Johnny Rivers: Wikis


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Johnny Rivers
Birth name John Henry Ramistella
Born November 7, 1942 (1942-11-07) (age 67)
Origin New York City, New York, United States
Genres Rock and roll
Occupations Singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer
Years active 1962–present
Labels Imperial
United Artists
Soul City

Johnny Rivers (born John Henry Ramistella, 7 November 1942 in New York) is an American rock and roll singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. His styles include folk songs, blues, and revivals of old-time rock 'n' roll songs and some original material. Rivers's greatest success came in the mid and late 1960s with a string of hit songs (including "Seventh Son", "Poor Side of Town", "Summer Rain", and "Secret Agent Man"), but he has continued to record and perform to the present.





The Ramistella family moved from New York to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when John was five years old. Without any formal music lessons, he began playing guitar, which he learned from his father, at the age of eight, and was influenced by the distinctive music of Louisiana.

Ramistella formed his own band, The Spades, in junior high school and made his first record at age 14, while still a student at Baton Rouge High School.[citation needed] Some of their music was recorded on the Suede label as early as 1956.[1]

On a trip back to New York in 1958, he met Alan Freed who advised him to change his name, so Johnny Ramistella had the Baton Rouge attorney Arthur J. Cobb change his name to Johnny Rivers after the Mississippi River that flows near Baton Rouge.[citation needed] Freed also helped Rivers score some recording contracts on the Gone label. From March 1958 to March 1959, Rivers released three records which did not sell well.[citation needed]

In 1959, Rivers returned to Baton Rouge. While playing throughout the American South, in Birmingham Rivers met Audrey Williams, the first wife of Hank Williams.[citation needed] She took Rivers to Nashville, where he recorded two more records. They were not successful either, but Johnny stayed in Nashville as a songwriter and demo singer for $25 a demo.[citation needed] While in Nashville, Rivers worked alongside Roger Miller.[citation needed] By this time, Rivers' self-esteem about his singing diminished, and he thought he would never make it as a singer, therefore writing, and not singing, moved to the forefront.


In 1960, Rivers met fellow Louisianan James Burton, the guitar player for Ricky Nelson. Burton later recommended one of Rivers' songs to Nelson, who went on to record it. In 1961, Rivers went to Los Angeles to meet Nelson, and then relocated there, working as a songwriter and studio musician.[citation needed] In 1963, Rivers's big break came when he temporarily filled in for a jazz combo at Bill Gazzarri's nightclub; the temporary gig became long-term due to positive customer response.[2]

In 1963, Rivers recorded the theme song for the American broadcast of a British television series, "Danger Man," which starred Patrick McGoohan. At first, Rivers balked at the idea, feeling that he didn't have the talent to make a record on an international label, but he eventually relented. The American version of the show was titled "Secret Agent", and the song "Secret Agent Man" reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1966. [3]

In 1964, Elmer Valentine gave Rivers a one-year contract to open in his new nightclub, Whisky a Go Go, on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.[2] The Whisky a Go Go opened three days before The Beatles released "I Want to Hold Your Hand"[citation needed] and the "British Invasion" knocked almost every American artist off the top of the charts. But Rivers was so popular that producer Lou Adler decided to issue Johnny Rivers Live At The Whisky A Go Go. The live album reached #12 on the charts and the single "Memphis" reached the US Hit Parade #2 spot [4] in July 1964. According to Elvis Presley's friend and employee Alan Fortas, Presley played his friend (Rivers) a test pressing of "Memphis" that Elvis had made but not released. Rivers was impressed and much to Presley's chagrin, Rivers recorded and released it, even copying the arrangement (Fortas writes: "After that, Johnny was on Elvis's shit list" and was persona non grata from then on).[5] River's version far outsold the Chuck Berry original from August 1959 which stalled at #87 in the US. (Lonnie Mack's 1963 instrumental version of "Memphis" reached the US Hit Parade top five in July[6]; the Chuck Berry original and its British rival cover version fought it out in the UK Hit parade in November 1963.[7]

Rivers made a successful transition from nightclub entertainer to chart-busting pop singer and had created the "Go Go sound",[citation needed] part of a scene which included Go-Go dancers. In 1964 and 1965, Rivers continued to record mostly live, Go-Go style records including "Maybellene" (another Berry cover), after which came "Mountain of Love", "Midnight Special", "Seventh Son" (written by Willie Dixon) and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" (written by Pete Seeger), all of which were hits.[8]

Rivers wanted to try something different, he switched gears in 1966, and began to record ballads characterized by his smooth, soulful voice, and backgorund vocalists (mostly women), he produced such successful hits as "Poor Side Of Town", which would be his biggest hit ever and his only number one record. Another hit was "Secret Agent Man", the theme from the Secret Agent television series (written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri). He also started his own record company, Soul City Records, where he won a Grammy Award as the producer of the 5th Dimension, which eventually recorded "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and "Wedding Bell Blues", two number-one hits with Rivers's label. Johnny is also credited with giving songwriter Jimmy Webb a major break, when the 5th Dimension recorded Webb's song "Up, Up, and Away".

Johnny Rivers continued to record more hits, including "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" (cover of the Four Tops) and "The Tracks of My Tears" (cover of the Miracles), both went Top 10 in 1967. In 1968, Rivers released what many fans consider his best album, Realization, a number-five album on the LP charts that included the #14 pop chart single "Summer Rain" written by a former member of the early 1960s Folk/Rock band The Mugwumps, James Hendricks (not to be confused with guitar legend Jimi Hendrix). The album included some of the psychedelic influences of the time and marked a subtle change in his musical direction, with more thoughtful types of songs, included such ballads as "Look To Your Soul" and "Going Back to Big Sur".


