The Little Richard Single Featuring Jimi Hendrix
Listen to “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)” featuring a young Hendrix on backing guitar.
The late pioneering musician Little Richard proclaimed himself to be the “architect of rock ‘n’ roll.” Little Richard helped originate and define what became rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s, using R&B, blues, soul and gospel elements as building blocks for his timeless hit songs.
Early success for Little Richard was structured on songs like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Keep A-Knockin’” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” building not only the foundation of his influential career but of rock ‘n’ roll itself. For a period spanning 1957 to 1962, Little Richard largely abandoned his rock ‘n’ roll persona, instead devoting himself to Christian gospel music. A fateful tour of Europe in 1962 saw Little Richard playing his early rock ‘n’ roll hits again and The Beatles opening a few shows in England.
By 1964 Little Richard was fully back to playing rock ‘n’ roll, backed by his longtime supporting band called The Upsetters. Around this time, The Architect redesigned the lineup of the group to bring in a young guitarist out of Seattle who went by various names, Maurice James among the ones he tried out.
The young guitarist had recorded with The Isley Brothers on their song “Testify” as well as Don Covay’s popular single “Mercy, Mercy.” Another song written by Covay, “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)” was recorded by Little Richard in 1965 and featured the upstart guitarist.
The up-and-coming musician would soon revert back to the name given to him when he was born on this date 81 years ago, calling himself Jimi Hendrix as he became one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
In late 1965, Little Richard’s recording of “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)” with Jimi Hendrix on guitar reached #12 on Billboard’s R&B chart. The single was Little Richard’s first to appear on an R&B chart since 1958 and it remained his final time reaching the R&B Top 20.
Little Richard recalled the period of collaboration with Hendrix, stating:
He was a star. When I got him, he was a star. Sly [Stone] told you that everybody is a star. The only problem is some people haven’t been put in the dipper and pulled back on the world. That’s what the answer is. That’s what the answer [is]. You got to be placed into the dipper and pulled back down on the world, and then men will see your good works and glorify god, Jehovah.
Jimi Hendrix could play that rock ‘n’ roll. I used to be singing rock ‘n’ roll and give him a Woo! Woo! Woo! Woo! Be gone! He’d have that thing just romping and thumping all up under my toes. At times he used to make my big toe shoot up in my boot. He did it so good. He gives it all to you and that’s what you want. You want it all or none.
But Jimi had this perseverance to go on. He didn’t mind looking freaky. Like I don’t mind it. Of course, I was doing it before he was and I know when he saw me it gave him confidence and great recompense of reward. My Lord.
I’m trying to spread a little joy and love together to show the world that the end is not yet, that I’ve got to take you higher. Not off of some cocaine, or a piece of grass, or some heroin, but Jimi was going to take them higher than that!
And he’s always wanted to be this big star, but you know I never got a chance to see him after he made it? They would never let me come back. I used to say, ‘Why? What did I do?’ I had something to tell him and I never did.
So now I have to talk about it and let him know it was good. I just want to let him know that I knew you was going to make it.
Multiple sources cite Hendrix’s growing self-confidence and colorful style evolution as the cause of friction that ultimately led to Little Richard removing him from the group. One frequently repeated story is that of Hendrix wearing a satin shirt onstage angering Little Richard who told the budding guitarist
“I am the only Little Richard! I am the King of Rock and Roll, and I am the only one allowed to be pretty. Take that shirt off!”
It was not only Hendrix’s stagewear decisions that upset Little Richard and led to his departure from The Upsetters, but his increasing flamboyant guitar moves also drew the ire of The Architect.
“On the stage he would actually take the show,” Little Richard told VH1. “People would scream and I thought they were screaming for me. I look over and they’re screaming for Jimi! So I had to darken the lights. He’d be playing the guitar with his teeth.”
Hendrix continued doing some session recordings and other backup gigs before branching out on his own. The guitarist who would have turned 81 years old today released his debut single in 1966.
His brief but continuously influential career produced four outstanding albums, 1967’s Are You Experienced and
Listen to Jimi Hendrix’s backing guitar work on Little Richard’s 1965 single, “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)” below: