Q’s With Jack Bart, Former Agent For Little Richard

Jack Bart holding a signed poster of a 2003 Little Richard show at the Rollins Center at Dover Downs in Dover, Del.

The great Little Richard’s passing on May 9 at the age of 87 was a body blow to the millions upon millions of people across the globe whom he touched with his music and performances over the course of his six-decade career. 

His piercing wail, pounding piano, flamboyance and transcendent live performances created a feral template for legions of performers who followed in his well-coiffed wake. 

Here, we spoke with Jack Bart, Richard’s former booking agent at Universal Attractions Agency, to get all we could on the person many called “The Architect of Rock ’n’ Roll.”  

Pollstar: So you worked with Little Richard at Universal Attractions Agency? 
Jack Bart: I did. I sold it about nine years ago to two employees of mine [Jeff Epstein and Jeff Allen]. I wanted to get into management. I was managing James Brown when he passed away [in 2006]. And I’m now managing The Stylistics, Manhattans and Peaches & Herb with Lac Management.
What years did you have Little Richard as a client?
My father had him in the late ‘50s, ‘60s. I had him in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Tell us about your work with him.
We’re going back many, many years ago. My father Ben Bart owned Universal Attractions. When he passed, I took over the reins. My father had a lot of things going with Little Richard. He was his agent at the time, and he had him on numerous shows with Chuck Berry and also Jerry Lee Lewis. It was a great trio at the time. The three acts. When my father passed, I continued doing the same thing. I had Little Richard, Chuck Berry in England and also in various other cities in Europe. I also had Little Richard in Japan and just basically traveled all over the world with the artists.
James Brown, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis had a lot of “personality,” to say the least, what was it like working with them? 
There was a lot of jockeying for first place, you might say, between Little Richard and James Brown. They were quite friendly towards each other, and they were always jostling each other for who was the better entertainer of the two of them. It was all in good fun. I used to sit back and watch them go at each other. But I think that Little Richard deep down knew that James Brown was more of the Godfather, the bigger of the two artists. And I think that Little Richard bowed to that fact, but he did it graciously. And it certainly didn’t detract from his performance, because when Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard performed on the same bill, I would say that Little Richard was the most outstanding of the three artists.
What about Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry? 
Chuck Berry, he had the name and I did tour and go out with Chuck on a number of occasions and I was very close to him. But performance-wise, I think Little Richard was far superior. His band was much tighter. Chuck Berry never had his own band. He used to pick up a high school band or some local musicians and he’d have a 30-minute interview. He’d say, “When my guitar goes up, play, and when the guitar goes down, stop,” and that was really literally what his instructions were. He used to get mostly high school or college bands that loved to play with Chuck Berry because of the notoriety. And, also, that age group knew Chuck Berry’s music very well, so they didn’t have to rehearse it. They just had to know when to start and when to stop.
You remember the Million Dollar Quintet, it sounds like you had one. They are the basis of so much contemporary music, what kind of venues were they playing when you had them? 
We were playing big auditoriums, 5,000-seaters, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 [capacity] arenas throughout the world. And we did great business all the time. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, they just went on and on and on, you might say, forever. It was amazing that even into the late ‘90s, early ‘00s, they were still calling for these artists to perform.
Little Richard
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
– Little Richard
A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Boom! The late-great Little Richard, widely considered one of the all-time greatest performers, onstage with his band in 1956.

They should have been playing stadiums. Did they have territories where they were bigger? 
I would say that between Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Chuck Berry was a bit stronger in Europe. He had a bigger name and everybody knew his song, “My Ding-A-Ling.” When he did that tune, the audiences usually went totally crazy. Not taking anything away from Little Richard, but his big record was “Tutti Frutti.” Richard really worked the hardest of all the artists, he would jump up on the piano and almost dance on the piano. I felt sorry for the poor people that supplied the pianos, because I’m sure some of these were very expensive baby grands, and I don’t think Little Richard jumping on them did the piano any good. But he was a star in his own right and they knew what his act comprised. Artists can get away with all kinds of things that the average person could not. If I jumped on a piano, they’d probably want to arrest me. If Little Richard jumped on the piano, they’d say, “Hey, do that again so I can get my camera and take a picture of you.”
When did you first meet Little Richard? 
It had to be in the late ‘50s.
He’s known for being flamboyant and outrageous. How would you describe his him? 
Richard himself was very outgoing. Interesting thing about Richard is he changed over the years. At one point, he got very involved in the Jewish religion. We could not book him on Friday or Saturdays. He would not work on the Sabbath. That was a very difficult situation at the time because that’s when everybody goes out – on Friday nights and Saturday nights.

Did he convert, or was his family Jewish? 
No, he converted and I heard, just recently, just prior to him passing, because I had talked to him about three weeks ago, and someone had told me that he had converted again to Seventh-day Adventist. But I can’t confirm that, but I could confirm, without a doubt, because I was out there with him, and he was very religious. He embraced the Jewish religion very strongly.
Were his performances always that outrageous?  
Yes, absolutely. He would start his performance and all of a sudden he would stop and turn to his musicians, or one of them, and say, “Shut up.” And then he’d start playing again. And as an audience they’d say, “Well, what’s that all about?” But the music would stop. He would say, “Shut up.” And then he’d start playing again. This became part of his act, and it went over extremely well. And the drummers, they would be very theatrical. They’d be standing up, not sitting down, and twirling their drum sticks, and Little Richard would be playing the piano, standing up, jumping on the piano. It was a very theatrical type of act besides just listening to the songs that he made popular.
What was he like off stage?
Very down to earth, very quiet. He spoke very softly, had no problem giving his autographs to people. Very pleasant, not difficult at all to deal with it. In fact, he was a pleasure to deal with.
And I compare him with Chuck Berry because I had them both out at the same time on numerous occasions. And with Little Richard, I’d go into his dressing room, talk to him about a little business and I’d walk out. No problems. With Chuck Berry, before I went into his dressing room, if there was a bottle of bourbon, I’d have to have a big double shot because he would put you through the grinder. 

So the persona onstage with Little Richard was different than the persona offstage.
Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t say it was a different person. It was just a very calm, relaxed type of person. Never heard him raise his voice. On stage, he was very outgoing and extroverted. He just put forth, he let people know who he was. And offstage, he was very quiet, subdued, and people would say, as he was walking through an airport or any place in public, people would say, “There’s Little Richard.” And he’d wave and say hello and be very, very friendly and outgoing, as far as politeness. Chuck Berry, well he had a different modus operandi.
What about Jerry Lee Lewis?
Jerry Lee Lewis was a country boy. He was from Mississippi, not far from Memphis, and he was another great performer. I loved his music myself and he just loved to do country stuff. I didn’t associate with him very much off stage. I only saw him at the venues and I didn’t socialize with him. But the times that we did talk, he was very down to earth. Like I said, a country boy from the country and he would like to talk about the farm and friends of his in Mississippi.
“The Killer” was also a wild man on stage. 
Yeah. He was banging on the piano and he would almost tear it apart. But you’re absolutely right. Jerry Lee Lewis was a wild man onstage.
The outpouring for Little Richard came from every star you can think of: Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Carole King, Chance the Rapper and so many others. What’s your take on his legacy ?
He was an icon. Like Kobe Bryant in basketball, look at the response he got from his death. Overwhelming. In the music business, Little Richard was an icon, and he was loved by many people. s