They were once regular high school kids, right? Some of them didn’t even look that cool dude with a rock star potential. Some though still managed to look cool like Dimebag Darrell Lance Abbott or Wes Borland. The others? Not so much.
We rounded up a gaggle of funny photos of famous heavy metal, hard and alternative rock stars before they became music legends. The result is this most fascinating list that confirms what we already knew: any uncool-looking kid can become a rock star someday.
One of the most interesting things about rock stars is their larger than life personalities. Many of them entertain us on stage with their dynamic, show stopping presence, entrancing voices, and mind-blowing talents. For some, when they leave the stage the show is over, but others let their leather clad persona leak into their personal lives and are unable to separate themselves from the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll image, taking the volume of excess from zero to eleven, every, single, day.
They play their music loudly, but they live even bigger, often partaking in over-the-top and dangerous pastimes, with beyond bad behaviour captured by fans, roadies, groupies, and the paparazzi. Some of these stars live in a perpetual state of adolescence, many suffering from full blown and dangerous addictions. Sure, these stories make excellent stories for rock bios, or episodes of Behind the Music, but they’re also activities not safe for anyone, even though their antics are the stuff that rock legends are made of.
Not many tabloids publish stories about the band who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sipped on tea after each show on a world tour, because it isn’t all that interesting. However, readers can’t wait to read about the celebrity who was wildly out of control and decided to go on a lengthy cocaine binge with their significant other or where they kidnapped people (Rick James actually did this twice). Nonetheless, here are 15 stories of legendary rock and roll debauchery at its best (or worst); you be the judge.
15. Keith Moon – Banned From Every Major Hotel
Some would say that Keith Moon, the former drummer for The Who, was the grandfather of bad rock star behavior. It would appear he made it his own personal mission to promote deranged antics that would now be considered pretty cliché. He trashed hotel rooms, ate horse tranquilizers like they were candy, and had nude cake fights. He truly believed it was his sole job to behave badly. One time, after leaving a hotel, he was convinced he’d forgotten something and insisted that the driver turn around and go back. When he returned, he raced into his room, picked up the television, and chucked it out the window and into the pool below. What he had “forgot” was that he needed to leave his signature path of destruction before moving on to his next location. The drummer also used to hit the road with a large supply of cherry bombs and other explosives, using them to destroy toilets pretty much everywhere he went. He was eventually on a permanent ban from the Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and Hilton for his toilet bombs.
14. Nikki Sixx – Came Back From The Dead
That popular Mötley Crüe song, Kickstart My Heart, is based on a real story of when Nikki Sixx died. Mötley Crüe embraced every possible stereotype of hard-rocking, metal stars imaginable, including their penchant for Girls, Girls, Girls and drugs, drugs, drugs. On December 23, 1987, after a night of partying hard with members of Guns n’ Roses and Ratt, Nikki Sixx took a fatal dose of heroin. He was revived from a heroin overdose after two minutes of clinical death, just like that infamous scene in PulpFiction, when two shots of adrenaline were stabbed directly into his heart. Instead of spending some time in the hospital recovering, or even at rehab reflecting on poor life choices, he left the hospital and hitchhiked back home. Sixx has said of the experience,“There was a cop asking me questions, so I told him to go f— himself. I ripped out my tubes and staggered in just my leather pants into the parking lot, where two teenage girls were sitting crying around a candle. They had heard on the radio that I was dead and looked kind of surprised to see me.” The girls gave him a ride home and a lecture on giving up drugs. He celebrated not dying that night with some more heroin.
13. Keith Richards – Snorted His Dad
There are endless jokes about Keith Richards being an undead, pickled, and smoked version of himself from the endless amounts of booze, drugs, and God knows what he’s ingested over the years. A number of years ago, Richards made headlines because of a response to a journalist’s question about what the most peculiar thing he’d ever snorted was. Keith’s answer was simple, “My father. I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared. It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive.” His manager insisted this was a joke. Odds are Richards wasn’t joking, after all this is the same man who mistook police raiding a party in his house in 1967 with uniformed dwarves and welcomed them with hugs because he was tripping on LSD. Richards also commented on being on a list of celebrities most likely to die for a decade. He was rather disappointed when he no longer topped the list.
