Throwback Thrills: Richard Pryor Sings The Blues With Jaw-Dropping Soul

Richard Pryor

The world wasn’t always wired to the gills and monitored 24/7, and countless musical milestones have either been lost to time for lack of documentation or buried in the avalanche of stimuli since the internet took off. In our Music History series, Crave touches on some lesser-known tales from music’s past, and now we’re taking it a step further with a new feature, Throwback Thrills – a showcase of video gems lost to time and trend.

There’s little argument that Richard Pryor was one of the most incredible comedic talents of all time, with a stand-up prowess that helped define modern comedy. But in addition to being one of the greatest comics ever known, the guy was an incredible singer, as the video of him performing the blues in NYC demonstrates below.

At a career crossroads in 1963, Pryor could be found performing as both a stand-up comic and as a musician in New York city. If you were tuned in at the time, there’s a chance you’d have caught him either behind a drumkit or singing his heart out while opening for Bob Dylan or Nina Simone – which would make you among the luckier souls on the planet.

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In the clip, a young and lanky Pryor belts out a rendition of Jimmy Cox’s classic 1923 blues jam, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. Prepare to be wowed by both the man’s voice and his uncertain stage presence, which was an enormous departure from the aggressively confident persona he’d come to be known for. The opening segment of the clip is footage from a 1994 stand-up documentary called But… Seriously.

 

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Despite his obnoxiously brash onstage comedic persona, Pryor reportedly suffered from intense stage fright. Nina Simona shares a few details of his pre-performance anxiety in her 1991 autobiography: “He shook like he had malaria, he was so nervous. I couldn’t bear to watch him shiver, so I put my arms around him there in the dark and rocked him like a baby until he calmed down. The next night was the same, and the next, and I rocked him each time.”

Check back next week for another Throwback Thrills installment from CraveOnline.