The old iPod shuffled up this wonderfully anonymous curio tonight. So enamoured with it, I was forced to break into something of a treadmill sprint so that my arms could get close enough to my trusty wee portable friend resting on the machine’s control panel and replay it. This I managed without breaking stride, which is something of a record. As indeed is this (something of a record).
I couldn’t place it. It swings like Ella ‘n Louis, but there’s no high parping trumpet or any of Armstrong’s sandpaper vocals, so it ain’t Ella Fitzgerald. It’s too cultured to be Big Mama Thornton but not stately enough to be Nina Simone. Bessie Smith? Do I even own any Bessie Smith? The darkest corners of my iPod are crammed with music from those heady days when the combined joys of wireless broadband and a decent file sharing site allowed you to download the entirety of The Beatles’ back catalogue faster than you could shout, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” – all very silly and unnecessary, as we all know nowadays – but back then I was a fiend for the stuff I thought I should have but didn’t, so Bessie Smith was a good guess. By the second play though, I’d convinced myself it wasn’t bluesy enough to be her either.
What I could picture as it played was, annoyingly, Jools Holland’s Big Band easing into a 12 bar blues at his Hootenanny, seasoned old pros shuffling to that wonderfully infectious backing, with perhaps Alison Moyet or Beverley Knight getting ready to let rip at the mic. Then, when the vocals began, I could imagine that headless, broom-wielding cleaner who chased Jerry around the kitchen in endless Tom & Jerry cartoons. I know she could scream, but I bet she could sing too; a big, housekeepin’ mama with a voice as deep as the south but as clear as the air in the cotton fields.
‘It’s an old blues singer I haven’t paid attention to before now,’ I rationalised, majorly annoyed by now that I couldn’t place her voice. ‘I’ll find out who she was when I stop.’ And on I ran for eight, maybe nine more steps and stopped. And checked the iPod.
Stone me if it wasn’t Little Richard!
Of course it is! I mean, it’s not one of his better-known tunes (you can name them all, so I don’t need to be doing that). There’s none of the high camp screaming that’s as outrageous as the oil slick-thick conk that’s plonked atop his head. And there’s none of the mad eyed hootin’ or a-hollerin’ that so lit a spark in the teenage McCartney, but The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart) is a beauty. Here’s another take…
Little Richard – The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart)
Richard’s voice is both feminine and tinged with the same burnt umber of the saxophone that provides the descending backing. The high barroom piano shifts from major to minor in the bridge – of course – and then, well! – there’s Richard right there. A little rasp at the back of the epiglottis, an unseen shake of the quiff, an imagined James Brownish drop to the knees. It’s Little Richard all right.
And then he’s back to being the vampish torch singer, his band playing out their chops with regal grace and understated beauty.
Without Little Richard there’d be no ______ (fill in the blanks) or ________ , or even ______ , or perhaps even, bizarrely, Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You. Another thing that had been bugging me as I clattered the flat-footed kilometres on the treadmill to nowhere was, ‘where have I heard those opening lines before?‘ Now I know. And you do too. Check them out!