12. Dave Navarro – Blood, Orgies, And The Playboy Mansion
Anyone who believes that it’s impossible to be too extreme for the Playboy Mansion is wrong. Dave Navarro, guitarist from the band Jane’s Addiction, managed to get himself banned from Hef’s place. In his book Don’t Try This At Home, Dave describes the incident that saw him chucked. It all took place in “the orgy room” with three female “friends.” Dave decided it was a good idea to shoot up in the middle of intercourse and then wrote on the wall with the syringe and his own blood. He tried to clean off the evidence, but they had the whole thing on video. Later, security guards were waiting for him outside of the room to permanently escort him from the property and asked him to never come back. Dave wrote, “All my life I’d wondered what it was like and here I was, at 30, squirting blood on the walls with 3 naked girls at my feet.” Party fails Dave, party fail.
11. Rod Stewart – Put Drugs In His Butt
Rod Stewart probably doesn’t seem like a bad boy rock star, particularly since now most of us see him hanging out in mom’s music collection with his feathered hair and come-hither expression. He certainly doesn’t seem dangerous when he’s played on the easy listening radio stations at the dentist’s office either. Back in his heyday, specifically the 1970’s, the Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? the singer had it pretty bad for cocaine. Here’s the thing about his cocaine addiction: he knew the damage the drug could do to his nose and wanted to protect it from the negative side effects of snorting (mostly septal perforations or holes, chronic infections, nosebleeds, and nasal deformity). That’s why he selected another method to ingest the drug. The star would purchase anti-cold capsules, replaced the regular medicine with cocaine, and then inserted them where the sun doesn’t shine, “enjoying” the effects of the drug as it dissolved in his rectum. Hopefully, by now he’s kicked that habit in the butt.
10. Boy George – Whipped A Fan With A Chain
For anyone who’s spent a good deal of time watching or reading rock bios, it’s probably no surprise that the Karma Chameleon, Boy George, has had his share of struggles with drug addiction. Unfortunately, Boy George didn’t leave his addiction in the 1980s with his chart-topping hits; he took them all the way into the 2000s. In 2007, a Norwegian escort named Auden Carlsen believed he was going back to The Culture Club’s lead singer’s home to participate in a nude photoshoot. To his surprise, Boy George really wanted to hurt him and he ended up handcuffed to a wall and beaten with a chain. A trial following the incident confirmed that both parties had ingested cocaine that evening. Boy George, presumably due to some cocaine paranoia, believed that Carlsen had hacked into his personal computer and decided the escort was going to “get what (he) deserve(d)” whether he liked it or not.
9. Duff McKagan – His Pancreas Exploded
This list would be entirely incomplete without explicit details of the escapades of members of Guns N’ Roses. In fact, one-time bass player Duff McKagan took this bad boy image to explosive ends. One day, he drank so much alcohol that his pancreas exploded because it was combined with his steady daily regimen of cocaine, proving to himself that his body can only take so much. When it burst, it swelled to “the size of a rugby ball” and then ruptured, leaking a lot of acidic fluids meant to remain within the pancreas. The acid was so potent it caused third-degree burns inside McKagan’s body. Duff miraculously survived saying, “It was a real, real wake-up call. It was a gentle relapse off the alcohol. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and it gave me time to really think about how I got there.” A word to the wise, don’t let your pancreas explode.
8. Peter Buck – Fought Flight Attendants
Some bands are better known for their sound than for their antics, and that makes it even more embarrassing when someone in the band acts like a crazy rock diva. REM is known for its philanthropy surrounding human rights, AIDS & HIV, and disaster relief; not for being bad boys. In 2001, about a week before the band was scheduled to perform at a concert promoting peace, lead guitarist Peter Buck got into some trouble on a flight to London. Apparently, Buck had been drinking on the flight and didn’t like the idea of being cut off. The guitarist fought two flight attendants over a yogurt cup, which exploded everywhere and shoved a CD into a snack cart (believing it would play music). He even tore up the yellow warning card the crew of the flight issued for his poor behavior while saying, “I AM R.E.M.” The pilot eventually air radioed the authorities. Later, Buck apologized profusely blaming a poor reaction between the wine he consumed on the flight and some sleeping medication saying, “I am very sorry for the incident, and, by course, very embarrassed about the whole thing.”
