Spell it how you like, the line of nonsense which punctuates Little Richard’s debut Specialty single Tutti Frutti is undeniably one of the most resonant in the whole history of rock and pop.
Nobody really knows where it came from. The favourite theory is that it was a drum fill Richard had in his head with which he wanted legendary New Orleans sticksman Earl Palmer to mark the turnaround at the end of each chorus.
Influenced by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and, let’s not forget, Slim Gaillard, Richard would have thought nothing of scatting singing instrumental parts as part of his act.
But it was most probably the equally legendary Crescent City producer Bumps Blackwell who picked up on the immortal phrase and recognised it as a hook which would become a rallying cry for a new generation.
Which it certainly did. After years spent on the chitlin’ circuit of the Deep South – not to mention cutting unsuccessful sides for labels like the mighty RCA’s Camden imprint and Don Robey’s Texas-based independent Peacock Records – Richard Wayne Penniman hit straight out of the box with Tutti Frutti.
Inside three months of release in September 1955, it had reached Number 2 in Billboard’s R’n’B Charts and by the New Year had crossed over to Number 17 in the Pop listings. Beating Elvis to the punch by a couple months, Tutti… also forged the 23 year old’s reputation as the Wildman of Rock’n’Roll as well as one the new genre’s brightest – and blackest – stars.
He was also its gayest and campest performer and frequently referred to himself as the Georgia Peach - although a comment like that would probably have passed way over the heads of his young white audience. Nevertheless it can only have raised a smile among the suits at Tesco towers when it was suggested that Tutti… be used in its teaser Stoned Fruit ad last month!
(Sadly this clip is unavailable on You Tube so we can’t offer you a link here.)
Although it had to wait until 1957 before it was released in Britain – as the B side to Long Tall Sally – Tutti Frutti ushered in a string of nine Top 40 US hits in little more two and a half years for Little Richard.
He was backed on them all by Fats Domino’s band, which included the aforementioned Palmer on drums as well as saxophonists Lee Allen and Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler and Huey Smith on rhythm piano.
Already proven masters of Domino’s more moody, romantic style, the crew that regularly convened for a Little Richard session at J&M – local DJ Cosimo Matassa’s storefont studio on North Rampart Street – could also rock like cavemen and swing like chandeliers without once stealing the limelight from their flamboyant frontman.
One of their less well-known but no less masterful collaborations was Slippin’ and Slidin’ which Cadbury’s has recruited for an amusing Dairy Milk Ice Cream campaign, showcasing all the joys of a traditional English summer holiday.
While Slippin’ was strugglin’ to climb into the US Top 30 in the Spring of 1956, another rock’n’roll classic, this time by doo-wop vocal group The Cadillacs, peaked at Number 17 on New York’s Josie label.
Titled Speedoo, after the Harlem-based band’s frontman Earl ‘Speedoo’ Carroll, it was always rumoured to be a song about amphetmines despite lyrics which, fairly typically, spoke of the singer’s attractiveness to the opposite sex.
Either way it’s nice to see that KFC has picked up Speedoo for a clever, multi-generational clip built around a family-sized bucket of chicken legs and half a dozen servings of French fries.
Sadly it proved to be the Caddys’ only real claim to fame, although occasional member Bobby Spencer was responsible for writing the same My Boy Lollipop, for NY schoolgirl Barbie Gaye, which JA producer Ernest Ranglin and Island Records entrepreneur Chris Blackwell transformed into Millie Small’s global ska smash in 1964.
Nevertheless Speedoo must certainly be one of the era’s most widely-compiled tracks – although who actually receives the royalties hardly stands up to scrutiny and might lead to the boys turning up at RC HQ if we were to speculate further.
So moving swiftly on, please raise a glass to Southern Comfort for bringing to our attention one of those great late 1950s recordings previously known only to the real rock’n’roll cognescenti in the house.
The film, in which a super dude barman lets rip with the lemonade guns, artfully retains all the zen-like inner calm of previous Southern Comfort ads we’ve showcased over the last 18 months. But the soundtrack is a slab of barkingly mad rockabilly which is, quite simply, somethin’ else!
Called Love Me, it was cut in Mobile, Alabama in 1958 by a young white country singer named Jerry Lott whose life was never the same again after hearing Elvis (and doubtless Little Richard too) on the radio a couple of years earlier.
It still took him another two years and a move to Los Angeles before he secured a singles deal with Dot under the nom du disque of The Phantom. Sadly Love Me would prove to be Lott’s one and only release before he died in South Carolina road crash in 1966.
However the song would later enjoy a new lease of life when British neo-rockabilly band The Blue Cats included a superb version on a 1981 album for Dutch label Rockhouse. But, as is invariably the case, nothing beats the original.