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This song began as a ballad Richard wrote called "Directly From My Heart to You," which he recorded as a member of The Johnny Otis band in 1955. "Directly From My Heart to You" was released by Peacock Records as a B-side, and when Little Richard recorded for Specialty Records in September, 1955, he tried recording the song for his first album. It didn't make the cut, but Richard's career took off, and when he needed another single in 1957, he revived the song, but gave it the sound that made him a star, speeding up the tempo considerably.
The lyrics were completely rewritten, and Richard went to a common theme for his hits: a girl's name. If Lucille was based on a real woman who broke Richard's heart, he isn't saying - he told Rolling Stone in 1970: "I don't know what inspired me to write it, it may have been the rhythm." Certainly, the lyrics serve the rhythm, with the nonsensical first line "Lucille, won't you do your sister's will" scanning to the beat.
If there was a real Lucille, it would probably be either Richard's (female) lover Lee Angel, or his mentor Steve Reeder Jr., who performed under the name Esquerita. Little Richard hasn't kept a lot of secrets, so it's more likely that he did make up Lucille. His next single was also named after a girl: "Jenny, Jenny."
In a 1999 interview with Mojo magazine, Richard explained: "The effects and rhythms you hear on my songs, I got 'em from the trains that passed by my house. Like 'Lucille' came from a train – Dadas-dada-dada-dada, I got that from the train."
This was released at a time when Richard was hot - he sold 32 million records in 1956 and 1957. His songs were also very successful for other artists, who sometimes outsold him with his own songs. "Lucille" was covered by The Everly Brothers, who matched Richard's #21 peak position with their version in 1960. Waylon Jennings had a #1 Country hit when he recorded this on his 1983 album It's Only Rock and Roll, and other artists to cover the song include Van Halen, Deep Purple, Johnny Winter, Bill Haley & His Comets, Otis Redding, AC/DC and The Hollies. (thanks, Julian - Oakland, AR)
Other popular Lucille's in music: B.B. King's guitar is named Lucille, and Kenny Rogers had a hit with different song with the same title in 1977 - his is the one that goes, "You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille..."
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