7. Ozzy Osbourne – Snorted Fire Ants
There are probably enough stories about Ozzy Osbourne’s hard-partying ways to fill a book. He started off his solo career in 1981 by biting a head off a dove, and in a 1982 Iowa concert, he bit the head off of a bat (although he thought it was plastic at the time). When you mix Ozzy and Mötley Crüe together for a 1984 tour, there is bound to be a whole lot of trouble. This tour was rightfully called, “The craziest drug- and alcohol-fueled tour in the history of rock and roll.” In something that cartoon parodies and rock legends are made of, Ozzy and Nikki Sixx decided to hold a contest to see who could be the most balling rocker. In the event that was highlighted in a bio penned by Ozzy’s wife, Sharon, Sixx set himself on fire, so Ozzy responded by snorting a line of ants (some of which came out of his mouth). There is some debate as to whether or not the ants were fire ants. I guess we’ll never know for sure.
6. Steven Page – Squeaky Clean Rocker…Coke In The Car
The Barenaked Ladies are a family-friendly band who was just about to release a children’s album when lead singer, Steven Page, literally went off the rails at the worst possible time. Back in 2008, officers were called to investigate a car oddly parked in a small town just outside of Syracuse, New York. The car was Page’s Prius and the driver’s side door was allegedly left wide open. While investigating, the officers spotted a man and woman at a kitchen table with cocaine in front of them. Turns out the drugging duos were Page and a friend (who he later married). The apartment was searched, more cocaine and marijuana was found, and the If I had a Million Dollars singer was arrested, but released on $10,000 bail. Page quietly left the band in the months that followed and has since pursued a solo career. Page says, “Once somebody gets caught with drugs, everybody brands them a junkie. Somebody gets kicked out of a bar for being drunk and people don’t automatically say they’re an alcoholic. I’m not making excuses.” Page says he’s grown up since then but has no plans to rejoin BNL.
5. Chris Robinson – Spit On A 7-Eleven Customer
A lot of stuff that we read about Chris Robinson (no matter how nice Kate Hudson claims the father of their son is) doesn’t paint him in the best light. A lot of it is more childish than rock and roll, including a bizarre incident at a convenience store. In 1991, following a concert in Denver, Colorado, the Black Crowes singer was livid when a clerk at 7-Eleven wouldn’t bend the rules and sell him alcohol after midnight. As he had his tantrum, another customer announced, “There’s the lead singer of the Black Crowes!” Another customer indicated she didn’t know who that was only to have a petulant Robinson insult her by saying she’d know who he was if she didn’t spend so much time eating Twinkies. Next, the rocker spat on the customer before storming out with two cases of beer under his arms. The singer was charged and pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace.
4. The Toxic Twins – Held Shooting Practice In An Abandoned Convent
There’s a reason why Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler have been affectionately nicknamed the “Toxic Twins.” They were always side by side and totally believed that anything worth doing, was also really worth overdoing. Known for racking up $100,000 hotel bills, they entertained groupies, trashed rooms, and gorged themselves on copious substances, again and again. In 1976, they worked on an album in a renovated convent in upstate New York. During this time they crashed their brand new sports cars, did a lot of drugs, and decided it was a great idea to hold firing practice; shooting guns in the attic, all simply because they could. Tyler once told Rolling Stone Magazine: “Jerry Garcia says that we were the druggiest bunch of guys the Grateful Dead ever saw. They were worried about us, so that gives you some idea of how f–ked up and crazy we were.”
