For generations of aspiring musicians from the Deep South, country music and R&B are inextricably linked. That was part of the inspiration for a unique blending of performers from both genres for a duets album and corresponding PBS TV special in March of 1994. Rhythm, Country and Blues, released on the MCA Nashville label, featured combinations of like-minded artists, one from country and one from R&B, interpreting songs from both genres.
Produced by Nashville titan Tony Brown and rock-pop producer Don Was, the LP opened with Vince Gill and Gladys Knight singing “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” with more top-shelf collabs to follow: Al Green and Lyle Lovett (“Funny How Time Slips Away”); Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood (“I Fall to Pieces”); Sam Moore and Conway Twitty (“Rainy Night in Georgia”); B.B. King and George Jones (“Patches”); Natalie Cole and Reba McEntire (“Since I Fell for You”). A Number One country album, Rhythm, Country and Blues also reached the Top 20 on the Top R&B Albums and Billboard 200 charts.
But it was Little Richard, “the architect of rock & roll,” teaming up with Tanya Tucker, who turned in the most electrifying performance. The pair dove headlong into the 1959 Eddie Cochran barn-burner “Somethin’ Else,” with its lyrics describing both a shiny new convertible and a desirable young woman that are both out of reach. In the fall of ’94, the duo re-teamed for a live performance of the song during the CMA Awards. Decked out in a red suit with white trim, Richard pounds away at the piano and inserts a number of hoots and hollers throughout his solos. Standing beside him in a short leather dress and knee-high stockings, Tucker keeps up with the rock icon in terms of yelps, ad-libbing and vamping her way to the song’s conclusion.
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Nominated for CMA Album of the Year, Rhythm, Country and Blues lost to the Eagles tribute album Common Thread (Tucker appeared on both projects). Regarding his own view on musical genres, Little Richard told Jet magazine at the time, “Soul is when you sing from the heart and it reaches the heart.”
In addition to the LP’s release and the PBS special, later that same month many of the participants would gather for a live performance at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheater, with additional surprise appearances from Ben E. King, Mickey Gilley, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan.
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