Elvis Presley has been gone for decades.
Ike Turner passed on three years ago.
Bo Diddley died at his home outside Gainesville two years ago.
Of all the rock ’n’ roll architects of the 1950s only four remain:
Jerry Lee Lewis.
And Little Richard.
Berry and Richard performed at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Oct. 25, 2001.
The date’s barely legible on the faded ticket stub I’ve saved all these years.
Nationally acclaimed singer-songwriter and good friend Ronny Elliott sat right in front of me that night.
Elliott has shook hands with Presley.
He toured as a bass player with Berry and Diddley.
Talked guitars backstage with Eric Clapton and Duane Allman at old Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa.
It takes a lot to impress him.
But when Richard took the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall I watched Elliott wipe a manly tear from his eye.
“I guess it’s just that he is the legend and there’s no distinction between him and the act,” Elliott said recently by phone from his Tampa home. “And I’d never seen him live on stage until that night. It meant so much to me. Beyond that, it was just purely emotional.”
The man born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Ga., turns 78 today.
Happy birthday, King Richard.
Without you, rock ’n’ roll as we know it may have never existed.
At least not in such a pure state.
In 1955, Richard went to New Orleans and cut “Tutti-Frutti.”
The highly suggestive ditty was cleaned up and recorded at the request of producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell.
The song still exudes greater sexuality than anything on today’s pop chart.
Credit the raw power Richard has exuded for more than half a century.
“I got a girl named Sue, knows just what to do,” Richard sang to me. “I know a girl named Daisy”
We were discussing “Tutti-Frutti” during an interview to advance his 2007 performance at Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.
My jaw dropped and everyone in the newsroom watched as I grinned like a schoolboy.
Whether hearing “Tutti-Frutti” performed a cappella to me over the phone, on stage or when the classic recording comes up on my iTunes, I get a thrill.
Richard’s ’50s recordings like “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip it Up,” “Jenny, Jenny,” “Lucille” and “Keep A-Knockin’” remain equally potent.
As does the man’s charisma and singular personality.
At the height of his fame in late 1957, Richard quit show business to attend Bible college. He has balanced the secular and spiritual since returning to the stage in the ’60s. In recent years, Reverend Richard has presided over the weddings of Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.
Richard has also been known to sanctify complete strangers. Including this humble scribe. Our interview several years ended with him saying:
“God bless you. God bless you and your family.”
Thanks again, Reverend.
And happy birthday.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057 and follow him on twitter @accentbradenton. Visit his blog, Buzz Worthy, at bradenton.com/blogs.