3. Slash – Shadowboxed Monsters All Night Long
Slash’s autobiography reveals some pretty explicit details of his hard-partying ways. It was 1989, and he’d just returned home after two years of touring for the Appetite for Destruction album. He was bored, feeling out of place, and partying hard. He felt like his addiction was getting out of control, and decided to join Steven Adler in Arizona while he tried to scale back his habit. The amount of drugs Slash had brought himself to last four days was quickly gone. Soon, he spotted monsters on the other side of the curtains of his room, which he shadowboxed, all night long. By morning, he decided to have another line before hopping in the shower, only he saw another monster, and when he attempted to punch it, he put his fist through a glass shower door and completely shattered it. Next, he saw evil Predator-like creatures entering his room, and decided it was time to flee, dripping blood and was stark naked. He went into another room, hid behind a maid, ran into the lobby, and eventually hid in a shed on the fairway of a golf course behind a lawnmower. He wasn’t seeing monsters anymore by the time the cops arrived, and he gave his testimony, but he still told the story about the creatures that were trying to kill him. Steven Adler finally arrived and handed the naked Slash a pair of sweatpants.
2. Phil Spector – Habit Of Using Guns Against Other Rockers
A lot of people are probably thinking, “Who’s Phil Spector, and what does he have to do with Rock and Roll?” Phil is a songwriter and producer, who is the legend responsible for “the Wall of Sound” approach to rock and roll. He’s also certifiable. One time, he put a loaded gun to rock poet Leonard Cohen’s neck, and another time he fired a gun in the control room nearly taking off Beatle John Lennon’s ear. The most epic of his all fired up incidents would have to be when he held The Ramones hostage when they were working on the album End of the Century. Apparently, Dee Dee went looking for Joey and Phil and found them in a stairwell where Phil was waving around a pistol. Dee Dee announced he didn’t like having a gun pulled on him and that he was going to leave when Spector pointed the gun directly at Dee Dee’s chest and indicated that everyone was to return to the piano room. Spector locked the room and made the entire band listen to him sing, Baby, I Love You, over and over again, until 4:30 AM, when we assume he got bored and decided to wave his gun elsewhere. Phil Spector’s wild ways finally caught up with him and he was convicted of the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
1. Def Leppard – They Coined A Sex Move
Some people are rock legends, others border on urban legends and warrant their own page in the Urban Dictionary. This is the case for rockers Def Leppard. Apparently, there is a sexual expression coined as “having a Def Leppard,” and this is meant to describe threesomes where two members of the group experience are a mother and daughter. Apparently, exploits with two generations were (or still is) a popular pastime of rock legends Def Leppard. The boys who brought you such musical lines as, “I’m hot sticky sweet from my head to my feet, yeah!” also, apparently, like to help mothers and daughters to come close together. Supposedly, they experienced so many of these “family affairs” that Def Leppard fans decided to turn their love for willing participants into a sex move. Seriously, who (and their mother) would actually say yes to this insanity? Regardless, they found enough people to turn this weird fantasy into a reality.
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Charlie Watts, the legendary drummer for The Rolling Stones, has died. He was 80 years old. The news came via a statement from his publicist, Bernard Doherty.
“It is with immense sadness that we announce the death of our beloved Charlie Watts,” Doherty said [via NBC News].
“He passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family. Charlie was a cherished husband, father, and grandfather and also a member of The Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation. We kindly request that the privacy of his family, band members, and close friends are respected at this difficult time.’’
Watts joined The Rolling Stones in 1963 and remained their drummer for over five decades. He’s the only member of the band aside from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to have played on all of their studio albums, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the group in 1989.
“The Stones were just another gig, but then we started touring around England… I was waiting to start another job, but I never went back to it,” Watts told the Guardian of when he joined The Rolling Stones.
“I was a bit out of sync with all of them, Brian [Jones], Mick and Keith, but Keith taught me to listen to Buddy Holly and things like that. Mick taught me a lot about playing with songs, really, the melodies and that.”
In addition to the Stones, the drummer released several studio albums between 1986 and 2012 with the Charlie Watts Quintet, The Charlie Watts-Jim Keltner Project, and The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie.
We send our condolences to Watts’ loved ones and fans. Rest in peace.
Chock full of colorful characters, constantly adrift on a sea of international adventure and not shy of a plot twist or 25, the rock world feels predestined to generate some of the most horrifying, inspiring, and downright incredible stories imaginable. We’ve stopped short of naming the ‘top 13’ rock biographies – simply because there are literally hundreds out there more than worth your time. Instead, we have listed thirteen of the best rock music books you should read right now.
