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Specialty Records Releases Set of Little Richard’s 1950s Songs

Times Pop Music Critic

If Specialty Records had done nothing in the ‘50s but release Little Richard’s hits, the L.A.-based label would deserve a celebrated place in rock history.

But Specialty’s roster three decades ago also included--at least briefly--several other noteworthy R&B; or early rock figures, including Lloyd Price, Larry Williams and, most significantly, Sam Cooke.

Because the company has been largely inactive for nearly a decade, the Specialty catalogue has had almost no presence in the CD world. The chief exception: a first-rate Little Richard “greatest hits” package from Rhino Records (in arrangement with Specialty).

That situation, however, has just changed. In its first move into the CD market, the reactivated Specialty has released five CD albums--one each devoted to the four artists cited plus an album by zydeco king Clifton Chenier.

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“The Essential Little Richard” is a 20-song compilation that contains the classic hits (from “Long Tall Sally” to “Good Golly, Miss Molly”) that established the flamboyant singer as one of the half-dozen most important figures in early rock.

Though not as influential as Richard, Lloyd Price was also an exuberant vocalist who had four Top 10 R&B; hits (most notably “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”) for Specialty before moving on to ABC-Paramount, where he was to have pop-rock success with such tunes as “Stagger Lee” and “Personality.”

Williams was more important as a songwriter than as a singer, and the 12-song “Here’s Larry Williams” contains both his own biggest hits (“Short Fat Fannie” and “Bony Moronie”) as well as a tune that was later popularized by the Beatles (“Dizzy, Miss Lizzy”).

“The 2 Sides of Sam Cooke” showcases some of the hugely respected singer’s gospel efforts with the Soul Stirrers as well as some of his first attempts to move into a secular, pop/soul area.

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Beverly Rupe, daughter of label founder Art Rupe, said the releases signal an upswing in activity by the company.

“A lot of people are surprised that we’re still in business,” she said this week. “They thought we we were either closed or had been absorbed by a larger company. Now that we are operating again, I want to see us grow.”

On top of the agenda: Transfer the best of the Specialty material to CD. Rupe expects to release about five new titles in CD every three to four months. Besides additional Little Richard and Soul Stirrers albums, future CD packages will spotlight such artists as Roy Milton, Percy Mayfield and Joe and Jimmy Liggins. Also due by March 1: a 10-volume series saluting Speciality singles over the years.

REVIEWS

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Ann Peebles’ “Greatest Hits” (Hi/MCA)--Though overshadowed by fellow Hi artist Al Green, the gritty, convincing Peebles was perhaps the second most appealing soul singer in the respected Hi roster assembled in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Memphis by producer Willie Mitchell. Includes “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” her biggest hit, and two bonus tracks. On a scale of one (poor) to four (excellent):*** 1/2

The Chieftains’ “7" (Columbia)--With so much emphasis these days on both international music and Irish rock (U2, Hothouse Flowers, Pogues), it’s worth exploring this budget package (about $10) that spotlights nicely the fresh, crisp style of this tradition-minded, neo-folk Irish band. The Chieftains teamed with Van Morrison on this year’s “Irish Heartbeat."***


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