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Johnny Rivers

Johnny Rivers (born John Ramistella on November 7, 1942 in New York City) is an American rock and roll singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer.

The Ramistella family moved from New York to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when John was five years old. He began playing guitar at the age of eight, and was influenced by the distinctive music of Louisiana.

Johnny Ramistella formed his own band, The Spades, in junior high school and made his first record at age 14. On a trip back to New York in 1958, he met Alan Freed who advised him to change his name, so Johnny Ramistella became Johnny Rivers after the Mississippi River that flows near Baton Rouge. Alan Freed got Johnny Rivers some recording contracts. From March 1958 to March 1959, Rivers released three records which did not sell.

In 1959, Johnny Rivers returned to Baton Rouge. While playing throughout the American South, in Birmingham Rivers met Audrey Williams, the widow of Hank Williams. She took Johnny to Nashville where he recorded two more records. They did not sell either but Johnny stayed in Nashville as a songwriter and demo singer for $25 a demo. While in Nashville, Johnny worked alongside Roger Miller.

In 1960, Rivers met fellow Louisianan, James Burton, the guitar player for Ricky Nelson. Burton gave Ricky one of Johnny's songs. Ricky Nelson liked it and recorded it. In 1961, Rivers went to Los Angeles to meet Nelson. He stayed, working as a song writer and studio musician. In 1963, Rivers used to hang out at a late night place called Gazzari's owned by Bill Gazzari. One night, the jazz trio that played at Gazzari's quit. Gazzari asked Johnny to fill in for a few days until he could find another jazz group. Johnny agreed and history was made. When word got out about the new, funky rock n' roll being played by the guy with the smooth, southern voice, crowds flocked to Gazzari's.

In 1964, Elmer Valentine then gave Johnny Rivers a one-year contract to open his new club, Whisky A Go-Go, on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The Whisky opened three days before The Beatles released "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and the British Invasion knocked almost every American artist off the top of the charts. But Johnny Rivers was so popular, producer Lou Adler decided to issue Johnny Rivers Live At The Whiskey A Go Go. The live album reached #12 on the charts and the single "Memphis" (a cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee") reached #2. A star was born. Johnny Rivers had created the Go Go sound, part of a scene which included Go-Go dancers.

Into 1966, Johnny Rivers continued to record mostly live, Go Go style records including "Maybelline" (another Berry cover), "Mountain of Love", "Midnight Special", and "Seventh Son", all of which were hits.

He adopted a more idiosyncratic approach in 1966 and 1967, producing hit portrayals of: paranoia with "Secret Agent Man", theme music for the Secret Agent television series; economic divisions with "Poor Side of Town", his only #1; and the 1967 Summer of Love with "Summer Rain". All were characterized by his smooth, soulful voice. "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" and "The Tracks of My Tears" were also hits during this time.

In 1968, Rivers released what many fans consider his best album "Realization." The album was evocative of the psychedelic influences of the time, and included beautiful ballads such as "Going Back to Big Sur," written by Rivers.

In the 1970s, more hits came, including "Rockin' Pneumonia - Boogie Woogie Flu" and covers of The Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" and Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes"; his last was "Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancing)" in 1977. In all, Rivers had 9 top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and 17 in the top 40.

In other accomplishments, Rivers started his own record company, Soul City Records, where he won a Grammy Award as the producer of the 5th Dimension. He is also credited with giving songwriter Jimmy Webb a major break when they recorded Webb's song "Up, Up, and Away."

Rivers continued touring into the 1990s, and began recording again in 1998.



Chart positions are from the Billboard Hot 100:

  • Memphis #2 (1964),
  • Maybelline #12 (1964),
  • Mountain of Love #9 (1964),
  • Midnight Special #20 (1965),
  • Cupid #76 (1965),
  • Seventh Son #7 (1965),
  • Where Have All The Flowers Gone #26 (1965),
  • Under Your Spell Again #35 (1965),
  • Secret Agent Man #3 (1966),
  • (I Washed My Hands In) Muddy Water #19 (1966),
  • Poor Side Of Town #1 (1966),
  • Baby I Need Your Lovin' #3 (1967),
  • The Tracks Of My Tears #10 (1967),
  • Summer Rain #14 (1967),
  • Look To Your Soul #49 (1968),
  • Right Relations #61 (1968),
  • These Are Not My People #55 (1969),
  • Muddy River #41 (1969),
  • One Woman #89 (1969),
  • Into The Night #51 (1970),
  • Fire And Rain # 94 (1970),
  • Sea Cruise #84 (1971),
  • Think His Name #65 (1971),
  • Rockin' Pneumonia - Boogie Woogie Flu #6 (1972),
  • Blue Suede Shoes #38 (1973),
  • Help Me Rhonda #22 (1975),
  • Ashes And Sand #96 (1977),
  • Swayin' To The Music (Slow Dancin') #10 (1977),
  • Curious Mind (Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um) #41 (1977)

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