3 ways in which Rock & Roll innovator Little Richard was tied to Professional Wrestling
- A look at how the rock icon inspired professional wrestling for decades.
- His influence was felt in both WCW and WWF in the 1980s and 1990s.
One of the original Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, the death of singer Little Richard, born Richard Penniman, was announced earlier today, May 9, 2020. One of the innovators of Rock music, Penniman scored dozens of hit songs over the years, including "Good Golly Miss Molly," "The Girl Can't Help It," "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally".
Beyond scoring hits in his own right, the music of Little Richard was recorded by countless other icons. This includes The Beatles, Elton John, Eric Clapton, The Kinks, Queens and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Electric guitar innovator Jimi Hendrix played in one of Little Richard's early bands, and Little Richard wore purple before Prince did.
But not everyone realizes that Little Richard also left a footprint on the world of Professional Wrestling. Below and on the following pages are 3 examples of this.
#1: Little Richard sang "America The Beautiful" at WrestleMania X
One of the staple segments of WrestleMania is the signing of "America The Beautiful," a traditional pre-event-launch anthem within the United States. At WrestleMania X, which took place at New York City's Madison Square Garden, still billed as "The World's Most Famous Arena", in March 1994, Little Richard was the singer of "America The Beautiful".
Other notable performers of "America The Beautiful" at WrestleMania include Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson and Reba McIntyre, but it was Little Richard's that included a choir dressed in red. He gave a mostly-harnassed vocal take, only letting loose with his flamboyant vocals towards the end of his performance.
As embedded above, Bruce Prichard reflected about Little Richard at WrestleMania X -- including his direct interactions with Little Richard -- on an episode of Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard. Meanwhile, the full pay-per-view event can still be streamed via the WWE Network as of this article's writing.
#2: "Mean" Gene Okerlund recorded a Little Richard song for WWE
In 1985, WWE, then known as the World Wrestling Federation, released a compilation album of wrestling-related recordings called The Wrestling Album. Some of its songs were (or would become) ring entrance music for WWF talent, while other songs simply featured WWF talent on lead vocal duties.
One of the memorable tracks on The Wrestling Album was "Mean" Gene Okerlund singing Little Richard classic "Tutti Frutti." This recording would eventually serve as Okerlund's WWF entrance music for live events, beyond Okerlund performing it as part of the 1986 broadcasted edition of The Slammy Awards.
The success of this album would spawn a followup release, Piledriver: The Wrestling Album II. Okerlund covered another Rock classic on that album, Rick Derringer's "Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo." Both the original album and its followup effort have since been reissued.
Covers of Rock classic aside, wrestling fans can forever take joy in Vince McMahon's take on "Stand Back", while the group take of Wilson Pickett's "Land Of 1,000 Dances" is still streamable on YouTube.
#3: Johnny B. Badd
As the story goes, then-WCW booker Dusty Rhodes thought that Marc Mero looked like Little Richards in terms of facial structure. Even without make-up or tanner. So Rhodes helped created a character for Mero in WCW, Johnny B. Badd.
Johnny B. Badd not only tried to look like Little Richard and talk like Little Richard, but his WCW theme song -- as embedded above -- sounds like an early Rock knock-off and has a reference to Little Richard. And while Johnny B. Badd was a boxing gimmick of sorts, his hook punch was regularly dubbed a "Tutti Frutti" by WCW announcers.
As Johnny B. Badd, Mero was a three-time WCW Television Champion. Mero would ultimately make his mark in WWF. Vince McMahon was supposedly a big fan of the Johnny B. Badd character and thought he was bringing the character into WWF, not Marc Mero. As an Intercontinental Champion, Mero brought along his then-wife Sable to the talent roster; Sable would of course go on to marry Brock Lesnar.
Between the Johnny B. Badd character, the WrestleMania X appearance and the "Mean" Gene Okerlund associations, Little Richard undoubtedly left his mark on decades of Professional Wrestling.
Sportskeeda sends its well wishes to the friends, family and associates of "Little Richard" Richard Penniman.
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