lee, or Richard's most famous protégé, Hendrix. The latest book on him, David Kirby's Little Richard: The Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll, published in 2009, is pretentious even by the competitive standards of music criticism, and does the singer little justice. The two seminal works on Richard remain the biography by Charles White, first published in 1984, and the programme it inspired: Bill Hinton's superb South Bank Show, broadcast the following year. Hinton's film bears comparison with any documentary on popular music. An indication of its quality is that it continues to sell in large numbers on DVD, pirated in America and sold through internet sites under the title: Little Richard Documentary.

Ask anybody under 35 to name his songs, and they might manage a handful of numbers, beginning with "Lucille" and "Tutti Frutti" - the latter of which added a new term, "A-wop-boppa-loo-bop a wop bam boom!", to the language, ten syllables that encapsulate the impudent hysteria of rock'n'roll. It also provided the title for Nik Cohn's seminal 1969 book on rock'n'roll, though Cohn's text focuses on other performers. A-wop-boppa-loo-bop's demented battle cry may have resonated on a primeval level with the souls of teenagers all over the world, but it proved too much for the Times Literary Supplement. ("This phrase," it commented, "poses a grave problem of exegesis [critical explanation].")

One of the odd things about Little Richard - and there are a few - is the way this performer, the most versatile rock'n'roll singer of his generation, has come to be regarded as the most limited in vocal range. Shortly before his death in 1995, I recorded a conversation with the British writer and musician Vivian Stanshall.

"If you asked me what was the greatest vocal performance from that period," Stanshall said, "I would choose a record by Little Richard. It's a song called 'Can't Believe You Wanna Leave'. It's extraordinary - just magnificent," Stanshall added. "That record invariably stops any other activity in a room - however large."

"Can't Believe You Wanna Leave" is a slow number in 6/8 time, written by one of Richard's early mentors, Lloyd Price. It's one of those rare recordings that seems to establish an instant connection to your spinal column. Like "I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me)", Little Richard's relatively unknown 1965 soul classic which prominently features Jimi Hendrix, the song has little in common with the famously histrionic style which has reduced Richard, in the minds of some, to mere caricature. The writer Peter Mayle annoyed many readers with his patronising attitude to French peasants in A Year In Provence, but the most demeaning line in that book is reserved for his description of the voice of Little Richard: "A great sweating squawk," as Mayle called it, "from the jungle."

When you talk to him, Richard - who likes to punctuate his Muhammad Ali-style rhyming banter with the occasional high-pitched "Woo-eee!" at moments of special interest - will occasionally sing a phrase in one of the many styles he has mastered. Listening to him is an education. From orthodox tenor, to gospel, to delta blues, to an elegant restraint reminiscent of Nat King Cole; Little Richard can sing anything.

Every black male star of his age and background - the singer was raised with the fearsome imagery of the Southern Baptist tradition - has struggled to reconcile the scriptural doctrine of his childhood with the temptations that come with fame. None has explored the opposing extremes of holy restraint and secular indulgence so comprehensively as Little Richard. His Bible, which was almost always by his side, doubled as his contacts book.

"When I had all these orgies going on," he said, "I would get up and go and pick up my Bible. Sometimes I had my Bible right by me."

I travelled to Scarborough to meet Charles White, who still presents an entertaining local radio show with a worldwide audience, on the internet, under the name by which Richard always refers to him: Dr Rock. For any writer seeking to understand Richard, the doctor remains the gold standard.

"How on earth," I ask White, "did you persuade Little Richard to be so sexually explicit in that book?"

"He is a very complex man," replies White, who grew up in Dublin and still spends his days battling verrucas in the North Yorkshire area. "I got him in a spaghetti house on Sunset Boulevard. There were a lot of people around, some on a balcony above us. I said, 'Richard, I have to ask about your sex life.' He said: 'Well, Dr Rock, we are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smorgasbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for.' By this time, people are eavesdropping. The more outrageous he gets, the further they lean over the balcony. He says, 'What kind of sexual am I? I am omnisexual!' Actually his sexuality was the last thing I was interested in. I didn't do the book for money or fame. I did it because Little Richard is such a uniquely great artist."

"How - no disrespect to foot doctors or Scarborough - did you end up as his friend?"

