|Johnny Rivers, Rockabilly A Go-Go
To anyone with even the slightest bit of mid-sixties AM radio savvy, the name Johnny Rivers needs no introduction. His unbeatable string of Limey-bustin' dance hits like Memphis, Secret Agent Man, Seventh Son and countless others could line the Sunset Strip from one end to the other, but long before he'd seen his first go go girl, Rivers had racked up an impressive pile of rock 'n' roll recordings. As a Baton Rouge kid, John Ramistella soaked up a healthy dose of homegrown Louisiana R&B and peppered it with maverick teenage flash on local bandstands with his band The Spades. It all came into focus with Elvis (Johnny recalled to Goldmine 's Steve Roeser meetin' the King after a show at Baton Rouge High School and exclaimin' "Yeah, I wanna be like that guy!") and in 1957 The Spades issued "Little Girl/Two By Two," a full throttled two sider on the Suede label.
Ambitious Ramistella decided to test his musical waters in New York and it was there that he met Alan Freed, who not only knighted him with the jazzy Rivers handle, but also hipped him to George Goldner who tried Johnny out on a four song February '58 session. Rivers' exciting "Long Long Walk" was B-decked with a knockout non-seasonal rewrite of Elvis' "Santa Bring My Baby Back," simply called "Baby Come Rack" on Gone 5026, and though it did marginal biz at release time, both sides (sometimes with the mumbly but cocksure "That's Rock And Roll") were whored out to countless budget labels in the sixties to cash in on Rivers' later chart successes. These sides are infinitely more than just curiosity items in a superstar's discography, they show Johnny Rivers' natural command as a bona fide first generation rocker. Rivers spent the next few years recording countless demos (a bootleg LP called "The Rock N' Roll Years" is well worth blastin') before making inroads with Ricky Nelson's crew.
So, Johnny Rivers is best remembered for ridin' the wave of the "Go-Go" craze back in the mid sixties. Johnny Rivers put the Whiskey a Go-Go Club in Los Angeles on the map back at that time. Between the summer of 1964 and the fall of 1967, he had fourteen straight single releases make the Billboard pop Top 40, including one #1 and six others that reached the Top 10. But he started out as a rockabilly artist, so it's no wonder by 1964, when he signed with Imperial Records, that Johnny was recording old rockabilly songs with a different sound to fit the new sounds in pop music then. But by the fall of '67, the "Go-Go" craze was dead, and so were Rivers's big hits. He left Imperial in 1970 and signed with United Artists, but after a few folk-type things that landed in the bottom of the charts and disappeared quickly, he musta come back to his senses to do "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu." It peaked out at #6. He'd never see another song of his reach that high on the Billboard pop charts again. Also, it stayed on the charts for nineteen weeks. Longer than any of his previous twenty-three Billboard pop chart records. He did a good rock 'n' roll version of this classic tune. He followed this up in the spring of 1973 with the Carl Perkins rockabilly classic "Blue Suede Shoes," and his version made it to #38 and stayed on the charts for ten weeks.
So what's all this prove? Well it proves that every time you dish out solid-soundin' real rock 'n' roll and rockabilly music and the artist comes across with a true-to-the-music feel, it'll outsell and go farther than any of that lame, quick-buck junk they keep dumpin' millions of dollars into. As long as it's promoted and is able to get on mainstream radio, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll will always be music that young people, even in the 1990s or 2000s, will want to snatch up and grab onto.
In the late seventies, Johnny Rivers was able to come back one final time with three bottom-end songs on Billboard and one that got to #10, and that was the end of it...
Worth a visit: Secret Agent Man - The Johnny Rivers Website
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