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There really was a "Long Tall Sally," but she was not a transvestite as sometimes reported. Little Richard explained that Sally was a friend of the family who was always drinking whiskey - she would claim to have a cold and would drink hot toddies all day. He described her as tall and ugly, with just two teeth and cockeyed. She was having an affair with John, who was married to Mary, who they called "Short Fat Fanny." John and Mary would get in fights on the weekends, and when he saw her coming, he would duck back into a little alley to avoid her.
Richard was one of 12 children, and in large southern families, they would call some of the people around them "uncle" or "aunt" even if they weren't related, so John was known as "Uncle John."
Richard wrote this while working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia. He also wrote "Tutti Frutti
" and "Good Golly Miss Molly
" while working there.
This was Little Richard's biggest hit. He was not huge on the charts, but was a Rock 'n' Roll innovator and famous for his stirring performances.
This was often performed by The Beatles, who were greatly influenced by Little Richard. Paul McCartney learned to "Woooo" in songs like "I Saw Her Standing There" from watching Little Richard. In their early days, The Beatles usually ended concerts with it.
Richard and The Beatles got together from time to time in the '60s, and in 1970, The Beatles tried to sign him to their label, Apple Records.
The Kinks released this in 1964. It was their first single.
Richard's producer, Bumps Blackwell, had him record the vocal exceptionally fast in an effort to thwart Pat Boone. Boone's version of "Tutti Frutti
" sold better than Little Richard's, so Blackwell tried to make it very difficult for Boone to copy. He had Richard work on the line "Duck back down the alley" over and over until he could sing it very fast. He figured Boone could never match Richard's vocal dexterity.
Despite the efforts of Blackwell, Boone covered the song in 1956. His version was very clean and sterile, making it acceptable to white audiences who couldn't handle Little Richard. Unlike his cover of "Tutti Frutti," however, his version was not a bigger hit than the original - it hit #8 in the US.
Richard's delivery did help get his song past some censors, however. A stadards and practices guy at NBC once said: "How can I reject it when I can't even understand it?"
Besides Richard, Bumps Blackwell also got a writing credit on this song, as did Enotris Johnson, who Richard lived with after he was kicked out of his house at age 13.
Featuring a saxophone solo by Lee Allen (as did "Tutti Frutti"), "Long Tall Sally" was the best-selling 45 of the history of Specialty Records.
Before he had a title for this song Little Richard referred to it as "The Thing."
Elvis Presley did a cover of this at some of his concerts, including one that was made into the album Elvis Presley Live. He called Little Richard "my friend...(who) I've never met." (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)
Eddie Cochran recorded an answer song to this in 1956 called "Skinny Jim." He was 17 at the time and used the recording to help get a record deal. "Skinny Jim" was never a hit, but Cochran did very well with songs like "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody" before he died at age 21.
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