One of the original rock ’n’ roll 45’s was almost never recorded. “Tutti Frutti” was cut by Little Richard and produced by Robert “Bumps” Blackwell at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans on September 14th,1955. It was not on the original list of tunes that they were going to cut that day. The session was not going as well as everyone would have liked, so during a short break, “Little” Richard Penniman decided to sit at the piano and let off some steam.
He started playing a bawdy, salacious tune laced with homosexual humor that he had perfected playing in gay nightclubs with his band, The Tempo Toppers. The original lyrics went something like “Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy”. It bears a resemblence to a song titled “Tutti Booty” recorded some 20 years earlier by a novelty jazz duo known as Slim And Slam. Some of us who had parents that were young during that era may remember them for novelty hits such as “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)” and “Cement Mixer (Puti Puti)”.
Bumps Blackwell heard Little Richard tear through this tune with his trademark ferocity and knew right then and there that it was a hit. He also knew that there was no way it could ever be released with those lyrics. So a local songwriter named Dorothy LaBostrie was hastily contacted to come in and clean it up.
By now , time was of the essence. The session was nearly over and there was not enough time to teach the piano player how to perform the tune. So Matassa re-positioned the microphones so that Little Richard could play and sing the track at the same time. Fifteen minutes and three takes later, “Tutti Frutti” was finished. Released that following November, it went to #2 on the Billboard Rhythm And Blues charts. Even more astonishing was it’s cross over onto the Pop charts (which were typically dominated by white artists) where it reached #17.
Subsequent versions were soon recorded by Pat Boone and Elvis Presley, and were also hits. Richard’s version however, remains the definitive one partly because of the aggressive raw nature of the recording, but chiefly because that ferocious power was being conveyed by a black man. Kids of all colors subsequently went nuts, and the popularity of “Tutti Frutti”would change the world both culturally and politically