THE DIRT: CONFESSIONS OF THE WORLD’S MOST NOTORIOUS ROCK BAND (MÖTLEY CRÜE WITH NEIL STRAUSS, 2001)
The classic. A title that’s become synonymous with the bad-boy rock biography, The Dirt feels like the ultimate chronicle of the genre’s ’80s excess. Looking back now, the idea that Mötley Crüe classics like Wild Side and Girls, Girls, Girls only scratched the surface of their unshackled debauchery seems almost unbelievable. A kaleidoscopic odyssey of booze, drugs, groupies, dealers, cops, tour buses, strip clubs, and car-wrecks, both figurative and literal, it’s a tale that needs to be read to be believed. If you only pick up one rock bio today, probably best to make it this one. Devotees should be sure to grab Nikki Sixx’s bleaker but equally essential 2007 follow-up, The Heroin Diaries, too.
TRANNY: CONFESSIONS OF PUNK ROCK’S MOST INFAMOUS ANARCHIST SELLOUT (LAURA JANE GRACE, 2016)
Known, during writing, as Killing Me Loudly, the autobiography from Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace draws extensively from the journals she had been compiling since third grade. Its eventual title ‘Tranny’ is a term the singer hates, but its appropriation here is symbolic of her taking ownership of a personal struggle through which she noted the supposedly accepting punk community were “more closed-minded than the church”. Illuminating. Poignant. Inspiring. It’s equally essential reading for individuals struggling to come to terms with themselves and those same closed-minds struggling to understand.
WHITE LINE FEVER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (LEMMY KILMISTER, 2002)
Possessed of a godlike air like few others, Lemmy always seemed like something of an unapproachable icon even for those of us fortunate to make his acquaintance. As such, this exceptionally grounded autobiography – charting the life of Ian Fraser Kilmister, son of an RAF chaplain from Stoke-On-Trent – brought us brilliantly closer to the man behind the myth. Of course, from his early musical exploits with Jimi Hendrix and Hawkwind to decades-long scene leadership at the helm of Motörhead, the man led a life that most of us could even imagine. “It’s a fallacy to say I taught him how to drink,” the legend writes at one point, remembering a young Lars Ulrich. “I actually taught him to throw up, and that’s what he did, all over himself. That’s what he got for trying to keep up with older people’s habits…”
GIRL IN A BAND (KIM GORDON, 2015)
Sonic Youth was never a band to shy away from unpleasantries in their dogged pursuit of beauty and authenticity. Fittingly, bassist Kim Gordon’s chronicle of her break-up with guitarist Thurston Moore and the dissolution of their seminal indie-rock outfit isn’t just a tale of heartbreak; it’s one of the sporadic mundanity, unpredictability and seat-of-your-pants adventure of holding a prime seat on the alt.rock roundabout for the best part of three decades. Girl In A Band proves itself essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the New York noiseniks – or the scene they helped define.
HAMMER OF THE GODS (STEPHEN DAVIS, 1985)
Another of the classics. It’s probably not that difficult to write a rollicking recount of one band’s tumultuous journey when that band is Led bloody Zeppelin. From quaaludes to bathtubs full of baked beans to the extremely questionable use of one taxidermied shark, many of the anecdotes here have slipped into rock’n’roll folklore, but that takes little from the experience of finding them compiled into this singular volume. It’s best not to spoil them too much further here. Let’s just say this is another must-read addition, for rockers or anyone else with a heartbeat…
THIS IS A CALL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVE GROHL (PAUL BRANNIGAN, 2011)
It can be difficult, at times, to get a real sense of what goes on under the surface with The Nicest Man In Rock™. K!’s own Paul Brannigan charts his fascinating story with a dextrous grip on the evolving scenes through which Dave Grohl has endured and a spectacular sense of the adventure he’s experienced along the way. From the kid from the D.C. suburbs who dropped out of school to go on tour with Scream, to the stickman catapulted to superstardom with Nirvana, to the iconic Foo Fighters frontman called upon to play for the Obamas on the White House lawn, few lives share the rollercoaster momentum of Dave’s.
