Unbelievable. Little Richard was actually going to play the piano during our interview. We were talking in the hotel bar at the Hyatt West Hollywood when his fingers began playing air piano. He looked around for the piano.
“It’s gone for real?” Richard Wayne Penniman asked his brother Robert.
“I was going to show you something,” Little Richard told me.
And I really wanted to hear it--all of it--I told the rock ‘n’ roll legend from Macon, Ga., who’s 65.
“Tutti-Frutti.” “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” “Long Tall Sally"--and someone removed that piano? Unbelievable.
It’s a guarantee, however, there will be some mean piano playing Thursday when Little Richard performs at the Greek Theatre. “It’s going to be a showstopper. It’s going to be a back-bender. It’s going to make everybody tremble.” Tom Jones is also on the bill.
Question: You mean to tell me they had a piano here and just took it out?
Answer: Yeah, [it was] right down that corner.
Q: I cannot believe this. Well, no piano; so we may as well jump into diet.
A: You know I’m a vegetarian. They have vegetarian bacon and sausages. And vegetarian eggs are good. I like whole wheat toast. I never could fix the vegetarian bacon right. My mother could, but I couldn’t. Now, I can fix the sausages and everything else. I can take them on the road with me and eat them. But the vegetarian bacon, it’s like paper--almost, anyway. You couldn’t fry it like you do regular bacon and make it crisp. And when it gets crispy, it’d be just like Robert--black, just like a piece of charcoal or something, you know.
Q: So, do you doctor up the food?
A: I love garlic. Oh, when I smell garlic, it just makes me want to eat. It’s a healer for the body. You know, a lot of sickness that we have, we’re digging our graves with our teeth. If we would just eat right. You know, all this pork, and you know pork is nothing but a bunch of salt. I don’t use salt. I don’t even pick up a salt shaker. And pork is nothing but a bunch of salt. And--bam!--high blood pressure. And we just love that pig. We eat him from his tail to his snout, through in and out. And we would eat the grunt if we could catch it.
Q: And salt that, if we could.
A: That’s right. That’s right.
Q: What do you drink with breakfast?
A: There’s a drink that my mother used to drink before she passed away. It’s like coffee but it’s not coffee. It’s called Postum.
Q: I remember Postum. What do you like for a snack?
A: What I really like, I like peanut butter. And when I was younger, I liked peanut butter and honey, but sometime honey gets too sweet for me. Be too sweet.
Q: Which peanut butter are we talking about?
A: We have the vegetarian, and I must be very honest and truthful, I don’t like it. The vegetarian peanut butter to me was just terrible. I’d rather just eat the peanuts. But I like regular peanut butter and natural peach preserves over that. And I could eat that for every meal. I like peanut butter that much. Have you ever had it fried?
Q: Not fried, no.
A: That’s what Elvis Presley used to eat. But he would take peanut butter and put over toast and he would slice bananas and then you put them in the deep fryer.
Q: The whole sandwich?
A: Yeah. And when it come up the sandwich is crisp. It’s really something. I have my own deep fryer. And when you get to the hotel and somebody fixes it, it don’t be right. You know, they bring it to you after they done cooked it--the bread--and the bananas are still just regular bananas.
Q: You won’t get something like that done right in a hotel.
A: No, you have to do it yourself. And know what Elvis liked with it?
Q: On the sandwich?
A: No, not on that. Bacon, just on the plate, just stacked with this crisp bacon. And that sandwich.
Q: Any other snack foods for you? Any sweet stuff?
A: A doughnut just like what you all eating there now. I’m enjoying watching you eat with your . . . leg swinging just like my mama used to eat.
Q: What’s your favorite kind of doughnut?
A: Coconut. My mother used to make coconut cake with lemon. And she used to make one for my Aunt Ethel in Philadelphia. I used to like to get the pan that she made it out of and just scrape the pan. Now, I’ll tell you what I don’t like that most people like. I don’t care for chocolate. To me, chocolate is nasty.
