I have written many comments on this blog about Rivers and his albums. Check them out for biographical detail but especially check out the "Slim Slo Slider" (1970) comment.
That album and this one have been joined on a 2fer on CD and it is right to do so but not just because of their chronology but because Rivers was really on a down home earthward bent.
Rivers was primarily a rock n roller. From straight ahead Elvis-like rock in the 50s, to his slick (but ragged?) Go Go rock of the 60s, through his boogie woogie of the 70s to his revival style in the 80s and beyond,
But, at various times, perhaps to keep up with the sounds and to remain to commercial (everyone does), or perhaps because of a significant change of outlook, he has interrupted his rock 'n' roll with drabs of folk rock, a whole lot of pop psych, a dash of MOR and on this southern, country, and Hollywood hippiebilly (country California) music.
Rivers has, however, kept his musical personality front and centre and hasn't tried to be something he isn't. He is / or seems to be just tapping into lesser known parts of his musical personality and bringing them to the fore.
Rivers, Louisiana born and bred, isn't reaching far to explores sounds with southern, country and soul roots. And, at 29, he wasn't too old to voice the concerns of the questioning young, even if he had been a pop star for many years.
Rivers has a distinctive style. On up-tempo songs he tends to have a straight rock 'n' roll voice (and there is nothing wrong with that) but lets his guitar and instrumentation give him his musical personality. On the slower songs he gravitates to singing in a soulful way regardless of the song which makes his interpretations of covers quite distinctive.
Rivers could write a tune, and had his first brush with fame writing songs. But, he is known mostly as a covers artist. Most of his hits have been cover songs. Most of his biggest hits have been cover songs.
And Rivers has been denigrated underrated and dismissed for being a cover artist.
But, he can write … if that is important to you (and its not to me, interpretations are). Rivers problem is that, at times, he seems have less faith in his songs than he does in the covers. "Slim Slo Slider" was all covers and this album has only three originals which fit into the whole and are nothing to be ashamed of.
His covers are exceptionally well chosen. He seems to have a knack for picking the right song for his album and for bringing exposure to young artists. Here he has recorded two classic Jackson Browne songs which he recorded before Jackson Browne or anyone else had released them as well as a classic James Taylor song which was climbing it's way up the charts.
All the songs deal with contemporary issues even though few are explicit. The early-70s in the US was a time of social disenchantment. As I have said before, elsewhere, environmental degradation, unemployment, urban decay, the Vietnam war, soulless consumerism had to led to civil unrest and a search for something else. Many songwriters and entertainers were affected by the same. A back to the earth movement, new spirituality and re-found appreciation of traditional agrarian community values (family, religion, less faith in science …), was one of the results of that. And songwriters reflected the same.
And so did Rivers through his songs and the songs he chose.
There is nothing "rock" here (unless it is in the earth – sic) and very little up-tempo but there is a lot of dirt under the nails, soul searching, religion and spirituality and reflection all surrounded with a ragged pop sensibility … which is also reflected in the albums gatefold sleeve artwork.
This then, with "Slim Slo Slider" is Johnny Rivers singer-songwriter album even though he wrote only a few songs on them.
Putting all that to one side River used a string of exceptional musicians (James Burton and Mike Deasy are legends). A lot were old friends he had worked with many times, and a few were newer on the California scene. A lot were in (not surprisingly) Elvis' recently formed touring band and were recording similar new country and southern sounds with him in the studio.
I was a fascinating time to be in California musically before it all became standardised in the mid-70s.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Moving To The Country – (Charles D. Harris – Ron Milo Duquette) – the writers are from country rock band "Charley D. and Milo". This song wasn't on their only album from 1970. This encapsulates one of the central themes in early-70s American music … a retreat for the city to the country. The writers also supply guitar and backing vocals on the song.
- My New Life – (Frank Kinsel) – Another great song about change. Kinsell was an emerging singer songwriter who had put out an album in 1970 (his only major release). This song was not on it.
