Fans may have difficulty imagining Little Richard, the self-professed “King of Rock and Roll” as a struggling newcomer, but in a recording acquired last year Richard registers his surprise at first hearing his hit “Tutti Frutti” on the radio while lying in bed one night, (at about 8 minutes 50 seconds into the interview).
The recording is part of the Joe Smith Collection, a collection of over 225 recorded interviews of popular musicians. Smith, a past president of Capitol/EMI records, conducted the interviews for his book Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music, published by Warner in 1988.
The collection contains a tremendous assembly of primary-source oral histories covering perhaps the most important 50 years of popular music, nationally and internationally.
All types of popular music are represented in the collection—from rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, rhythm & blues and pop to big-band, heavy metal, folk and country-western. The list of noted artists and executives is a veritable “Who’s Who” in the music industry. Smith’s record industry savvy and insightful but relaxed interview style, allow his subjects to open up and reveal candid, sometimes personal details that illuminate their lives, their fame, and their music.
The Library has made over 50 recordings available for listening at the Joe Smith Collection at the Online Audio Collections and Presentation site. Visitors to the Library can also hear them onsite at the Recorded Sound Research Center. These include interviews with Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Ray Charles, Lou Reed, B.B. King, Bo Diddley and Linda Rondstadt. More selections will be posted on the Library’s website later this year.
Listening to the recordings gives you a rare glimpse of music’s biggest stars in unguarded moments. Smith records them joking, eating, drinking and candidly discussing their lives, careers and contemporaries. While chain-smoking, Yoko Ono talks about the breakup of The Beatles; Mick Jagger consumes toast and tea while discussing the Stones’ outlaw reputation; Paul McCartney also speaks frankly about The Beatles’ walk on the wild side; and Tony Bennett talks about the legacy of two music greats over dinner.
Here are some other highlights from the online collection:
- B.B. King on the blues:
“I feel it’s dying as we’ve known it. But there will continuously be blues as long as there are people on the planet, because people gonna continuously have problems.”
- Mick Jagger on The Beatles’ early influence:
“Both Keith and Brian were very much influenced by The Beatles – everyone was at that point. I must say I don’t think I was as much as they were. One envied their success, but I never really liked their music as much.”
- Tony Bennett on Louis Armstrong:
“He invented jazz. He invented the whole art of popular music. He actually invented it. … He was the fountainhead. There isn’t any note or anything in popular music that’s ever been done that Louis Armstrong didn’t do before anybody else. He did everything.”
- Bo Diddley on Elvis:
“Elvis Presley copied me and Jackie Wilson – he combined the two acts together. At the time, he had a good thing going. I thank God that he did. I take my hat off to him. The name of the game is make money, and that’s what he did. He was a lucky man. I haven’t seen anybody else come behind him and do that same thing except Michael Jackson and Prince. I still don’t think they’ve stepped in Elvis’s shoes.”
- Ray Charles
“The public supported me even when I was nobody, and they still do it today. They supported me even through all the trials and tribulations and sufferings I went through, hassles I had. They still stuck by me. That’s why I believe in giving the public the best I got every night. All I got. So when you see me on stage, man, that’s what you see – is everything I got….I never go out there and half do it.”
- David Bowie
“I’m more of a sucker. I’m more of a fan. If it’s wearing a pink hat and a red nose and he plays a guitar upside down, I’ll go look at it. I love to see people being dangerous.”
In addition to recordings, the Joe Smith Collection contains accompanying paper transcripts, although not every recording includes a transcript. More information about the transcripts can be found online. Advance notice is required to obtain the transcripts since they are held offsite, so please contact a reference librarian in the Recorded Sound Research Center.