"I'd met him as a fan, when Don Arden first brought him to England in 1962." Years later, White explains, he was visiting Surrey with a view to having "a gargle" with a friend who knew Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, Richard's manager. "I went to LA and stayed with Bumps. When I ran out of money, he hired me as his butler." Blackwell, White explains, arranged a meeting with Richard at the Hyatt on Sunset. (In 1984, the star checked in and stayed for 22 years. Asked by the Sunday Times to describe a typical day, Richard replied: 'I wake up and worship. I get on my knees. I pray. I thank God for the activity of my limbs. Then I order room service.")

"I told Richard I wanted to write about him. Two other American writers also wanted the job. But I'd brought some photographs of him that he'd never seen before. He said: 'God has sent Dr Rock to me!' And we signed the deal."

"In almost any archive footage of Richard in the last 25 years, you seem to be by his side - even on Later... With Jools Holland. Why do you get on so well?"

"He is the antithesis of a rock star. He couldn't give a damn about swimming pools, fast cars, or wealth. He said one day, 'We are going to see a friend of mine.' We drove to this house and he introduced me to Muhammad Ali. Ali came down the steps. And he said: 'You are the king, Little Richard. You are the king.'"

----

Part 2. To be continued.

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Reply #2 posted 11/10/10 5:16pm

Timmy84

Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon on 5 December 1932, the third of 12 children. His father, Bud, sold moonshine. "My daddy," Richard said, "put me out of the house. He said he wanted seven boys, and that I had spoiled it, because I was gay." Bud was shot dead outside a local bar when Richard was 19. "My best friend Frank shot him," says the singer. "He was out of jail in a week. We never quite found out what really happened."

His contradictory enthusiasms - Old Testament morality and flagrant exhibitionism - were detectable by the time he was eight or nine: Richard was already well-known in the neighbourhood both for his ethereal church singing and his habit of presenting old ladies with elaborately wrapped boxes which contained no chocolates but an assorted selection of his own faeces. In his early teens, he was already touring with professional bands and went to Florida with B Brown and his Orchestra. "He was the one that changed my name to Little Richard," says the singer, who stands at 5'10", not counting his hair and shoes.

On the road, Richard "used to get beaten up for nothing. Slapped in my face with sticks. The police used to stop me and make me wash my face. I always tried to not let it bother me. We could stay in no hotels and go to no toilets. I went to the bathroom behind a tree. I slept in my car. I knew there was a better way and that the King of Kings would show it to me. I was God's child. I knew God would open that door."

He says he learned his distinctive piano style at the shoulder of Esquerita, a gay performer he'd met at Macon bus station - where, by Richard's own admission, he lingered longer than most in the men's room. Whereas Jerry Lee Lewis plays the piano with a frenetic but essentially light touch, Richard has on occasion struck bass notes with such force that he has broken 80 gauge (heavy duty) piano strings: something that Bumps Blackwell (who died in 1985) said he saw accomplished four times by Little Richard, but never by any other performer.

His teacher Esquerita (Steve Quincy Reeder Jr adopted his stage name for its scatological sound) was notoriously promiscuous. Esquerita would become, in the early Sixties, a popular recording artist in his own right, yet when he died of AIDS in the mid-Eighties he was washing windscreens for tips at a Brooklyn intersection. In his teenage years, Richard tended to indulge his own sexual appetites with gusto, then condemn his behaviour as satanic. In recent years, he has developed a more liberal view of homosexuality. "I've been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate," he told Penthouse in 1995. "How can I [put] down the fisherman when I've been fishing all my life?" He adds that Lee Angel, and Ernestine Campbell, a Bible student who was married to him between 1959 and 1961, didn't see he was gay because "they just thought of me as a pumper [fan of masturbation]. I was pumping so much peter in those days; eight or nine times a day."

(Richard, who was married only once, has fathered no children, but did adopt the son of a church associate, when she died: Danny Jones, now 39, is a rap artist.)

In February 1955, the singer sent a tape to Art Rupe, owner of Specialty Records in Los Angeles. Eight months later Rupe, a gospel enthusiast who loved the purity of Richard's voice, summoned him to record a session, produced by Bumps Blackwell, in New Orleans.

