Biography by Jason Ankeny
Among the most successful yet underrated solo acts of the 1960s, Johnny Rivers reeled off a lengthy series of rock favorites which together sold over 30 million copies. Distinguished throughout by his reedy vocals and soulful guitar leads, Rivers' body of work is characterized by a rare consistency and versatility which stretches from his earnest yet rousing covers of R&B classics to his later, self-penned hits. Strongly influenced by the swamp-blues sound of his hometown of Baton Rouge, LA, Rivers - born John Ramistella in New York City on November 7, 1942 -- picked up the guitar as a child and played with local groups throughout his school years. After stints in New York (where he met disc jockey Alan Freed, who suggested he change his name to Rivers) and Nashville, he settled in Los Angeles. He headlined at the newly opened Whisky-a-Go-Go, which became one of the area's hottest nightspots and earned its star attraction a rabid following among Tinseltown clubgoers. His 1964 debut Johnny Rivers Live at the Whisky-a-Go-Go featured hits like the Chuck Berry covers "Memphis" and "Maybelline." Over the years, Rivers returned to the club to record his albums and most of his early hits were covers, including his smash 1965 rendition of Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son," and the traditional "Midnight Special." Over the next two years, Rivers charted with hits like the theme to the television spy thriller Secret Agent Man, the elegiac "Poor Side of Town" (which he co-wrote with Lou Adler) and a pair of Motown covers, "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" and "The Tracks of My Tears." But after the subsequent "Summer Rain," he disappeared from the Top 40 for the rest of the decade. For the rest of his career, he returned to his roots. During the '70s, he charted with his renditions of Huey "Piano" Smith's "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" and the Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda." His recording career wound down in the '80s, but he continued touring into the '90s, increasingly returning to the blues that inspired him initially. In 1998, Rivers reactivated his Soul City imprint and released Last Train to Memphis, his first new studio album in 15 years.
Content provided All Music Guide. Copyright 2008 All Media Guide, LLC.