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6 Quick Facts About Richard Pryor's Warner Bros Comedy Albums

Today would've been Richard Pryor's 75th birthday, and in celebration of that momentous occasion, Rhino Records added a half-dozen of Pryor's classic albums to their digital catalog. In turn, we're taking a look back at the history of each effort.

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1. That Nigger’s Crazy was originally released on Stax Records’ comedy imprint, Partee Records.

In 1972, Stax Records organized the Watts Summer Festival, a concert event featuring performances by the Bar-Kays, the Dramatics, the Emotions, Albert King, the Staple Singers, Carla and Rufus Thomas, and the one and only Isaac Hayes, but when director Mel Stuart crafted his documentary about the concert, Wattstax, he featured a number of bits by Pryor which helped serve as a thread running through the film. As a result, Pryor ended up signing to Stax’s comedy imprint, Partee Records, and ended up not only with a gold album for That Nigger's Crazy - which actually hit #1 on Billboard's R&B Albums chart - but also a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. Unfortunately, financial woes caused Stax to abruptly close its doors not long after the album’s release, and after securing the master rights to the album, Pryor signed a new deal with Warner Bros, who reissued the album in late 1975, three months after Pryor’s label debut, …Is It Something I Said?

2. …Is It Something I Said? introduced the world at large to Mudbone, Pryor’s most famous character, if one that he grew weary of before audiences did.

The famous wino philosopher from Tupelo, Mississippi was a rare recurring character in Pryor’s stand-up, but while Mudbone may have been hugely popular (not to mention very, very funny), that popularity became frustrating for Pryor over the years. Indeed, on the website for his book Becoming Richard Pryor, author Scott Saul wrote, “At the first taping session for Live on the Sunset Strip in 1981, an audience member shouts, ‘Mudbone! Mudbone!’ during a slow, soul-searching moment for Pryor onstage. The comedian has a quick reply: ‘Fuck. You.’” In the end, Pryor did do Mudbone, but he also acknowledged that it would be for the last time. It wasn’t, of course: when Pryor released his autobiography, Pryor Convictions, the introduction was written by – you guessed it – Mudbone.

3. Bicentennial Nigger was the second time Pryor used the N-word in an album title, but within a few years, he had excised the word from his act altogether.

There was certainly a time in Pryor’s career when he had no hesitation about letting the N-word fly on a regular basis, with his rationale being that it was a matter of owning the term and thereby removing the sting it once had. That all changed after he took a trip to Africa, as Pryor explained in an interview with Ebony: “I was sitting by myself (in the Nairobi Hilton in Kenya), and I just looked around, and it was like a voice said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ’People of all colors doing things together.’ And another voice said, ‘Do you see any niggers?’ And I said, ‘No!’ And the voice said, ‘Do you know why?’ And I said (whispering), ’No.’ And it said, ‘There aren’t any…’” From that point on, Pryor never uttered the word in his act again.

4. After taking two years off from doing stand-up, Pryor announced his 1978 concert tour – the one immortalized on Wanted: Live in Concert – while chatting with Steve Martin on The Tonight Show.

Two of 1978’s greatest comedy minds met up on June 19, 1978, when Steve Martin, guest-hosting The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson, welcomed Richard Pryor as his first guest of the evening. After having stepped away from stand-up for an extended period in order to focus on feature films, Pryor revealed that he’d just taken his first baby steps toward getting back on stage in a big way, and it was more than a little bit intimidating for him. “I’m scared,” he told Martin. “I just started back, and it’s very hard. I haven’t worked in a couple of years. Getting your legs back is very hard, as they say.” Clearly, Pryor found his legs: the tour was a tremendous success, as was the resulting 2-LP live album, Wanted: Live in Concert.

5. Live on the Sunset Strip was another Grammy Award winner for Pryor, but it’s best remembered for his frank, frightening, and yet somehow still funny telling of how he caught fire while freebasing cocaine.

June 9, 1980 was not a great day for Richard Pryor. As he revealed in his aforementioned autobiography, Pryor Convictions, that’s the date when, after spending several days freebasing cocaine, he decided to attempt suicide by pouring 151-proof rum over himself and lighting himself on fire. He survived, of course, although the damage was decidedly severe, but it took some time before the press-friendly claim that he’d accidentally been burnt when a glass of rum caught fire evolved into something far closer to the truth on Live on the Sunset Strip. Over the years, Pryor’s retelling of that evening and its after-effects have often been streamlined into a single line – “When you’re on fire and running down the street, people will get out of your way!” – but if that’s all you remember, then it’s time you revisited it.

6. Pryor may not have retired from stand-up after releasing 1983’s Here and Now – indeed, he continued touring into 1992 – but it nonetheless proved to be his final album.

Given the near-instant legendary status achieved by Live on the Sunset Strip, it’s understandable that Here and Now is often seen as a lesser Pryor album, but it’s all a matter of opinion. For instance, when Roger Ebert reviewed the film version of the concert, he doled out four stars without hesitation, declaring that “the Richard Pryor we see on screen in Here and Now has obviously found some kind of peace with himself that was lacking in the Sunset Strip film: he can smile more easily; he doesn't have to reach for effects; he handles audience interruptions with grace and cool; he is the master of his instrument.”

Unfortunately, the master would soon be stricken by multiple sclerosis, which would dull that instrument considerably. In an attempt at defiance, Pryor appeared at the Comedy Store in 1992, taking the stage by saying, “I’m happy to be here,” then adding, “I’m happy everybody sees me alive,” before going into a set about MS and its effects on him. It wasn’t necessarily the funniest material Pryor had ever delivered, but it was certainly poignant, and he was right: as much as anything people were just glad to see him on a stage again. If only it had been enough to result in another album...

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