During the late 1960s, Little Richard focused on live performances following some unsuccessful releases. Acclaimed performances at the Atlantic City Pop Festival and the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in the summer of 1969 returned Richard to the public's attention and earned him offers from several record labels. The rock 'n' roll legend signed for Reprise Records and The Rill Thing, released in August 1970, was his comeback album. Produced by Richard himself, it featured a bluesy, funky soul sound. "Greenwood, Mississippi" is the second single from the set.
Guitarist Travis Wammack was a session musician at FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Little Richard recorded The Rill Thing album. Wammack told Uncut magazine in 2020 that he wrote this song with another guitarist, Albert "Junior" Lowe, about two weeks before Little Richard came to town. "Junior suggested I call it 'Take Me Back to Walnut, Mississippi.' That was my hometown, but I didn't think anybody had ever heard of it. We came up with Greenwood because it's in the Delta and a lot of good music came out of there."
A fortnight later, Little Richard and his entourage came to FAME Studios to record the song. Wammack told him he had recorded a demo of a song called "Greenwood, Mississippi." Richard replied, "You know, I'm an old Southern boy from Macon, Georgia and I'd like to hear it." After sitting in Wammack's truck to listen to the demo cassette, Richard recorded the song. "I think he identified with it," Wammack said. "The magnolias in bloom and all that stuff."
After trying in vain to record the song with the FAME studio musicians, Richard decided to record his vocals over the cassette recording, to the studio owner Rick Hall's chagrin. Wammack recalled:
"We started the session, and after about 15 minutes, I look over and see this discouraged look on his face. He insisted on singing along to the demo track. That's what ended up on his record."
The Rill Thing's lead single, "Freedom Blues," had reached #47 on the Hot 100, Little Richard's first top 50 hit since "Baby Face" peaked at #41 in 1958. Released as its follow-up, "Greenwood, Mississippi" was less successful, stalling at #85. Despite Reprise's promotional efforts, the album was a commercial failure.
Tom Jones came by FAME studio weeks later, having heard Little Richard had been there. Wammack told him about "Greenwood, Mississippi," and after playing it to him, the Welsh crooner decided to record it. Said Wammack: "Little Richard and Tom Jones - two of the greatest singers that ever lived - recorded our song in a two-week span." Jones' version
can be heard on his 1976 album Love Machine
Travis Wammack released his own recording of the song in 1975. He became Little Richard's band leader from 1984 until 1995.