Born John Henry Ramistella on November 7, 1942, in New York, his family moved to Baton Rouge, LA, in 1948. There Johnny's musical taste developed. His father, who played the mandolin and guitar, introduced him to the guitar at an early age, and he proved a natural on the instrument.
Meanwhile, Johnny began listening to R&B recordings becoming more popular on the radio in the 1950s. H also went and saw performers like Fats Domino, and was soon immersed in rhythm & blues. At the age of 13, he formed his own band, the Spades, playing New Orleans-flavored R&B and rock & roll, especially Fats Domino, Larry Williams, and Little Richard.
Ramistella made his recording debut leading the Spades in 1956 with the song "Hey Little Girl."
In 1957, he moved to New York and met with Alan Freed - the most influential disc jockey in the US. Freed suggested Johnny change his name, to the more American-friendly Johnny Rivers. Soon after, he released a number of single records under his new name.
Rivers' official recording debut took place with the song, "Baby Come Back." Neither this record nor any of Rivers' other early singles were successful. He made his living largely performing with the Spades and cutting demos of songs for Hill & Range, primarily in Elvis Presley's style.
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," being offered to Ricky Nelson and appearing on one of Nelson's albums.
Things were still tough for Rivers. By 1961, he was 18 years old and a despite six years' of public performances under his belt he had little to show for it. He moved to Los Angeles and focused on becoming a songwriter and producer.
In 1963, a friend who ran a restaurant in Los Angeles asked Rivers to play when his house band, a jazz group, suddenly quit. He reluctantly agreed to perform for a few nights in a stripped-down version of his rock & roll act, with just his electric guitar and a drummer. The audiences at the restaurant liked him and his short-term his performing stint turned into an open-ended engagement.
Rivers soon met music producer Lou Adler an associate of Herb Alpert was planning to start his own record company. Rivers took on Adler as his manager and also got a contract, starting in mid-January of 1964, to play at a new club opening in Los Angeles called the Whisky a Go-Go. This was where Rivers' act and reputation exploded, resulting in turn-away crowds.
His act was so popular and the chemistry between Rivers, his music, and the audience was so strong, that Adler decided to try and record him live at the club. The tape of Rivers' performance was rejected by every record company in Los Angeles until Adler got to Liberty Records. Johnny Rivers at the Whisky a Go-Go, released in May of 1964, was a hit, its sales boosted by the accompanying single, a powerful version of Chiuck Berry' s "Memphis," which got to number two on the charts.
Rivers' popularity was in stark contrast to the difficulties many American-based acts were experiencing at the time since the American charts had been dominated almost exclusively by British rock acts.
HIGHLY Recommended (Links to Amazon):
For More about Johnny, visit his Website at -