Blackwell described the experience on Bill Hinton's South Bank Show. "We recorded six or seven numbers, including 'Kansas City' and 'Directly From My Heart To You'. Little Richard's voice was unmistakably star material. He was a gospel singer who could sing the blues. His dynamic range was just terrific. I never overdubbed Richard's voice. He was," Blackwell adds, in a phrase that might serve as the singer's epitaph, "full-on all the way."

But in the sterile atmosphere of the studio, Blackwell added, "We were getting nowhere. I stopped the session. Then we went over to the Dew Drop Inn. There was a piano, and all of these boosters sitting around; pimps and whores." Richard, he recalled, felt immediately at home and headed for the keyboard. "That is when I began to understand him. All you have to do is give him an audience. He jumped on the piano and hit the chords of 'Tutti Frutti'."

"A-wop-boppa-loo-bop a wop bam boom!" Richard recalled. "I had sung that on stage in Macon. I had never heard the word used before. I was hearing a drum beat in my voice."

According to Bumps Blackwell, Little Richard was reluctant to record his own lyrics to the song "because they were dirty". ("Tutti Frutti/Good booty/If it don't fit, don't force it/You can grease it, make it easy.")

Blackwell called in a songwriter called Dorothy La Bostrie, and had her hastily assemble a sanitised version. (La Bostrie, also now dead, claimed - most believe falsely - that she herself had the idea for "Tutti Frutti".) Armed with the new lyrics, Blackwell said, they had almost run out of studio time. "In 15 minutes," he recalled, "we did two cuts. It has been history ever since."

"Tutti Frutti" was released in 1955 and reached No.17 in the Billboard pop chart. Its success was overshadowed, though, by more popular, if anodyne, versions by Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. Richard, though, had already captured the young audience.

"At first I was disgusted. Pat Boone's version sold more than I did. The white families said I was demonic. They wanted a white role model for their kids. With white buck shoes on. So here come Pat Boone from Tennessee like he was a saint. White kids would put my record under the table and Pat Boone's on the table. We were in the same house but in different locations. I was the first artist to break the race barrier," Richard went on. "When I came on the scene, black records were for black audiences. It was just something about my personality that the white kids liked me. They loved me even when I was small."

And then, on 8 June 1956, Little Richard was staring out of a fourth-floor hotel window in Savannah, Georgia, and saw Audrey Robinson. She was of mixed race - a cousin of the great soul singer Solomon Burke - but white-skinned. Bust 50", waist 18", she was 16 years old and still at college. It would be the most intimately significant moment of Richard's life; his first glimpse of the woman he would come to know as Lee Angel.

"I was not a fan," Angel tells me over lunch in a hotel near her home in West Hollywood. "I was just walking down West Broad Street, in Savannah. Richard looked out of that window, and sent for me."

Angel, who is 70, but looks much younger, shares Richard's sense of irony.

"I said to the person he sent down: 'Who wants me? Little Richard? Excuse me? Is he aware that I am a girl?'"

She was captivated "from the second I met him. I almost fainted. I felt weak at the knees. I went through all the classic signs of falling in love. With Richard, I have had a lot of firsts."

----

Part 3. To be continued.

[Edited 11/10/10 17:20pm]

[Edited 11/10/10 17:38pm]

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Reply #3 posted 11/10/10 5:18pm

Timmy84

They established, she tells me, an orthodox physical relationship.

"Didn't you once say that you were 'the woman Richard always wanted to be'?"

"I only said that because I was angry. I'd just read Charles White's book."

"And?"

"When I read it, I discovered I'd had far more fun in my life than I myself knew about."

"You mean things like that story about you having a threesome with Buddy Holly?"

"Right."

"Buddy liked Angel," Richard is quoted as saying in Charles White's biography. "One time Buddy came into my dressing room while I was jacking off with Angel sucking my titty. Angel had the fastest tongue in the west. She was doing that to me and Buddy took out his thing. She opened up her legs and he put it in her. He was having sex with Angel, I was jacking off, and Angel was sucking me when they introduced his name on stage. He finished and went to the stage still fastening himself up. I'll never forget that. He came and he went."

"I knew Buddy," Angel says. "But I didn't know I knew Buddy that well."

