ESPN is telling Hank Williams Jr. — and all his rowdy friends — to take a seat. The intro song for “Monday Night Football” will be performed this season by Little Richard.
Sports Business Daily reported ESPN executives decided to go in a different direction this season because NFL stadiums, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, will have few to no fans in the stands. Sports Business Daily also reported that ESPN won’t use footage of Little Richard, who died this year at 87, or Butcher Brown but will instead show highlights of the teams playing in each night’s game.
An ESPN official familiar with the decision confirmed to The Washington Post that the change was prompted by a sense that Williams’s references to “All my rowdy friends” would be incongruous with the expected lack of attendance. He said the other major national story line this summer, the protests against and widespread reckonings with racial injustice, did not play a role in the switch from a White country artist to a Black icon of rock 'n roll and R&B.
The ESPN official said he anticipated that the opening line of “Rip It Up” — “Well, it’s Saturday night, and I just got paid” — would be changed to a “Monday night” reference. He added that Butcher Brown, which is based in Richmond and shares a record label with Little Richard’s estate, was brought in to bring a more modern feel to the song and would also supplement the original vocals.
When reached by phone Tuesday evening, a member of Butcher Brown also declined to comment on any possible changes to the lyrics of “Rip It Up,” saying with a chuckle that “we’ll have to see once we get there.”
“It’s going to be beautiful,” asserted Tennishu, a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the band. Noting that each of Butcher Brown’s five members is a music producer, Tennishu said building a new track around Little Richard’s original vocals was “almost a dream come true, because that’s basically what we spend our time doing. It was right up our alley.”
Tennishu said he wasn’t sure whether ESPN’s switch from Hank Williams Jr. to Little Richard spoke to the moment but added, “I do think that just us doing this project is a positive force in itself.”
A 1984 song by Williams, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” was first re-purposed for “Monday Night Football” in 1989. ESPN pulled the intro song, with its familiar “Are you ready for some football?” chorus, in October 2011, after Williams compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and said Obama and vice President Joe Biden were “the enemy.”
Williams, now 71, and an updated version of his MNF song were brought back in 2017. He described that development at the time as “a real good thing.”
ESPN has not decided whether it will go back to Williams’s song after this season, the network official told The Post.
As for the possibility that the new version of “Rip It Up” might welcome viewers to MNF for the next couple of decades, Tennishu said, “That would be the best thing ever.”
He said he and his fellow band members grew up watching MNF and ESPN, “so those things are more or less in our DNA.” With their posthumous collaboration with Little Richard set to air in just a few days, Tennishu said, “The excitement is definitely boiling over at this point, for sure.”