Tutti-Frutti (1955)

Little Richard

Written by Dorothy La Bostrie, (Little) Richard Penniman, Joe Lubin
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Imagine a placid field, a perfect day in September, 1955. There is a picnic with clots of white American families laughing, eating, playing. “Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White” is the top hit of the year.

A flying saucer lands.

Tutti frutti pompadour richardOut steps a young black man with a mustache penciled tight above his upper lip and a pomaded pompadour hairdo. You wonder: is he wearing eye shadow? Lipstick? He sports a modified zoot suit and white shoes. An upright piano is wheeled out.

Before starting in to pounding on it, he shouts out something like:

Wop-bop-a-loo-mop a-lop-bom-bom!

Then this unhinged creature starts singing about “Tutti-Frutti,” which the picnickers know only as a chewing gum flavor. You notice that the teenagers are starting to dance with reckless abandon.

A song from the supernova

Yes, “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley had been released (for the second time) in May of 1955, but it had elements of Swing, Rockabilly and Bop. It would reach #2 on the Billboard Top 30 for the year. “Tutti-Frutti” was something altogether revolutionary. Between the two songs, Rock-N-Roll was given birth to. For this reason alone, “Tutti-Frutti” is one of the greatest of great Rock-N-Roll classics.

In 1932, Little Richard was born in Depression-ridden Macon, Georgia, and grew up singing gospel. So loud was his voice that he was nicknamed “War Hawk.” Gospel and R&B influences on him are countless. Brother Joe May is one of the keys to Little Richard’s style. It is said that May could be heard shouting and singing the Lord’s righteousness 6 miles away from the churches he performed in.

Flamboyant Atlanta R&B performer Billy Wright is another important root feeding Richard’s tree. He was known as the “Prince Of The Blues.” A listen to his recordings demonstrate just how influential Wright was in the formulation of modern Rock-N-Roll, yet he only lives on really, through Little Richard’s supernova.

Once he starts pounding the piano, Little Richard let’s fly with an almost nonsensical lyric, transcribed variously with the rhyme “oh rutti,” “au rutti,” “all rooty,” or “oh Rudy.” None makes very much sense but the joyful, anarchic mode that still runs through blue blood Rock songs today was invented then and there:

TuttiFrutti LittleRichard coverTutti frutti, oh rutti,
Tutti frutti, oh rutti,
Tutti frutti, oh rutti,
Tutti frutti, oh rutti,
Tutti frutti, oh rutti…

The original saloon and dance hall version was sung as “real booty.”

Richard’s band cooks, his piano is hotter than sizzling bacon and the rhythm is impossible to resist. At times the band members seem ready to slip their moorings and dissolve into chaos, but manage to keep on the bumpy, jumping course. The song is so electric, so gonzo it reflects his lovin’ feelin’ for not one, but two different women:

I got a gal named Sue, she knows just what to do,
I got a gal named Sue, she knows just what to do,
She rocks to the East, she rocks to the West,
She is the gal that I love best…


I got a gal named Daisy, she almost drives me crazy,
Got a gal named Daisy, she almost drives me crazy,
She knows how to love me, yes indeed,
Boy, you don’t know what she’s doin’ to me

Some ideas, musical and otherwise, erupt spontaneously from a person’s soul – or the collective soul. One is left thinking they are mysteries of the universe.

There are a lot of explanations for Little Richard’s sound, his idiosyncrasies, his thinly veiled gender bending, gold lamé ladies underwear, bra no extra charge. But the best alibi seems to come from his earliest days. In his biography Charles White cites Little Richard as saying:

“I had this great big head and little body, and I had one big eye and one little eye.”

Wop-bop-a-loo-mop a-lop-bom-bom!

Tuttti-frutti still going

  • You can bet the original lyrics weren’t going to fly on the radio:
    Tutti Frutti, good booty
    If it don’t fit, don’t force it
    You can grease it, make it easy
  • When he was a boy, Richard would use his mother’s make up kit, slip into her heels and throw curtains around his shoulders. He termed himself “The Magnificent One.”