Little Richard's first completely secular rock 'n' roll record in more than a decade is scheduled for release later this month, and he had this advise: You might have to fight any 5-year-olds in the house for possession of it. His latest comeback effort is "Gawrsh Golly Goofy," a rollicking tune in the pumping piano, yelping tradition of his landmark '50s hits "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally." The song is the centerpiece of a new Disneyland Records children's album entitled "Mickey's Rock Around the House." It is Little Richard's only track on the album, which will be released Sept. 20. The album also includes one song featuring Elvis Presley's frequent backup vocal group, the Jordanaires.
"I think the children of today are looking for clean, wholesome rock with rhythm," Little Richard, 54, said Monday at Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Jamboree, where he was taping a video for the song.
Outfitted in a stunningly hip turquoise, pink and silver suit and ox-blood pointy-toed boots, Little Richard exhibited for the video camera some of the same flash and unique persona that made him one of rock's most powerful performers 30 years ago.
In addition to the children's record, the man whose outrageous, fiery style paved the way for rock stars from Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix to Michael Jackson and Prince, will play a handful of shows this month in the Midwest opening for David Bowie, another artist whose androgynous image owes much to Little Richard. At those concerts, he will be singing many of the rock hits that, for religious reasons, he refused to perform in recent years, including "Lucille."
"We call it 'Lucille '87.' It's still 'Lucille'; it still has a wholesome message," said Little Richard, whose real name is Richard Penniman. "We're still rockin', but we're rockin' with a positive message."
Little Richard dubbed his return to secular music as "the message sound" and said he wants to use rock in a positive way to counter what he called the "demonic" side of rock. "A lot of it was talkin' about drugs and killing and raping. But songs in the '50s--a lot of them--had a good, clean message about fun."
After earning his place as one of the chief architects of rock 'n' roll, Little Richard denounced rock in the late '50s as "the devil's music," became a minister and turned exclusively to gospel music.
In the mid-'60s he returned to performing some secular material and tried to come back several times in the '70s. But by 1975 he again retreated from rock 'n' roll to focus on his preaching and religious music. He has since worked in Riverside as a minister and gospel singer.
Little Richard said he believes secular rock is OK as long as the message is positive. He said he sees the new record for children fitting in perfectly with that goal:
"I believe it's (ultimate effect) is according to the message. The rhythm is nothing but a machine to deliver the product. And without that machine, you can't carry the product. . . . I like some of the new music, but I like the old music better. I don't think music is as forceful today as it was in the '50s. If you can combine the technology of today with the force of the '50s music, I think you'll really have something. That's why I think Michael Jackson is so strong, because he does the old and the new."
Shepard Stern, producer of the the "Mickey's Rock Around The House" album, said he turned a dream into reality by winning Little Richard's involvement in the project.
"Nobody could sing this song ('Gawrsh Golly Goofy') like Little Richard," Stern said. "I think this is a big step for Disney Records in using superstar talent for kids, because kids deserve the best. For me, this is the high point of my career. I don't think I'll ever be able to top this."
Little Richard has still not fully recovered from a 1985 automobile accident in which he suffered a broken leg, broken ribs and head injuries. Nerve damage has left his lower lip and the tip of his tongue numb, and he retains a pin in his right leg, which he said restricted him from being "as expressive as I would like to be" in the "Gawrsh Golly Goofy " video.