J&M Recording Studio, New Orleans, LA.
When Richard Penniman, a little-known singer from Macon, Georgia, whose stage name was Little Richard, walked into Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio on the corner of North Rampart and Dumaine Streets for the first time in 1955, he was somewhat in awe. By the mid-1950’s Cosimo’s J&M Recording Studio located on the outskirts of New Orleans’ French Quarter had become legendary-a hit factory, with some of the best studio musicians in the world producing what had become known as the ”Cosimo Sound.” Richard had just secured a recording contract with Specialty Records, which produced “race records” on the rhythm & blues charts.
Richard’s recording contract came after months of persistent phone calls from Richard to the owner of Specialty, Art Rupe, who finally relented and agreed to give Richard a try. Rupe and Richard both agreed that the place to record was Cosimo’s studio. (The studio had already produced a million seller for Specialty, Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” with Fats Domino accompanying his fellow New Orleanian on the piano.)
Specialty had booked the studio for two days, but the tracts produced in the first day and a half did not live up to producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell’s expectations. Blackwell had heard that Little Richard’s live act was really wild, but in the studio, he was very inhibited. Finally, a frustrated Blackwell decided to take Richard for a lunch break at a rhythm and blues club called the Dew Drop Inn on LaSalle Street. During the lunch break, Richard got on the club’s piano and started singing a risque’ song he had written and performed on the road called “Tutti Frutti.” This was what Blackwell had been looking for—this was a hit! But the lyrics started with “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop, a-good goddamn, Tutti Frutti, good booty,” and from there, things got worse. A record with words like that would never get any radio airplay!
Blackwell immediately called a New Orleans songwriter, Dorothy LaBostrie, to come and fix the lyrics. Back at the studio that afternoon, Richard continued to work on other tracts while Labostrie worked on toning down the dirty lyrics to “Tutti Frutti.” With fifteen minutes left to go in the session, LaBostrie handed the new lyrics to Richard. Three takes and fifteen minutes later, Little Richard and the studio band had what everyone was looking for.
“Tutti Frutti” became a rock classic, reaching #2 on the R&B chart and “crossing-over” to the pop (white) chart at #17. In 2007, when a panel of recording artists compiled a list of “100 Records that Changed the World” for MOJO magazine, “Tutti Frutti” took the top spot. MOJO’s editors hailed it as “the biggest bang in the history of pop music.”
Richard would also record his hits “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip it Up,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” in Cosimo’s studio.
Little Richard was one of the Beatles’ idols. When the Fab Four had the opportunity to be an opening act for Richard early in their career, they were “almost paralyzed with adoration” according to John Lennon. Paul McCartney, early on, had perfected an impressive Little Richard imitation, especially the high-pitched “WOOOO!” in “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally.” That “WOOOO!” would later appear in the Beatles’ own recording of “Long Tall Sally” as well as John and Paul’s composition “She Loves You.”
During their first American tour in 1964, the Beatles would always end their concerts with “Long Tall Sally,” including their show at New Orleans’ City Park Stadium. It would be the last song they would perform at their final concert in San Francisco in August of 1966.
RIP Little Richard. Not a bad life for a poor boy from Macon, Georgia.