If Little Richard is the King of Rock 'n' Roll, as he
claims, then what title should be given to the man he
emulated? Although his debut album was released AFTER
Little Richard's, it was indeed ESQUIRITA who taught
Little Richard to play piano (literally). Little
Richard also "borrowed' his obligato scream, and his
outrageously flamboyant fashion sense.
It was sometime in 1984 when word got around that
the legendary Esquirita was going to do a rare
appearance at Tramps, a nightclub in New York's
Greenwich Village. If memory serves, he was booked for
a three night stint.Everyone on the NY Garage scene
went down to check him out.Not having any idea what
to expect, as no one had ever seen him, or had even
seen any photos (other than the one famous album cover
shot depicting him in ladies' rhinestone shades and
his pompadour at least 6 inches higher than Little
Richard's) therE was a great deal of anticipation. It
turned out that he had been playing lounges for years,
under the moniker "The magnificent Malochi," and was
not quite prepared for a houseful of Rock 'n' Roll
fanatics, yelling out requests for "Batty Over
Hattie," "Rockin' In The Joint,' and many more that
he'd long since forgotten. His appearance had changed
drastically as well. No longer the crazed wildman of
the 50's, his image was right in synch with the
showtunes he was crooning. And worse, his obligatto
holler was long gone, replaced by a very scratchy
baritone. He was thankful, and a bit astonished, for
all the recognition, and did end up running through a
few classics, and promised he'd do alot more the next
night. We all returned, of course. This time he had
members of the A-Bones backing him.
Very poorly, I
might add. It got to the point where he actually had
to ask them, several times, to "Sit this one out."
Still, we were seeing Esquirita, in the flesh, and it
was a thrill.
As it turned out, Fuzztones bassist Michael Jay had
his parent's upper west side mansion all to himself
that night, and invited the whole gang for a party -
including Esquirita, who arrived with his "bodyguard."
The Outta Place played a set and I joined in on harp
for "1-2-5", after which a jam ensued, with various
Lyres and A-Bones backing Esquirita on an impromptu
run through of two or three of his 50's classics.
Seeing the combo organ unattended, I jumped up and
played along. But the highlight of the evening was
when Esquirita sat down and played the Jay household
piano, while we all gathered around in amazement. He
had huge hands and a reach that enabled him to play
more notes at once than any pianist I'd ever seen. He
really was the BEST Rock 'n' Roll pianist I'd ever
heard, even better than Jerry Lee.
About two or three days later, Esquirita called me,
asking me to pay him $50 for playing the party! He
also knew I was planning to take a trip to New Orleans
soon, and gave me Allan Tousant's home phone number,
though I was too intimidated to call for some reason.
Esquirita died shortly after, of AIDS, the same day
as Liberace's death.