Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Night Hoop-la

*'Mountain of Love' by Johnny Rivers peaked at #9 in November of 1964.

His stage name was Johnny Rivers, but he was born John Henry Ramistella on November 7, 1942, in New York. His family moved to Baton Rouge, LA, in 1948, and it was there his musical influences were shaped. His father, who played the mandolin and guitar, introduced John to the guitar at an early age, and he proved a natural on the instrument.

In 1957, he went to New York and wangled a meeting with Alan Freed, who was then the most influential disc jockey in the country. Freed suggest 'John Ramistella' be changed to the less ethnic, more American-mythic Johnny Rivers. But it was as a composer that Rivers experienced his first taste of success off of the stage, when a chance meeting with guitarist James Burton led to one of his songs, "I'll Make Believe," finding its way to Ricky Nelson and ending up on the album 'More Songs by Ricky.'

By 1961, Rivers was 18 years old and a veteran performer with six years' professional performing under his belt and relatively little to show for it except the experience. He moved west to Los Angeles, and began aiming for a career as a songwriter and producer.

Johnny Rivers was still a musician at heart and performed in local LA venues when he could. It was at one of those gigs that Rivers hooked up with a songwriter and music producer named Lou Adler. During a 1964 appearance at a new club opening in Los Angeles, called the Whisky a Go-Go, is where Rivers' act and reputation exploded, resulting in turn-away crowds -- his act was so rousing and the chemistry between Rivers, his music, and the audience was so strong, that Adler made a live recording one night.

'Johnny Rivers at the Whisky a Go-Go,' released in May of 1964, was a hit from day one, its sales boosted by the accompanying single, a powerful version of Chuck Berry's "Memphis," which got to number two on the charts. The magnitude of Rivers' accomplishment shouldn't be underestimated -- since early 1964, the American charts had been dominated almost exclusively by British rock acts, with American artists picking up the scraps that were leftover, and then along came this new white kid from Baton Rouge, playing '50s-style rock & roll and R&B like he means it (and he did).

Rivers went on to record  "Mountain of Love," "Seventh Son," "Secret Agent Man" for the CBS TV show starring Patrick McGoohan," "Poor Side of Town," "Baby I Need Your Lovin'," "The Tracks of My Tears," "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," and his last chart hit to date in 1977 with "Swayin' to the Music," which got to the number ten spot nationally on his own Soul City label.

Johnny Rivers also was instrumental in launching the careers of songwriter Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell, and the Fifth Dimension.
(Bio re-edited from

*For this, and more, original hits from the 40's, 50's, and 60's, tune into John Christopher's streaming 24/7 musical extravaganza "The Neon Beat" by clicking here, or click the icon on the side of this page.

(disclaimer: the views expressed here are my own and not affiliated with John Christopher or The Neon Beat. I'm simply a fan of the show.)
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