SLASH (SLASH, 2007)
Most rock bios are about the gritty build and the glitzy payoff. Safe to say, the Slash bio is virtually all payoff. Born Saul Hudson in England in 1965 to a white British graphic artist father and a black American costume designer mother, Slash’s story was never going to be that of your garden variety guitarist. Growing up in Los Angeles ’70s bohemia, his mum dated David Bowie, hung out with Joni Mitchell, and taught the youngster that “being a rock star is [about finding] the intersection between who you are and who you want to be”. As the story of Guns N’ Roses’ meteoric rise and incendiary fall-out (their latter-day reconciliation is not part of this 2007 volume) unfold, they seem like simply the logical narrative developments of one of music’s most dramatic life stories.
LORDS OF CHAOS (MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, 1998)
Before you see the movie, read the book. As feels inevitable for any volume skewering the adolescent, corpse-painted pomposity of the ’90s Norwegian black metal scene – and laying bare the narcissistic inhumanity of the suicide, church burnings and murders that followed in its wake – the accuracy of Michael Moynihan’s Lords Of Chaos has been called into question by many of those involved at the time. Regardless, this is a fascinating trip into metal’s most evil sub-genre and a chilling reminder of what can happen when the lines blur between the cvlt theatre and stark reality. Special mention to Dayal Patterson’s Evolution Of The Cult (2013) and The Cult Never Dies (2015) for further deconstructing the scene’s horrifically compelling progression, too.
HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN (CHARLES R. CROSS, 2001)
Much (perhaps too much) has been written about the life and death of Kurt Cobain. This first (arguably definitive) long-form retelling of his life story does spectacularly well to disperse the rumor that hangs around an individual who was, at his core, a musically prodigious slacker from the lower-middle-class of North Seattle. Even better, it charts Nirvana’s explosion of incredible cross-cultural success – one that, we should remember, lasted a fleeting three years – with a remarkable blend of cool analysis and awe. It’s in a chilling final forensic analysis of Kurt’s self-destructive streak, though, that Heavier Than Heaven comes into its own: daring the reader to put aside music and mythos to pass judgment on the individual in the harsh light of the bare facts.
SMASH: GREEN DAY, THE OFFSPRING, BAD RELIGION, NOFX AND THE ’90S PUNK EXPLOSION (IAN WINWOOD, 2018)
It’s strange how the story of ’90s skate-punk has been distorted through the retrospective lens of the last two-and-a-bit decades: its lineage conflated and confused with that of the pop-punk genre it helped inspire. Veteran K! contributor Ian Winwood’s book shatters those perceptions, transporting us back to the poverty, addiction, and unhinged chaos of the era that spawned so many of our favorite bands. Finding The Offspring guitarist Noodles working as a janitor, Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong living in a Salvation Army shelter, and Green Day maestro Billie Joe Armstrong infested with body lice during a debut European tour, it’s a fascinating look at the underground grit and shit before the platinum-rated sheen that followed.
GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG (HENRY ROLLINS, 1994)
Something of a gritty yin to The Dirt’s glamorous yang, Get In The Van is a superb, zero-bullshit diary of life on the road with LA hardcore legends Black Flag. Fronting the band between 1981 and 1986, punk’s storyteller supreme Henry Rollins had a drivers-seat view of the violence, squalor, and sheer chaos of hardcore’s early days. From roadies forced into eating dog food to hard-nut cops to borderline psychotic fans, it’s a dirt-beneath-the-fingernails classic unafraid to show the bleak underbelly of life in a touring band – albeit one with an ultimately triumphant arc. Any fledgling rock star wannabes out for fame and fortune should really stop to read this first…
DARK DAYS: A MEMOIR (D. RANDALL BLYTHE, 2015)
On May 4, 2010, in the Abaton club in Prague, during a concert by Virginian metal legends Lamb Of God, 19-year-old fan Daniel Nosek sustained injuries to his head. Over the weeks that followed, he would slip into a coma and pass away. Although following his initial release on bail, legal counsel advised against returning to the Czech Republic to face trial, frontman Randy Blythe insisted he “could not run away from this problem while the grieving family of a dead young man searched hopelessly for answers that he might help provide”. Those events provide the tragic backdrop for the singer’s stunningly frank account of the dark days (and months) that followed his indictment on manslaughter charges and incarceration in a Czech prison. Even years since Randy’s release, it’s a story that delivers gut-churning jailhouse anecdotes, tales of galvanizing camaraderie, and ultimate redemption that even the most optimistic dramatist might’ve struggled to conjure up.
