When a 1964 album proclaimed Little Richard Is Back, it was something of a matter of opinion. The Georgia Peach had actually returned to the rock ‘n’ roll scene two years earlier, after a self-imposed period of singing gospel. But on 20 November 1965, he did make a more emphatic comeback to the R&B charts.
The single ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me),’ written by Atlantic soulman Don Covay, followed Richard’s cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.’ That had reached No. 42 on the Cashbox R&B chart in September 1964. The new 45 was notable in being one of several of his studio sessions of the time to feature a young guitarist for hire called Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix had started playing live dates with Little Richard earlier in 1965, under the name Maurice James. He made a mark, as the rock pioneer later admitted in an interview with VH1 Legends.“On the stage he would actually take the show. People would scream and I thought they were screaming for me. I look over and they’re screaming for Jimi! So I had to darken the lights. He’d be playing the guitar with his teeth.”
By the time of ‘I Don’t Know,’ Billboard had resumed publication of its own soul listings, on which Richard duly appeared on 20 November 1965, at a confident No. 21. Fontella Bass was continuing her No.1 run with ‘Rescue Me,’ while the two other new entries on the top 40 chart were the Four Tops’ ‘Something About You’ and Wilson Pickett’s ‘Don’t Fight It.’
Richard’s single, his last on Vee-Jay to chart, went on to reach No. 12 on the R&B side, his best position since, at the end of his initial prominence of rock ‘n’ roll’s first flush, ‘Baby Face’ also reached No. 12. By now, sadly, his days of pop crossover were at an end, and the 1965 single only reached No. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100.
He managed three more R&B chart entries, of which 1970’s ‘Freedom Blues’ was top 30 soul and top 50 pop. ‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)’ went on to be included on the 1971 compilation of his Vee-Jay period, Mr. Big, and on the 2010 Hendrix box set West Coast Seattle Boy.
‘I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)’ is on the expanded reissue of Little Richard Is Back (And There’s A Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Goin’ On!), which can be bought here.