Elvis: "Your music has inspired me - you are the greatest."
The Beatles: "He was my idol at school. The first song I ever sang in public was Long Tall Sally, at a Butlins holiday camp talent competition! I love his voice and I always wanted to sing like him." "It was all his fault really."
The Rolling Stones: "Little Richard is the originator and my first idol." "Little Richard is King."
Bob Dylan: in his high school yearbook says his goal is "to join Little Richard."
David Bowie (not so straight): "After hearing Little Richard on record, I bought a saxophone and came into the music business. Little Richard was my inspiration."
Paul Simon: "When I was in high school I wanted to be like Little Richard."
Bob Seeger: "Little Richard - he was the first one that really got to me... I always preferred a high energy vocal, a hard full-force vocal. I liked Little Richard better than Elvis."
Pat Boone: "No one person has been imitated more than Little Richard."
Black superstars too are quick to credit Little Richard, although in following him they never reaped the same rewards as their white counterparts.
James Brown (who claimed that Little Richard was the first to put the funk in the rock beat): "Little Richard is my idol."
Otis Redding: "If it hadn't been for Little Richard, I would not be here. I entered the music business because of Richard - he is my inspiration. I used to sing like Little Richard, his Rock 'n' Roll stuff, you know. Richard has soul, too. My present music has a lot of him in it."
Sam Cooke: "I love Little Richard. He is a great entertainer and he has done so much for our music."
Smokey Robinson: "Little Richard was the beginning of that drivin', never-let-up, funky Rock 'n' Roll."
Ray Charles: Little Richard "started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today."
Rev. Al Green: "I was a little kid when I heard Little Richard. He was playing piano and singing that song [Jenny, Jenny]. Even then, I knew he was a classic, one-of-a-kind. I never heard (a performer) with that kind of enthusiasm."
Jimi Hendrix: "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."
What makes his lasting importance astounding is that it's all based on two years' work. He released Tutti Frutti in November 1955, and, in 1957, while touring Australia, he became born again and quit the music business. His success and influence are even more surprising when you consider how, in the middle of the Eisenhower administration (the summer of '56 when Ike added "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and authorized the national motto of "In God We Trust"), Little Richard made the world fall for a high camp, effeminate black man in flashy clothes, crazy hair, wearing heavy pancake makeup and heavier eyeliner. (He based much of his style on another Southern gay black man, Esquerita.) Given the times, none of this should have happened for Richard Penniman. Given his own background, with his parents disowning him at thirteen for being gay, it should have been impossible.
Starting in the 1960s, he staged many comebacks, easily slipping into caricature and never equaling his early highs: After Tutti Frutti came Long Tall Sally, Slipin and Slidin, Rip It Up, Lucille, Jenny, Jenny, Keep a Knockin, and Good Golly, Miss Molly. Beyond the music, he has kept the persona relevant for fifty years. Witness his turn with King Ralph and his ads for Geico. For more, jump into David Kirby's Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll [Kindle].