METALLICA: ENTER NIGHT (MICK WALL, 2010)
It’d be unreasonable to compile a list of great rock biographies without including at least one of the biggest metal bands in the world. Tracking a path from the thrash kings’ spandex-clad genesis to their coronation as globe-straddling, genre-transcending megastars, this packs in all the drugs, booze, and drama any self-respecting fan would expect. From early acrimony with Dave Mustaine through the devastating loss of Cliff Burton to the callous early treatment and furious departure of Jason Newstead, all the personal drama is captured. As are the band’s mid-’90s creative swerves, the (ever-more hilariously redundant) Napster fiasco, and the cringing in-studio therapy that formed the basis of seminal rock-doc Some Kind Of Monster. Crucially, though, Enter Night perfectly charts the band’s place in the rock and metal scene forever evolving around them.
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Pianist-singer behind “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally” set the template that a generation of musicians would follow
Little Richard, a founding father of rock and roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician’s son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed the pioneer’s death to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was unknown.
Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard cut a series of unstoppable hits – “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.”
Although he never hit the top 10 again after 1958, Little Richard’s influence was massive. The Beatles recorded several of his songs, including “Long Tall Sally,” and Paul McCartney’s singing on those tracks – and the Beatles’ own “I’m Down” – paid tribute to Little Richard’s shredded-throat style. His songs became part of the rock and roll canon, covered over the decades by everyone from the Everly Brothers, the Kinks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elvis Costello and the Scorpions.
Little Richard’s stage persona – his pompadours, androgynous makeup and glass-bead shirts – also set the standard for rock and roll showmanship; Prince, to cite one obvious example, owed a sizable debt to the musician. “Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard told Joan Rivers in 1989 before looking at the camera and addressing Prince. “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”
Born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5th, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, he was one of 12 children and grew up around uncles who were preachers. “I was born in the slums. My daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970. Although he sang in a nearby church, his father Bud wasn’t supportive of his son’s music and accused him of being gay, resulting in Penniman leaving home at 13 and moving in with a white family in Macon. But music stayed with him: One of his boyhood friends was Otis Redding, and Penniman heard R&B, blues and country while working at a concession stand at the Macon City Auditorium.
After performing at the Tick Tock Club in Macon and winning a local talent show, Penniman landed his first record deal, with RCA, in 1951. (He became “Little Richard” when he about 15 years old, when the R&B and blues worlds were filled with acts like Little Esther and Little Milton; he had also grown tired with people mispronouncing his last name as “Penny-man.”) He learned his distinctive piano style from Esquerita, a South Carolina singer and pianist who also wore his hair in a high black pompadour.
For the next five years, Little Richard’s career advanced only fitfully; fairly tame, conventional singles he cut for RCA and other labels didn’t chart. “When I first came along, I never heard any rock & roll,” he told Rolling Stone in 1990. “When I started singing [rock & roll], I sang it a long time before I presented it to the public because I was afraid they wouldn’t like it. I never heard nobody do it, and I was scared.”
By 1956, he was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station in Macon (a job he had first taken a few years earlier after his father was murdered and Little Richard had to support his family). By then, only one track he’d cut, “Little Richard’s Boogie,” hinted at the musical tornado to come. “I put that little thing in it,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970 of the way he tweaked with his gospel roots. “I always did have that thing, but I didn’t know what to do with the thing I had.”
During this low point, he sent a tape with a rough version of a bawdy novelty song called “Tutti Frutti” to Specialty Records in Chicago. He came up with the song’s famed chorus — “a wop bob alu bob a wop bam boom” — while bored washing dishes. (He also wrote “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” while working that same job.)
By coincidence, label owner and producer Art Rupe was in search of a lead singer for some tracks he wanted to cut in New Orleans, and Penniman’s howling delivery fit the bill. In September 1955, the musician cut a lyrically cleaned-up version of “Tutti Frutti,” which became his first hit, peaking at 17 on the pop chart. “’Tutti Frutti really started the races being together,” he told Rolling Stone in 1990. “From the git-go, my music was accepted by whites.”