Angel says that she left Richard in 1957 - the first of a number of temporary separations - even though the singer wanted to marry her. "And yet he's so open about his relationships with men in the book," I express.

"I have been around him all my life. All I can say is that I have never seen anybody except me touch Rich."

"When I put your two names into an internet search engine, the first noun in the first entry that appeared was 'orgy'."

"I guess being in the same room where people were... doing things... means I was a part of that. But Richard," she says, "would never let anybody touch me. What was going on across the room was a different story. Richard has a wonderful imagination."

Little Richard retired from show business for the first time in 1957. He was touring Australia when Sputnik passed over the stadium where he was performing.

"This big light came over and it was frightening to me. I told the guys I was with in Australia, I am coming out of this business. I have always feared that the world was going to end. We got on a ferry and I said, 'Well, if you don't believe I'm going to stop, I'll throw all my diamonds in the ocean.' And I threw all my big rings in the water."

Richard gave his life over to the church for the first time on 8 September 1957. He moved to Huntsville, Alabama and enrolled in a Bible college. He had already irritated the authorities there by driving his yellow Cadillac into the grounds; when he exposed himself to a younger male student, he was politely asked to leave. But Richard remained adamant that he would sing only gospel songs, and that rock'n'roll was the devil's music.

The epiphany he experienced in Sydney came horribly undone at the Gaumont Theatre, Doncaster. Richard had spent five years singing nothing but gospel hymns when Don Arden persuaded him to come to the UK and, with typical boldness, advertised the tour as Little Richard's return to rock'n'roll. The artist himself appears to have been convinced he would sing only sacred music.

"The old man understood Richard," David Arden recalls. "He knew how incredibly competitive he was in front of an audience. At the first of two shows that night in Doncaster, in October 1962, Richard sang things like '(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)'. [He was accompanied by his organist, the young Billy Preston, who would go on to play with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.] He went down very badly. It looked as though there would be a riot." (His father Don, the most widely feared promoter in pop history looked, according to one source, "as if he was having a fit".) When the second house began, David continues, "Richard didn't take his eyes off Sam Cooke, who was the supporting act. Sam was sensational, as always. The audience went crazy. Richard was watching him, very carefully, all the time."

In those days, Little Richard used to approach the stage by walking through the stalls, already singing.

"At the start of his second set," David recalls, "Richard walked down the aisle singing 'Ride On, King Jesus'. Then a spotlight illuminated him. When he got to the grand piano, wearing an all-white suit, he went into the opening bars of 'Long Tall Sally'. He followed that with 'Lucille', 'Good Golly, Miss Molly' and 'Tutti Frutti'."

Charles White saw the same tour in Mansfield, by which time Richard's taste for musical evangelism seemed to have diminished even further.

"At one point," White recalls, "he appeared to suffer a heart attack. They made an announcement asking for a doctor and the St John Ambulance brigade put him on a stretcher. I thought he was dead. Then he sat upright, leapt back on to the stage and carried on singing 'Lucille'. I'd grown up in a culture, in Ireland, where you are taught that girls are evil while inside you are busting like a bloody Saturn V rocket at take off. Going to see Richard was like getting out of the Bastille after serving 40 years. I couldn't believe the power, the energy. The joy."

Little Richard completed three highly successful tours for Arden. When he first met the Beatles in Liverpool, Richard recalled, "Brian Epstein said, 'They want to touch you.' Paul grabbed my hand. John got a finger. George got a finger. I said: 'Pull me.' They all touched me and they made a wish. I taught Paul how to do the scream."

(When he heard his first Little Richard single "Long Tall Sally", John Lennon told an interviewer, "It was so great I couldn't speak. You know how you are torn. I didn't want to leave Elvis, but this was so much better. Then someone said: 'It's a nigger singing.' I didn't know negroes sang." Almost 20 years later, in Toronto, Lennon, as top of the bill, attempted to follow Richard on stage - a dangerous decision for any performer, especially one prepared to let Yoko Ono near a microphone. "I threw up for hours before I went on," Lennon told Rolling Stone magazine afterwards. "I could hardly sing any of the numbers. I was full of shit.")