- Our Lady Of The Well – (Jackson Browne) – A beautiful Browne song
- Look At The Sun – (Johnny Rivers – Frank Kinsel) – Quite spiritual. I don know how Rivers hooked up with Kinsell or if they sat down together to write this. But thematically it fits in perfectly with everything else
- Rock Me On The Water – (Jackson Browne) – The classic Browne song and a great interpretation with great backing vocals from Rita Coolidge and others. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_Me_on_the_Water
- Song For Michael – (Johnny Rivers) – one of the best songs on the album. Rivers is explaining how he wants a child to grow up. Very emotional but songs about kids always are, aren't they?
- Permanent Change – (Johnny Rivers) – another good one from Rivers.
- People Get Ready – (Curtis Mayfield) – The Impressions soul hit (#14) from 1965. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_Get_Ready
- So Far Away – (Carole King ) – From Carole King's #1 album "Tapestry" (1971). The single went to #14 in 1971 for her. A personal song about lovers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/So_Far_Away_(Carole_King_song)
- Fire And Rain – (James Taylor) – another personal song from the author who saw life as fire and rain. A good cover though it goes cabaret or Church revival with the horns and the backing vocals.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_and_Rain_(song)
- Think His Name – (Mincy – Shanklin – Coe – Mincy – Shanklin) – Martha Mincy, Wayne Mincy, Todd Shanklin , Wayne Shanklin & Tommy Coe I think were all professional writers with work going back to the 50s and trad pop. The name they want you to think is "Jesus Christ". A great tune which could have worked in a rural version of "Godspell". One of the catchiest Jesus songs I have heard. It could even make a believer out of a lapsed Catholics again (Cashie are you reading this? I mean no one has written songs about Richard Dawkins yet, have they?). I have no idea who the Guru Ramdas Ashram Singers are but Guru Ram Das was a Sikh Guru and there is a temple in Los Angeles so ….
Perfect, relaxing, reflective Sunday morning music … I'm keeping it.
1970 Fire and Rain – #94
Moving to the Country
My New Life
Our Lady of the Well
Look at the Sun
Rock Me on the Water
Song for Michael
People Get Ready
So Far Away
Fire and Rain
Think His Name
Excellent Glenn A Baker bio on Rivers
Johnny Rivers: Vocals, guitar and producer
Jim Horn: Arranged and Conducted By (tracks: B4), Flute (tracks: A6)
Glen D. Hardin: Arranged and Conducted By (tracks: A3, A4, B2, B3)
Frank Kinsel: Backing Vocals (tracks: A2)
Chris Ethridge: Bass (tracks: A3 to A6, B5)
Jerry Scheff: Bass (tracks: A2)
Joe Osborn: Bass (tracks: A1, A2, B1, B3, B4)
Jim Keltner: Drums (tracks: A5, B1, B3, B5)
Ronnie Tutt: Drums (tracks: A! to A3, A6, B2, B4)
Mike Deasy: Guitar (track B3), 6-String Guitar (tracks: A4, B2), Gut String Guitar (tracks: A2),
Lead Gtr (tracks: A3, A5, A6, B2), Bck Vcls (tracks A3, A4, A6, B2, B3), Harm vcls (track B1)
James Burton: Guitar [6-Sring] (tracks: A1), Slide Guitar [Slide Dobro] (tracks: A1, B4)
Mike Shanklin: 6-String Guitar, Backing Vocals (tracks: B5)
Tommy Coe: Guitar 6-String Guitar, Bass Vocals (tracks: B5)
Glen Townsend: Lead Guitar – (tracks: A1)
Larry Knechtel: Organ (tracks: A6), Piano (tracks: A1 to A3, A5, A6, B2 to A4)
Clydie King: Backing Vocals (track A5)
Rita Coolidge: Backing Vocals (track A5)
Vanetta Fields: Backing Vocals (track A5)
Kathy Deasy: Backing Vocals (tracks A3, A6, B2, B3, B4)
Milo: Twelve-String Guitar, Vocals (tracks: A1)
Charlie D.: Vocals (tracks: A1)
Guru Ramdas Ashram Singers: Backing Vocals [Background Singers] (track B5)
Wayne Mincy: Lyre [Lyric Harp], Vocals (track B5)
Michael Amilius: Voice [Talking] (track A6)
RIP: BOBBY VEE (1943-2016)