A 1970’s Little Richard album rescued from obscurity (review)

Little Richard – Right Now! (Omnivore Recordings)

Little-known album from 1973 makes its digital debut

The folks at Omnivore have really helped to enhance the legacy of Little Richard by reissuing many of his lesser-known albums from the early Seventies (read our review here).  These showed that not only was the rock n’ roll pioneer still active, he was putting out some of the best music of his entire career.  

Those albums came out on Reprise, a major label. Richard’s next album was an odd one – a budget label release on the tiny United Records that went straight to the cut-out bin, called Right Now!  Omnivore has rescued this from the junk pile and it’s a revelation.

Furthering the album’s mystery is the fact that there were no liner notes, and no songwriting credits.  So, we’re not even sure who actually played on these tracks, where it was recorded, etc.  The label even mislabeled several songs.

From the excellent liner notes that accompany this new reissue, writer Bill Dahl uncovers that Right Now! was recorded in one evening, a lot of it live to tape.  “Bumps” Blackwell, Richard’s longtime manager, made a one album deal with United to help fund an upcoming tour.  

The album opens with “In the Name” – an odd choice, since he’d already recorded this song in 1971 for one of his Reprise albums.  But, there’s a definite improvement here.  While the earlier recording was more of a shuffle beat, this one chugs along, has superior horns, and Richard’s vocal is more spirited.  I love the fat bassline on “Mississippi” – his band is really cooking here.  

Another curious element is that some of the songs seem too short, while others overstay their welcome.  Take, for instance, “Don’t You Know I” – an impassioned ballad with a strange second Richard vocal in the right channel (perhaps not erased properly?).  It just gets going and then fades out.  It clocks in at just 3 minutes, and could really use some soloing to flesh it out.  There’s also a definite fidelity difference – it’s obvious that Richard overdubbed his vocal here.

One of the mislabeled tracks, “Chain Chain Chain” is, in fact, Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”  This sounds like a spontaneous jam, as Richard repeats the song’s first verse, over and over.  And, I love the way Richard says “fooool” at the 2:17 mark.

“Gerald Jones” is one that is just too long – Richard is obviously ad libbing the vocals on the spot and it’s definitely funky.  There’s some great stinging guitar and frenetic piano on the solos.  But, it just doesn’t need to be SIX minutes long.   Also: Richard is obviously saying “Geraldine Jones,” but once again, the label mislabeled things.

“(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay” is another curiosity – while Otis Redding’s original version is contemplative, in Richard’s hands, it’s like he just robbed a bank and is looking for a boat to get him outta there fast.  Another example of a song being too brief.

“Chains of Love” is a slow blues number that runs over eight minutes.  Here, it’s great to hear Richard directing the band – he says “relax yourself drummer” at the start, then, he shouts “play the blues Glen!” before the guitar solo, and then, he even implores himself  “alright, settle Little Richard” at one point.  

The final cut, “Hot Nuts,”  is fueled by bongos and a groovin’ bassline, and is full of innuendos.  But, Richard’s growling vocal is the real highlight.

The common narrative on Little Richard is that he helped pioneer rock n’ roll in the Fifties, joined the ministry in the Sixties and ended up on oldies circuit in the Seventies.  Omnivore Recordings continues to disprove this by reissuing albums that add to his legacy. Little Richard was a force of nature.  Right Now! proves that he still had it, years after his hits dried up.  —Tony Peters