In the 1970s, Rivers continued to record more songs and albums that were a success with music critics, but did not sell as well as some of his earlier hits. One of these albums, L.A. Reggae in 1972, reached the LP charts as a result of the #6 hit "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu", a cover version of the Huey "Piano" Smith And The Clowns song. Other hits at that time were "Blue Suede Shoes" (cover of Carl Perkins), in 1973, which would reach the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100,[1] and "Help Me Rhonda" in 1975 (cover of The Beach Boys) on which Brian Wilson helped with backup vocals. His last Top 10 entry was "Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancing)" (cover of the Funky Kings), which reached #10, followed by his last Hot 100 entry, "Curious Mind (Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um)" (cover of Major Lance), both from 1977. He also sang the title song to the late night concert influenced TV show The Midnight Special.

1980s to current

Rivers continued recording into the 1980s (e.g., 1980's Borrowed Time LP), although his recording career decreased. Despite his music not having reached the best seller charts for quite a while, Rivers is still touring, doing 50 to 60 shows a year. Increasingly he has returned to the blues that inspired him initially.

In 1998, Rivers reactivated his Soul City imprint and released Last Train to Memphis.

In early 2000, Rivers recorded with Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney on a tribute album dedicated to Buddy Holly's backup band, "The Crickets".

In all, Rivers had nine Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and 17 in the Top 40 from 1964 to 1977. In total, he has sold well over 30 million records.

Rivers is one of a small number of performers such as Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd (from 1975's Wish You Were Here onward), Queen, Genesis (though under the members' individual names and/or the pseudonym Gelring Limited) and Neil Diamond who have their name as the copyright owner on their recordings. (Most records have the recording company as the named owner of the recording.) This noteworthy development was spearheaded by supergroup The Bee Gees after their successful $200,000,000 lawsuit against RSO, which remains to this day the largest successful lawsuit against a record company by an artist/group.

On June 12, 2009, Johnny Rivers was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Selected discography


  • At the Whisky à Go Go (live album) (1964)
  • Here We à Go Go Again! (live) (1964)
  • In Action! (1964)
  • Meanwhile Back at the Whisky à Go Go (live) (1965)
  • Johnny Rivers Rocks the Folk (1965)
  • ...and I know you wanna dance (live) (1966)
  • Changes (1966)
  • Rewind (1967)
  • Whisky A Go-Go Revisited (live) (1967)
  • Realization (1968)
  • Slim Slo Slider (1970)
  • Homegrown (1971)
  • A Portrait Of Johnny Rivers (1971)
  • L.A. Reggae (1972)
  • Blue Suede Shoes (1973)
  • Rockin Pneumonia (1973)
  • Last Boogie in Paris (live) (1974) (not released in the U.S.)
  • Rockin' Rivers (1974) (not released in the U.S.)
  • Road (1974)
  • New Lovers and Old Friends (1975)
  • Wild Night (1976)
  • Outside Help (1977)
  • The Rock And Roll Years (1981)
  • Borrowed Time (1980)
  • Not a Through Street (1983)
  • Greatest Hits (1985)
  • The Memphis Sun Recordings (1991)
  • Last Train to Memphis (1998)
  • Back at the Whisky (live) (2000)
  • Reinvention Highway (2004)
  • Last Boogie in Paris: The Complete Concert (live) (2007)
  • Shadows on the Moon (forthcoming) (2009)


  • Johnny Rivers' Golden Hits (1966)
  • Touch of Gold (1969)
  • Johnny Rivers (1972)
  • The Very Best of Johnny Rivers (1975)
  • The Best of Johnny Rivers (1987)
  • Anthology, 1964-1977 (1991)
  • Summer Rain: The Essential Rivers, 1964-1975 (2006)
  • Secret Agent Man: The Ultimate Johnny Rivers Anthology 1964-2006 (2006)

Notable singles

Chart positions are from the Billboard Hot 100:



  1. ^ a b Poore, Billy (1998). Rockabilly: A Forty-Year Journey, p. 101. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0793591422.
  2. ^ a b Quisling, Erik, and Williams, Austin (2003). Straight Whisky: A Living History of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll on the Sunset Strip, pp. 19-21. Bonus Books, Inc. ISBN 1566251974.
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1998). Billboard Top 10 Charts, 1958-1997. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 148. ISBN 0-89820-126-8. 
  4. ^ Cash box: Top 100 singles
  5. ^ Fortas, Alan and Nash, Alanna (1992). Elvis from Memphis to Hollywood, p.228, Aurum Press. ISBN 9781845133221.
  6. ^ Cash box: Top 100 singles
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Price, Randy. "The 60s Charts". Cash Box Top Singles. Cashbox Magazine. Retrieved January 30, 2010. 
  9. ^ Campagna, Gilbert; Flanagan, Gary et al (August 25, 2006). "Johnny Rivers - The Nearly Complete Discography". Retrieved January 30, 2010. 

External links

Simple English

Johnny Rivers (born John Ramistella on November 7, 1942 in New York City and grew up in Louisiana) is an American rock and roll musician. He was popular in the 1960s and 1970s for his songs like Secret Agent Man, The Poor Side of Town, Baby I Need Your Lovin, The Midnight Special, and Swayin' To The Music (Slow Dancin').

Other websites


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