Q: Do you eat lunch?
A: No, I don’t. I don’t eat like that. You know, it may sound strange, sometime I forget I haven’t eaten. You ever do that?
Q: Oh, yeah.
A: And then I’ll take just a little pinch of a banana. I’m not a big eater. I sit around and I eat by spells. I just pick. I can just take a piece of bread and piece of cheese and I feel like I’ve had dinner. I like vegetarian chili or vegetarian spaghetti and meatballs. It don’t have to be nothing special like some people have to have.
Q: Where’s all your energy coming from?
A: I tell you what give me energy. It’s strange. I get energy when I’m around people. It’s something about people that electrifies me. If I had to live without people, I’d die.
Q: Were you always like that?
A: Always. And my mother thought I was crazy.
Q: How come?
A: Because I would bring strangers to the house and I didn’t know them. I picked them up, maybe gave them a ride home, and I stopped at the house. And mother said, “They gonna kill us.”
Q: What about exercise? Do you do anything?
A: I’ve been riding a bike because my leg was bothering me.
Q: What’s wrong with your leg?
A: Almost arthritis. I talked to the doctor, and he told me that I need to ride the bike about 30 minutes a day for my leg and the pain. He told me it will take awhile because I hadn’t been exercising. He told me it wasn’t going to be in no day. He told me I have to get in the habit of doing it. I was doing it 2:30.
Q: 2:30 this morning?
A: I don’t sleep much. Most people think I sleep all the time, but I don’t. I think when you get this age, you only need about four or five hours.
Q: Do you have to do anything special to maintain that energy level when you perform?
A: No. I walk in on the stage--it electrifies me. So the audience, I give them something, but they give me more. It makes you want to give them what you don’t have.
Q: Gives me goose pimples.
A: Yeah, it send chills through your body. And you say, “Lord, I was doing this when I was 13 and now I’m 65 years old, and I’m still sitting at this piano and look at these people still out here listening.” At a concert the other night, a bunch of little white girls sitting there and . . . one little girl got on the piano and it really did something to me because I was playing and she looked down in my eyes, and she said, “Hooooo-weeeee!” And when she said that, boy, it send chills through ya.
I says, this little child--and she tell her mother, she said, “Mama, that’s Little Richard.” Like she telling her mama it’s a new entertainer. Her mama said, “Honey, I danced by this. Your grandmama did, too.”
Q: You’re the first to get blacks and whites listening to the same music at the same time.
A: That’s right, that’s right. When they used to come to hear me in the auditorium and the white people would sit upstairs, and the blacks would be downstairs. And, you know, a lot of black people don’t realize that and they talk about racism and different things, when we used to come to different cities, they the ones who had the main thing and the white people was upstairs with their section. And the blacks had the whole floor downstairs. The young whites would jump over the balcony and come downstairs, and they started mixing it. They started breaking it open.
Q: You started breaking it open.
A: Yeah. We’d go from city to city--a black show with me, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry. With us, it would become mixed, and I thank God for that, that we appealed to everybody.
Q: You guys probably weren’t even thinking about any of that at the time.
A: We weren’t even thinking about it at all. We were just so glad that we was liked--that people came to hear us. Back in that time, you wanted to be famous so bad. I had seen famous people, and I liked the reaction that they got. I liked how people treated them. Like everybody loved them. We all want to be loved. You all want acceptance, you understand me?
Q: Yes, sir.
A: God wants us to just give love--that’s what God is all about. And he wants us to be mirrors to flash that, to give that to other human beings. There’s some people that really need the touch to make them go on, to make them climb higher, to make them look higher, to make them have hope.
Q: Richard, just now while you were talking, I was trying to picture you in heaven.
A: Oh, Lord, I can’t picture myself that. I just hope that they have room for somebody that looks like me.
Guest Workout runs Mondays in Health.