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Don’t Knock The Rock: John E. Reed’s eternal image of exuberant Little Richard

//London Records promotional image, 1958//

In 1956 the Hollywood photographer John E. Reed took a series of promotional shots of the stars of DJ Alan Freed’s rocksploitation flick Don’t Knock The Rock.

//Above: Reed’s images from the same shoot in Los Angeles, 1956//

Among them was Little Richard striking the outstretched pose which lives on in reproductions of the late Malcolm McLaren’s 1972 t-shirt design known as Vive le Rock!, from the title he appropriated from a Belgian movie poster and positioned above the image.

//Malcolm McLaren in front of rock & roll movie posters display in Let It Rock, 430 King’s Road, Chelsea, London, January 1972. From photo by David Parkinson//

//Promotional shot of Little Richard just above Let It Rock sales assistant Yvonne Gold’s head at the shop’s stall at the London Rock N Roll Show, Wembley Stadium, August 5, 1972. Still from Peter Clifton’s film The London Rock N Roll Show//

The t-shirt was one of five designed by McLaren to coincide with the August 1972 London Rock N Roll Show and sold through Let It Rock, the 50s revival outlet he operated at 430 King’s Road with partner Vivienne Westwood.

//Sid Vicious in Vive le Rock! t-shirt at The Marquee, London, May 23, 1977. Still from the promo for Sex Pistols single God Save The Queen//

It was later popularised by Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, who dug out a Vive le Rock! t-shirt from a box of unsold stock in McLaren and Westwood’s flat in Clapham, south London, and wore it on and offstage in the summer of 1977.

//Front of programme produced to coincide with the October 1962 tour by Little Richard of the UK’s Granada theatres. Also on the bill: soul giant Sam Cooke and Jet Harris, the guitarist who had recently exited The Shadows//

//A crude rendition appeared in this poster for the 1957 Australian tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Image: gene.vincent.fanclub.voila.net//

Reed’s image had already been extensively used across record sleeves, concert programmes and posters to promote The Georgia Peach as his international reputation gathered pace in the late 50s and early 60s.


//Reed’s photograph was manipulated in various ways for the covers of the series of EPs released in Britain and France in the late 50s//

//It also appeared on the sleeve of this 1972 British compilation released to coincide with an uptick of interest in original rock & roll in this period//

And these days reproductions of McLaren’s shirt design – none of which are sanctioned btw – are available at affordable prices through outlets such as eBay and Etsy around the world, a testament not only to McLaren’s ability to produce startling imagery but also to John E. Reed’s capturing of Richard Penniman’s wild abandon more than 60 years ago.

//Repro recently acquired on eBay//

With the recent passing of Chuck Berry we need to treasure Little Richard – and Jerry Lee Lewis, who appeared on another of McLaren’s 1972 designs – more than ever.

Vive le Rock!

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Author: / Published: Apr 20th, 2017 / Category: 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 430 King's Road, Chelsea, Let It Rock, Malcolm McLaren, Photography, Rock & Roll, T-shirt design, Teddy Boys / Comments: None

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