"Nobody has ever upstaged Richard," Lee Angel told me. "I have seen several try." One was his own guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, then known simply as Maurice, or sometimes Jimmy James. "One night," in Richard's words, "I heard this screaming and hollering. I thought they were hollering for me. But I looked around and he was back there playing the guitar with his mouth. He didn't do that again; we made sure the lights didn't come on in that area no more."

On Arden's second British tour, the Rolling Stones opened the show. "Mick Jagger," Richard said, "was sleeping on the floor in Bo Diddley's room. My room was full, as always. I had nowhere to walk. I just said: 'Next, next.'"

----

Part 4. To be continued.

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Reply #4 posted 11/10/10 5:20pm

Timmy84

Over the next ten years, as Little Richard found his success eclipsed by his white British protégés, he developed a fondness for alcohol, cocaine and angel dust.

"I remember meeting him in London in 1970," says Lee Angel. "I was so shocked. In the early days I had barely seen him take a drink." On one occasion, at an LA hotel, she remembers, "Richard was smoking and the ash fell off the cigarette and landed on him. I heard Richard say: 'Ah! So that's how a negro smells when he's burning. I wonder how a female might, er...' I started cursing him out. We got into this heavy fight. Because I could hear him thinking, what happens if I burn Angel?'"

"You mean you could imagine him saying that - not actually hear it?"

"I mean that I heard it. That happened a lot of times; we could be miles away and I would know what he was thinking."

"I had powder on me all the time," Richard recalled, "and I wasn't putting it on my face. My nose was big enough to park a diesel truck in. It took me over."

In 1976, his friend Little Gus was shot in the head, and Richard's younger brother Tony died of a cocaine-related heart attack, aged 33. The singer felt personally responsible, for the latter incident especially.

"My brother Tony said, 'Richard, I wanna borrow some money to buy a station wagon,'" Richard told Bill Hinton. "I said, 'Tony when I get back I'll let you have it.' Instead of doing that, I met a man after the show and we went to the hotel. We went there to have a party. The next morning someone pushed a note under my door, saying: 'Your brother is dead.' He got up and watered his lawn and walked to his little boy and fell dead, my little brother. I said, 'Well, I think God is trying to tell me something.' I opened my Bible at 'Mark 36', where God says: 'What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'"

"When Tony died," Angel remembers, "Richard just snapped. That was the end of all the drugs. He went into selling Bibles. I got a call, not long after and I went up to see him in Los Angeles. It took me a moment to recognise him. The pompadour had gone. His hair was like it was when he was young; just the way he wore it in The Girl Can't Help It [Frank Tashlin's 1956 film in which he steals the show from a cast headed by Jayne Mansfield]. He was wearing a suit and tie. And I saw my Richard again."

In the period he found God for the second time, his blood, according to one friend, "was like rocket fuel".

Beginning in 1977, he devoted seven years to preaching and selling Bibles, and released just one album, God's Beautiful City. This period of relative obscurity ended with the appearance of Charles White's The Life And Times Of Little Richard: The Quasar Of Rock in 1984. The book has been regularly republished since, most recently under the title of The Life And Times Of Little Richard, The Authorised Biography, in 2003.

Lee Angel's life, meanwhile, had pursued an almost equally bizarre trajectory. The long standing lover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, she'd moved to London in the late Sixties and for three years existed as a stripper and as the mistress of a prominent socialite and controversial entrepreneur. When I say "existed..."

"I had an apartment at Park Lane, right next to the Dorchester," Angel remembers, "and a chauffeur. In the end, I told the rich English guy that I was leaving the flat. When he asked why, I told him: 'Because you have a key.'" For a while she was married to illustrator Bill Sherbourne, a member of the aristocratic Sherbourne family.

"After everything you saw with Richard," I suggest, "you must have found the English incredibly repressed."

"One time in Stoke-on-Trent I was in the back of a taxi," Angel replies, in a response which, I have to admit, I hadn't anticipated. "With these rugby players. All English. And one of these English rugby players, when he needed to use the bathroom... well, he just wound down the window and stuck it out and, you know, off he went, hosing away."

"At least he wound down the window. That's practically genteel in Stoke. What were you doing there anyhow?"

"Dancing."

"Stripping?"

"Yes."

