Westbury Music Fair
Descending to the piano seat and flicking a few rolls of magically sequenced notes onto the keyboard with his agile fingers, he complains that the pedal is stuck. “I’ve been in and out, but I ain’t never been stuck before!”, sends a rising wave of laughter through the audience –setting the mood for his crisp banter that peppered the rest of the night with his comical “...oh SHUTUP!”.
The nine members of his band were providing the sharp silhouettes of his ample repertoire that has spanned Little Richard’s 40 plus years of ultratalent which has connected with all levels of Rock and Roll quan. There were two rhythm guitarists, two bass guitarists, two drummers, two brass and an organ player to complement his own piano style. And like the biblical Noah, he asked the audience to participate by coming up on the stage in 2’s: “Can I have 2 black people, 2 white people, 2 oriental people… and 2 of anyone who’s still working on what they are?”. It took two security guards to keep the spirited volunteers from storming the stage. A singularly gifted little boy was even put on top of the piano as he wowed the crowd with enthusiastic gyrations. Little Richard loves the audience and the audience loved him. Yes, he played all his top hits superbly well and it would be easy to critique the rendition of how great Blueberry Hill, Lucille, Keep a Knockin’, and all the others sounded (which they did), but the show was really about the magic of the man, Little Richard. He told us about his hardship background when he (Richard Wayne Penniman) was making meager wages in Macon, Georgia for washing glasses and being the only Indian-Jew (he’s really a Seventh-day Adventist) in the place, and how he didn’t make a cent on “awop-bop-a-loo-mop-alop-bam-boom”...(the audience goes “WHAT?”) … and Little Richard retorts with “...oh SHUTUP!” He commands blue lights for his next number and after a few moments of backstage maneuvers he is enveloped in the appropriate fluorescence as he delivers some of the best blues of the evening. Little Richard dazzles as a rare talent of our times. He is a perfectionist whose effect on us is not only in his music but in his presence as well.
Not as dazzling in his entrance to the twirling center of the bull’s eye stage at Westbury, was the legendary Chuck Berry. The wild red shirt was an immediate hit but it took a while for Chuck Berry and his 3 piece band to gain some musical-momentum. Lots of stray chords and dissonant collaboration were the fare for much of the first half hour and then, like a potter’s clay, it started to take shape. The standard tunes were beginning to sound like the ones we remembered and the clapping syncopation from the audience put new life into the Rock ‘n Roll maestro. At times it seemed as though he was experimenting with a few impromptu ditties which ended short, but as soon as he ventured into the blues an epiphany of sorts pervaded our musical psyches. One side of the restless audience pursued him with shouts of “Memphis”, “Mabellene” and “Johnny B. Goode” as the other side countered with “Shutup and let him play what he wants!”, to which he responded with a non-plussed “I’m comin’.” And he did! From that point on he had it all under control and the music flowed from the center stage generously. A memorable tribute to one of his early influences, Muddy Waters, was an emotional performance-centerpiece that caught the revelers off guard. He changed places with his keyboard player and scattered some nasty notes across the b&w’s. The beat quickly ascended and people at the back of the audience-rings were dancing in full force. In fact, Charles Edward Anderson Berry (77 going on 17), gave us a memorable musical experience that really couldn’t shut anyone up. Hail, Hail Rock ‘n Roll!!!