Liner Note Author: Billy Vera.
Little Richard quit rock & roll in 1957, just two years after "Tutti Frutti" turned him into a blazing star. He'd return to rock & roll a few years later but his speedy retreat to the church established an arc that would replay itself throughout his career: incendiary hedonism followed by repentance. This swift reversal certainly affected Richard's career in the short-term -- Art Rupe had no choice but to issue outtakes, sometimes polishing them for mass consumption, as when he turned "Keep A-Knockin'" into a raging thunderstorm -- but also the long, as it interrupted his seemingly unstoppable momentum and wound up muddying history, obscuring how his run at Specialty was a meteoric 18 months, a brief burst of brilliance that maybe was destined to flame out. Almost all of Richard's legacy, not to mention the lion's share of his compilations, is based on these 18 months but Specialty/Concord's 2015 triple-disc box Directly from My Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years adds the sessions he recorded with Rupe after returning to Specialty in 1962, along with his 1964 and 1965 sides for Vee-Jay Records. This, along with some of the slower numbers from Richard's two Specialty '50s LPs, adds depth and dimension; it also turns this box into essentially The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Masters of Little Richard, since the only missing track out of all the singles and albums is an early '60s version of "Hound Dog," which is hardly a great loss. Remarkably, this is the first extensive box covering both Specialty and Vee-Jay to ever be released. Prior Specialty boxes dug deep into alternate takes, all good, but sometimes that played like an overdose of cayenne in chili: the strong spice overwhelmed any subtlety of the flavors. Here, it's possible to hear traces of Richard's softer early blues and gospel roots, then there are the '60s sides, where Richard relaxes and gets deeply soulful while also wildly reinventing '50s standards like "Blueberry Hill" and "Only You," turning Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)" into proto-funk. No other Little Richard set found room for these detours and they do him a considerable favor, showing the range that extended far beyond his trademark wallop and woo, and while his legacy still rests on that astonishing fireball at Specialty -- a time that started with "Tutti Frutti," contained "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Long Tall Sally," "Ready Teddy," "Rip It Up," "Lucille," "Good Golly Miss Molly," and "The Girl Can't Help It," and ended with "Keep A-Knockin'" -- it's instructive to listen beyond the hits because it shows just how good Little Richard really was. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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