Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, with hits like “Tutti Fruitti” and “Slippin’ and Slidin'” — not to mention a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural class — Little Richard helped pave the way for every rock ’n roller who followed.
Since the music icon died Saturday at age 87, tributes have been pouring in from artists he influenced, including from former J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf.
“I mean, people will always agree, like, who's the most important boxer? Who's the most important in sports? Who's the most important painter? But there was Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino. And then, of course, Bo Diddley,” Wolf told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Monday. “[Little Richard] set the template for every singer and every performer.”
Wolf said he’s been listening to Little Richard since he was just 10 years old.
“I became an instant fan … and I just bought every single record,” Wolf recalled. “He just inspired me. He had such joy and the voice defined what rock ’n roll is.”
Wolf loved his music so much that he even went and saw him in concert that same year.
“I remember the screaming. I remember the joy. I remember just being transfixed. And he started throwing some of his clothes out into the audience. He started taking his shirt off and he started shredding it up. Oh, we went, 'Wow.' He was it,” he explained.
Little Richard has been credited with inspiring the likes of James Brown, Elton John and Bob Dylan.
“He was really what he liked to call himself, the architect of rock ’n roll. He said, 'Elvis is the king,' and he said, 'But I’m the queen,' because he not only racially broke down barriers, he sexually broke down barriers by just letting people realize that he might be different. And he was really one of the first gay performers to not care what people thought about him,” Wolf said.
And, Wolf said, what you saw of Little Richard on stage was exactly how he was in person.. In fact, Wolf even interviewed him.
“He [always] seemed to be performing, but that really was him. He was very encouraging. He wanted to know what you were doing, where you were playing. He loved to sing. He was just one of these characters that you felt like he could have been the Pied Piper.”