"Did you have a snake?"

"No."

In March 1989, at an AIDS benefit hosted by Cher, Little Richard stood at a keyboard and, for the first time in 13 years, tore into "Lucille". This time, his reconversion to rock'n'roll didn't involve a return to narcotic abuse. Before his 2009 hip operation, he played his old catalogue with no apparent shame or guilt.

In early 2010, Little Richard released a statement to the effect that he would soon be back on the stage. Sources in Nashville, on the other hand, told me that Richard remains in considerable pain and that the man who once feigned lying on a stretcher in Mansfield has, as recently as this spring, been obliged to use one when he travelled.

Lee Angel falls silent when I mention this.

"I know nothing about all that," she says. "All I know is that his operation has taken some time to heal."

Earlier this year, Angel travelled to Nashville to be with Richard.

"I held him," she says. "It was just like it was in the old days; he would never let me wear any clothes in bed, even though I had all these beautiful nightdresses. I held him close, while he went peacefully to sleep. It was as though we had travelled back in time 50 years."

"In what way would you say he has been most misunderstood?"

"People will never know how generous he is, how many funerals he has paid for; how many people he has helped; how much rent he has paid for others. He is such a caring person. Such a giving person."

"Sane?"

She hesitates, then laughs. "Well... Richard is insane. I don't mean clinically insane, or crazy in a bad way. But he is just insane."

We've been talking for several hours by now. Our conversation started back over lunch; but some guests are beginning to drift in through the door for dinner.

Lee Angel smiles to herself.

"Just imagine," she whispers. "Just imagine if there had been two of him. What would they have done? How would they have coped?"

"How would who have coped? You mean his family? You mean Macon?"

She shakes her head. "I don't mean his family. Or Macon. I mean the world."

Originally published in the October 2010 issue of British GQ.

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Reply #5 posted 11/10/10 5:47pm

banks

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Great Read.....cool

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Reply #6 posted 11/10/10 6:01pm

nursev

Very nice article wink Little Richard was kinda cute lol I'm just sayin he coulda got it lol and Leon did a helluva job playing him.

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Reply #7 posted 11/10/10 6:03pm

nursev

Fact that he did angel dust doesn't surprise me lol

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Reply #8 posted 11/10/10 7:34pm

MickyDolenz

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I didn't know Lee Angel was black or related to Solomon Burke.

It's called show business for a reason. It’s 90% business and 10% show. If you don’t know your business…you’re in trouble! ~ Johnnie Taylor / Basically, music is nothing but prostitution anyway and managers are the pimps ~ Millie Jackson
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Reply #9 posted 11/10/10 7:47pm

dalsh327

I saw Don Arden's name mentioned in the article. Sharon Osbourne's dad. Was not a nice man.

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Reply #10 posted 11/10/10 7:50pm

MickyDolenz

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dalsh327 said:

I saw Don Arden's name mentioned in the article. Sharon Osbourne's dad. Was not a nice man.

I read Ozzy's autobiography, and he said the same thing.

It's called show business for a reason. It’s 90% business and 10% show. If you don’t know your business…you’re in trouble! ~ Johnnie Taylor / Basically, music is nothing but prostitution anyway and managers are the pimps ~ Millie Jackson
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Reply #11 posted 11/10/10 8:00pm

Timmy84

MickyDolenz said:

I didn't know Lee Angel was black or related to Solomon Burke.

I kinda knew it from the film though they changed her name probably to protect her identity. I'm sure Lee Angel told Richard not to mention her by name. So Lee Angel became "Lucille" in the film.

[Edited 11/10/10 20:00pm]

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Reply #12 posted 11/10/10 8:16pm

sosgemini

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And that silly American Idol dude seems to think he is breaking barriers. PLEASE!!!

Space for sale...
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Reply #13 posted 11/10/10 8:21pm

vainandy

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He makes my big toe stand up in my boot. lol

Andy is a four letter word.
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Reply #14 posted 11/10/10 8:22pm

Timmy84

vainandy said:

He makes my big toe stand up in my boot. lol

Mine's too. touched

International treasure. cool

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Reply #15 posted 11/10/10 8:42pm

Red

He was a cutie 4 sure. Just reading Keef's 'Life' and a couple good mentions in there about Little Richard. BTW - good read for musicians - with lots of technical info and how to on signature chord progression etc. Anyway...remember going to the American Music Awards - bout 20 years ago....break for intermission and who's in the lobby with a table of religious pamphlets, handing it out and preachin - Little Richard. Very strange - but obviously not.

