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Fancy Ray McCloney on his friend Little Richard: ‘The man was a giant’

Little Richard performs in Memphis, 2004. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Inset: Fancy Ray McCloney with Little Richard, courtesy Fancy Ray McCloney.

With the passing of rock n’ roll legend Little Richard, Jill Riley checked in with Minnesota entertainment icon Fancy Ray McCloney, who got his start in show business as a Little Richard impersonator. They chatted about the cultural impact of Little Richard, Ray’s first time meeting his hero in person, and how Prince’s aesthetic was influenced by the artist’s style.

Jill Riley: So, I was scrolling through Facebook shortly after I heard the news of the death of rock and roll pioneer and icon Little Richard and there I see Mr. Fancy Ray on Facebook Live talking about the influence and impact of Little Richard and his friendship with him. So, on the line this morning I’ve got the best looking man in comedy: Mr. Fancy Ray. How are you doing?

Fancy Ray: I’m on top of the world, that diamond in the pearl, the beauty of a boy with the sweetness of a girl!

Oh, I feel better already just hearing your voice this morning. So, Fancy Ray, Little Richard passed away. And you know the first time I laid eyes on you. I thought oh man, he has such a Little Richard vibe to him. And then that was early on, really, in your career that you felt that kind of impact, right?

Well, absolutely. Little Richard truly was my inspiration for going into show business. His imprint and impact on my life. As you said, as soon as you see him, you can see that it’s quite evident. I started my career as a Little Richard impersonator and so the first time I stepped on stage I was impersonating Little Richard. And when I first started doing stand up comedy, it was kind of like Little Richard doing stand up comedy.

As time has gone on, there are other influences that hit me. Your Richard Pryors and your Rudy Ray Moores and so much more — plus my own voice. As time goes on, you discover your own stuff, you know, just like in many ways, Little Richard imprinted on many people, from the Beatles with Paul McCartney, Prince, Elton John, and David Bowie. All of them have input and then you make your own voice, but that input and that influence is there and then you rise up and make your own creation.

What Little Richard did was he brought that excitement, that energy. You did not know what to expect. Plus, that great voice, that great energy, and that pounding on the piano. Those crazy, over-the-top lyrics, that hairdo. I mean, there was this excitement that he brought to rock and roll. And if you see anyone who’s exciting, over the top, that’s letting it all hang out; there’s definitely the influence of Little Richard somewhere.

I met him at Grand Casino in Minnesota. He was doing a concert. I went to the event. He’s on stage performing. He’s wrapping up the show. And this is about 96-97, he’s saying “time to go, I got it, woo-woo!” Then I move in front of the stage and right there I go and impersonate my inspiration right in front of him.

Wow.

He saw me and it blew his mind. “You come up here, come up here.” I walked on stage, and I met the king, the architect, the creator of rock and roll. And from there, a friendship developed. And that can include a spiritual conversation, religious conversations, inspirational conversation. I’ve been to church with him. There was just no one like him. And a deep gentleman, at the same time, full of love, and trying to touch the world, and something that he was always trying to do is prepare himself for going to meet Jesu. That this life was just a stepping stone to where he was going to go.

So I was hit with great, great sadness. And at the same time, knowing that life is a whole process, and I’m just so blessed that he touched my life, and so many millions of lives throughout this country and world. What an artist. To have known him and felt his impact, felt his love and his concern and joy. The last conversation I had with him, I got a new record out called The Best Lookin’ Man in Comedy LP on Stand Up Records. And on that record, we got Diablo Cody to do the liner notes. Little Richard gave me a quote for my album and that quote is on the album, and that was the last time I talked to him.

And so the last time you talked to him, he gave you a quote, what was that?

I’m gonna give it to you directly. Again, this is off of The Best Lookin’ Man in Comedy. He said: “I love Fancy Ray. He’s one of my favorite people. I thank God for meeting him and believe anyone who meets him will feel the same.” That was Little Richard, the architect of rock’n’roll.

That’s something when you hear the bad news — you know, somebody that passes away but knowing that they had a very fulfilled life. I mean, what an 87 years on this planet. Not bad, not a bad run.

Fantastic run! Doing what he wanted to do, touched people the way he wanted to touch people, and he loved being Little Richard. And man, I think the world loves him being Little Richard. So, a wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom! “Tutti Frutti” to “Long Tall Sally,” “(Good Golly) Miss Molly.” You just get excited. Play “Get Down With It.” I don’t know what you guys got, you do soul music over there. There’s such a huge catalog of spiritual stuff, the stuff he did in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he did great music throughout his career and I hope that the folks listening will enjoy some of it. And I always said, if you look at Prince, Purple Rain, that look he had was exactly like Little Richard’s. Just look at the ‘70s. It was just the big hair, the flower shirts, the blouses all that was totally and completely influenced by Little Richard. The man was a giant.

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