Those who attended concerts at Union College in the 1960s were often witnessing shows by some of the greats in rock ‘n’ roll, soul and R&B history.
Examples: The Beach Boys, a not-yet-famous Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, whose No. 1 hit “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” was released posthumously after a 1967 plane crash, just seven months after his Union appearance.
Before those shows, in April of 1965, came the sounds and showmanship of another in that pantheon of American music greats, Little Richard, who died Saturday morning in Tennessee at age 87.
No less than Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Elvis Presley and Elton john have cited Little Richard as major influences.
“It was a slice of time that cannot be repeated,” said Jeffrey Hedquist, a disc jockey at Union’s WRUC campus radio station in the mid-1960s who was instrumental in bringing those shows to town. Hedquist, Union Class of 1967 and now living in Iowa, often emceed the shows and interviewed the performers before or after the concerts.
American girl group The Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Tonight’s the Night”) performed on the bill that night with Little Richard at Memorial Chapel, Hedquist recalled.
“It might have been just the two of them, and of course they were great. It was a great show,” said Hedquist, remembering that he did commercials in advance of the concert. Little Richard played piano and sang many of his hits, including “Tutti-Frutti,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally,”with help from a backup band.
“We had a guy from France, Michel Briere, who was a disc jockey at WRUC, and he interviewed Little Richard. And he was as outrageous and as wild [in that interview] as he was his entire life,” said Hedquist.
“I forget what the connection was, whether Briere knew him or not from France, because Little Richard was big in Europe. But there was some connection.”
The Beatles opened for Little Richard in the early 1960s in Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany.
Hedquist, a longtime commercial producer, folk performer and storyteller, helped resurrect WRUC with classmate Dick Ferguson. and transformed it into a national leader in college radio.
“When Dick and I arrived [the station] had been off the air for a while. It turned out to be a great training ground.
“Dick majored in political science and I majored in psychology. The truth is, we majored in radio, and we brought in all these concerts from The Beach Boys to The Kingston Trio.”
Hedquist remembers the time Hendrix performed at Union along with the Jimmy Soul Band (“If You Wanna Be Happy”) and The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”) at Memorial Chapel.
“I’m backstage and Jimi is backing up the Ronettes, and Hendrix just keeps getting louder and louder. Jimmy Soul shouts out, ‘Jimi! Jimi! Not so loud!’
“Can you imagine? In retrospect, it was like telling Robert Plant to cut his hair.”