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Reply #16 posted 11/10/10 8:59pm

Harlepolis

I should've mention him in the "artists absent from your music collection".

Huge discography and I don't know where to start,,,,,the song that made love him was "A Whole Lotta Shakin'" with Jimi Hendrix, I think I'll start picking them out from there.

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Reply #17 posted 11/10/10 9:55pm

MickyDolenz

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Harlepolis said:

I should've mention him in the "artists absent from your music collection".

Huge discography and I don't know where to start,,,,,the song that made love him was "A Whole Lotta Shakin'" with Jimi Hendrix, I think I'll start picking them out from there.

The Rill Thing album is pretty good. It was recorded at Muscle Shoals. Here's a few songs from it.

Here's some gospel.

It's called show business for a reason. It’s 90% business and 10% show. If you don’t know your business…you’re in trouble! ~ Johnnie Taylor / Basically, music is nothing but prostitution anyway and managers are the pimps ~ Millie Jackson
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Reply #18 posted 11/10/10 11:41pm

Harlepolis

God....

I always appreciate it when people who throw down like Little Richard & Tina Turner belt it out in a ballad every once in awhile, because you know your spine is liable to generate electricity touched

Thanks for the heads up.

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Reply #19 posted 11/11/10 12:44am

Huggiebear

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"Prince is me in this generation". Seriously this was a great read, thanks.

So what are u going 2 do? R u just gonna sit there and watch? I'm not gonna stop until the war is over. Its gonna take a long time
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Reply #20 posted 11/11/10 12:51am

Harlepolis

Ok I just finished reading the article - and I'll GET that Charles White book. Damn, what a fascinating figure.

Oh yes, and I just bought this from Itunes just now...

Send me some loving drool

[Edited 11/11/10 0:51am]

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Reply #21 posted 11/11/10 6:34am

Graycap23

Rich was and is......off the Hook.

Love this guy.

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Reply #22 posted 11/11/10 10:10am

uPtoWnNY

Timmy84 said:

vainandy said:

He makes my big toe stand up in my boot. lol

Mine's too. touched

International treasure. cool

Shet up! Slap! biggrin

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Reply #23 posted 11/11/10 10:14am

Timmy84

uPtoWnNY said:

Timmy84 said:

Mine's too. touched

International treasure. cool

Shet up! Slap! biggrin

WOOOOOOOO! lol

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Reply #24 posted 11/11/10 10:17am

uPtoWnNY

During the Purple Rain mania back in 1984, Little Richard was asked what he thought of Prince. Richard said, "He's me!" biggrin

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Reply #25 posted 11/11/10 11:19am

CocoRock

Thanks for posting. I know what I'm reading tonight!
It's a comprehension thang, you wouldn't understand.
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Reply #26 posted 11/11/10 1:08pm

TonyVanDam

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Timmy84 said:

MickyDolenz said:

I didn't know Lee Angel was black or related to Solomon Burke.

I kinda knew it from the film though they changed her name probably to protect her identity. I'm sure Lee Angel told Richard not to mention her by name. So Lee Angel became "Lucille" in the film.

[Edited 11/10/10 20:00pm]

Exactly. nod I figured that one out after watching the made-for-TV movie.

BTW, excellent thread! cool

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Reply #27 posted 11/11/10 1:12pm

carlcranshaw

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‎"The first time I saw the cover of Dirty Mind in the early 80s I thought, 'Is this some drag queen ripping on Freddie Prinze?'" - Some guy on The Gear Page
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Reply #28 posted 11/11/10 1:13pm

TonyVanDam

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uPtoWnNY said:

During the Purple Rain mania back in 1984, Little Richard was asked what he thought of Prince. Richard said, "He's me!" biggrin

True story. nod

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Reply #29 posted 11/11/10 1:14pm

Timmy84

Thank all y'all for your comments. smile

I felt this was a great article that I couldn't help but post here. smile

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