Little Richard encouraged artists to take control of the business side of their careers and devote themselves to their craft during an entertaining keynote address this morning (March 18) at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
“Learn how to take care of your business when you make it,” he said. “Learn how to count your money, because if you don’t, somebody’s gonna count it for you. Sign all your own checks. I wish somebody would have told me about that. I don’t care if it’s paying the water bill — you sign it.”
While he enjoys rock and hip-hop, Richard said he wished more artists were familiar with older forms of music, particularly gospel. “I think that gospel music is the true foundation of all music,” he said. “First of all, it’s real and it has a real feeling. Gospel and rhythm and blues — that’s where jazz came from!”
“Don’t cheat yourself,” he continued. “Learn how to really do what you’re doing for real. Be the best, nothing less. Don’t do this just because it’s gonna sell. Because then, you’re cheating yourself.”
Rambling from story to story and frequently speaking in rhyme, Richard related tales of hanging out with other rock legends in their formative days. Of Jimi Hendrix, who played in Richard’s band before striking out as a solo act, he said, “Jimi was a ladies man. If he saw a lady, he’d forget everything else. When he was with me, he didn’t play that kind of guitar. He played Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson and the blues. My brother fired him without my permission.”
He recalled turning down an opportunity to sign off on the Beatles’ cover of “Good Golly Miss Molly,” which the group wanted him to shop around to U.S. record labels. “I didn’t bring the tape [back],” he said. “Now, I wish I did because they offered me 50% of the royalties!”
Now 71, Richard still tours regularly but admits he has no interest in recording new material. “I’ve had offers, but I think, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “New disc jockeys are going to play new artists. You don’t need a record when you get to a certain stage of life. General Electric don’t need to make a new light bulb. They’re still the electric company. I’m little Richard and I’m going to be here.”