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Rivers, Johnny (originally, Ramistella, John)

Rivers, Johnny (originally, Ramistella, John)

Rivers, Johnny (originally, Ramistella, John) , 1960s pop crooner; b. N.Y., Nov. 7, 1942. At the age of three, Johnny Rivers moved with his family to Baton Rouge, La., where he grew up. He took up guitar at age eight and formed his first music group at 14. In 1957, he met disc jockey Alan Freed, who suggested the name change to Johnny Rivers. Rivers made his first recordings, in a rockabilly style, in N.Y. in 1958 and moved to Nashville at the age of 17 to record demonstration records. In 1960, he moved to Los Angeles, where he recorded for a number of small labels through 1964. He also briefly performed at Nev. casinos as a member of Louis Prima’s band. Playing regularly at Los Angeles discotheques, he began a long-running engagement at the newly opened Whiskey A-Go-Go in 1964. Signed to Imperial Records, Rivers recorded live albums at the club that sparked the discotheque craze and produced a number of cover hits beginning in 1964 with the smash hit “Memphis,” written by Chuck Berry. In 1966, he scored a smash hit with P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s television theme song “Secret Agent Man” and a top hit with “Poor Side of Town,” cowritten with producer Lou Adler.

During 1966, Johnny Rivers formed Rivers Music, signing songwriter Jimmy Webb, and Soul City Records, signing The Fifth Dimension. The group scored a number of hits for the label through 1969, including the smash hits “Up, Up and Away” (by Webb), “Stoned Soul Picnic,” and “Wedding Bell Blues” (by Laura Nyro), and the medley “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” from the rock musical Hair. In 1968, Al Wilson had a major pop hit on Soul City with “The Snake.” In 1967, Johnny Rivers performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival and successfully covered several Motown classics, achieving his final major hit for five years with James Hendricks’s “Summer Rain.” By the end of 1969, he had divested himself of interest in Soul City and ceased personal appearances. His biggest album success came with 1968’s Realization on Imperial Records. He subsequently recorded for several different labels, scoring his final major hit in 1977 with “Swayin‘ to the Music (Slow Danein’)” on Big Tree Records. In the early 1980s, he recorded the gospel album Not a Through Street for Priority Records and essentially retired from the music business.


Johnny Rivers : The Early Years (1969); The Sensational Johnny Rivers (1964); Go, Johnny, Go! (1964); At the Whiskey A-Go-Go (1964); Here We A-Go-Go Again! (1964); In Action! (1965); Meanwhile, Back at the Whiskey A-Go-Go (1965); Rocks the Folk (1965); And I Know You Wanna Dance (1966); Changes (1966); Rewind (1967); Realization (1968); Slim Slo Slider (1970); Home Grown (1971); L. A. Reggae (1972); Blue Suede Shoes (1973); Wild Night (1976); Road (1974); Last Boogie in Paris (1974); New Lovers and Old Friends (1975); Outside Help (1977); Borrowed Time (1981); Not a Through Street (1983); Greatest Hits (rerecordings; 1985); Totally Live at the Whiskey A-Go-Go (1995).

—Brock Helander

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