Its followup, “Long Tall Sally,” hit Number Six, becoming his the highest-placing hit of his career. For just over a year, the musician released one relentless and arresting smash after another. From “Long Tall Sally” to “Slippin’ and Slidin,’” Little Richard’s hits – a glorious mix of boogie, gospel, and jump blues, produced by Robert “Bumps” Blackwell — sounded like he never stood still. With his trademark pompadour and makeup (which he once said he started wearing so that he would be less “threatening” while playing white clubs), he was instantly on the level of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and other early rock icons, complete with rabid fans and mobbed concerts. “That’s what the kids in America were excited about,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970. “They don’t want the falsehood — they want the truth.”
As with Presley, Lewis and other contemporaries, Penniman also was cast in early rock and roll movies like Don’t Knock the Rock (1956) and The Girl Can’t Help It (1957). In a sign of how segregated the music business and radio were at the time, though, Pat Boone’s milquetoast covers of “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” both also released in 1956, charted as well if not higher than Richard’s own versions. (“Boone’s “Tutti Frutti” hit Number 12, surpassing Little Richard’s by nine slots.) Penniman later told Rolling Stone that he made sure to sing “Long Tall Sally” faster than “Tutti Frutti” so that Boone couldn’t copy him as much.
But then the hits stopped, by his own choice. After what he interpreted as signs – a plane engine that seemed to be on fire and a dream about the end of the world and his own damnation – Penniman gave up music in 1957 and began attending the Alabama Bible school Oakwood College, where he was eventually ordained a minister. When he finally cut another album, in 1959, the result was a gospel set called God Is Real.
His gospel music career floundering, Little Richard returned to secular rock in 1964. Although none of the albums and singles he cut over the next decade for a variety of labels sold well, he was welcomed back by a new generation of rockers like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan (who used to play Little Richard songs on the piano when he was a kid). When Little Richard played the Star-Club in Hamburg in 1964, the opening act was none other than the Beatles. “We used to stand backstage at Hamburg’s Star-Club and watch Little Richard play,” John Lennon said later. “He used to read from the Bible backstage and just to hear him talk we’d sit around and listen. I still love him and he’s one of the greatest.”
By the 1970s, Little Richard was making a respectable living on the rock oldies circuit, immortalized in a searing, sweaty performance in the 1973 documentary Let the Good Times Roll. During this time, he also became addicted to marijuana and cocaine while, at the same time, returning to his gospel roots.
Little Richard also dismantled sexual stereotypes in rock & roll, even if he confused many of his fans along the way. During his teen years and into his early rock stardom, his stereotypical flamboyant personality made some speculate about his sexuality, even if he never publicly came out. But that flamboyance didn’t derail his career. In the 1984 biography The Life and Times of Little Richard (written with his cooperation), he denounced homosexuality as “contagious … It’s not something you’re born with.” (Eleven years later, he said in an interview with Penthouse that he had been “gay all my life.”)
Later in life, he described himself as “omnisexual,” attracted to both men and women. But during an interview with the Christian-tied Three Angels Broadcasting Group in 2017, he suddenly denounced gay and trans lifestyles: “God, Jesus, He made men, men, he made women, women, you know? And you’ve got to live the way God wants you to live. So much unnatural affection. So much of people just doing everything and don’t think about God.”
Yet none of that seemed to damage his mystique or legend. In the 1980s, he appeared in movies like Down and Out in Beverly Hills and in TV shows like Full House and Miami Vice. In 1986, he was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1993, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. His last known recording was in 2010, when he cut a song for a tribute album to gospel singer Dottie Rambo.
In the years before his death, Little Richard, who was by then based in Nashville, still performed periodically. Onstage, though, the physicality of old was gone: Thanks to hip replacement surgery in 2009, he could only perform sitting down at his piano. But his rock and roll spirit never left him. “I’m sorry I can’t do it like it’s supposed to be done,” he told one audience in 2012. After the audience screamed back in encouragement, he said – with a very Little Richard squeal — “Oh, you gonna make me scream like a white girl!”
God Bless Little Richard! Rest in Peace.
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