JOHNNY RIVERS – at the Whiskey a Go Go – (Imperial) – 1964

Johnny Rivers - at the Whisky a Go Go

This is Johnny River's influential first album.

Influential in that it set the style for him over his next five or six albums and also influential, musically, because a whole little subgenre of rock n roll was created …. the west coast up-tempo beat based, dance rock … which became very popular for about three years.

It's also a forerunner for all blue eyed soul (rhythm and blues and soul music performed by white artists ..with an emphasis on rhythm and soul)

I call it "go-go" music partially because of it's origins at the Whiskey a Go Go night club, partially because of the short skirted dancing go go girls you would see on west coast television or partially because the music seems to say "go-go" with every beat …

I was exposed to this music as a kid in the 70s in it's watered down format (not that it wasn't watered down to start off with) through Hollywood movies and TV shows …you know the ones where the characters inevitably ended up on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles with some band pumping out up tempo pop rock to a dance floor full of tens cavorting and go go-ing.

The beat is King and ultimately each song is designed to make sure that the dancers don't need to change their moves too much from song to song.

It was, perhaps, a pop version, or more accessible version of frat and garage rock or perhaps it was a rock beat aimed at an older crown (as evidenced by the stars quoted on the back of this LPs sleeve: Steve Allen, Tony Bennett, Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr, George Hamilton, Gina Lollobrigida, Dorothy Provine and others are hardly the voice of emerging youth culture)

It always seems like (if you believe the backs of record sleeves and recollections of those at the time) that these venues (at this time) were playing to hip, older audiences made up of movie stars, celebrities and the upper middle class ….

It was in West Hollywood and Hollywood elite in the 30s and 40s had traditionally frequented clubs and restaurants in the area like Ciro's, The Mocambo and The Trocadero. But the area had become depressed and run down and the lower rent youth clubs moved in catering for live rock n roll music..

The Whiskey a Go Go opened in 1964 and was a success (Pandora's Box, The London Fog, The Troubadour, PJs all opened or found new audiences as a result).

In 1964 Sunset Strip in Hollywood was the hip place to be.

By 1966 it was done… a new crowd had moved in on the coattails of  emerging youth bands like The Doors, the Byrds. Love, The Turtles

The popularity of the areas with the youth led to curfews and the Sunset Strip curfew riots of 1966.

From there the Strip accommodated the cynicism and drugs of the emerging youth counter culture.

But for a short time I would like to think it was a hip, swinging crowd getting plastered on alcohol (perhaps there was a bit of speed in there).

Having never seen Johnny Rivers, (or Trini Lopez or others) in their heyday on the Sunset Strip I don't know what the answer is but I would like to think it was were the young (post drinking age of 21) at the older types would mix freely and get off on this rock n roll beat.

Either way the beat is the raison d'etre for this album.

This was the first album in that go-go style – Elvis Presley (in his early 60s film music), Chuck Berry,  Bobby Fuller and others had been hinting at the go-go beat across various individual songs but Rivers was one of the first to put out a whole album in the style (the similar "Trini Lopez at P.J.'s" by Trini Lopez came out a few months earlier in 1963).

Johnny devised a formula: "Trini Lopez had been playing over at PJ's, doin' this slap rhythm thing. I said, 'I can do that kind of stuff.' I didn't have a band so I called Eddie Rubin, a jazz drummer. He wasn't gigging at the time, so he and Eddie went into Gazzari's together‹just guitar and drums‹and played what we thought was going to be a three- or four-day gig." To everyone's surprise, huge crowds gathered to hear Johnny and Rubin play rock and R&B hits. Gazzari's profits soared, and when Rivers was ready to leave, Gazzari offered him more money and let him hire a bassist. Joe Osborn, just starting to become an L.A. studio legend, joined Rivers and Rubin.

Surely the intention was for the album to be played all the way through at parties. There are audience sounds, claps and shrieks that add to that intention (and excitement). And on that level it works…and that's the only level it's aiming at. (Despite that, the album's title and front cover statement "Recorded Live, Very Live!" there is some doubt at to whether the album was actually recorded live at the Whiskey was probably recorded in a studio with live audience noise dubbed on).

Johnny Rivers was 22 years old at the time (For bio information on him check out my other posts) but he was seasoned as a player and performer. He wasn't adverse to writing a song but all this music called for was for him to cover other familiar tunes adding his go-go beat and nasal twang over the top.

His band is a three piece : him on guitar and vocals, bass (Joe Osborne) and drums (Eddie Rubin) (or perhaps a four piece if you want to count the audience as a member) and they are tight and play well.

The music didn't travel well outside of the US but it should have because the music is fun music and you can hear that popping off the record.

This LP tells my ears that the most perfect place to be in the entire world was on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in 1964 … now if I could only find a group of people, throw alcohol at them, put this record on to see if I can recreate that moment in time.

Original Versions

  • Memphis – (Chuck Berry) –  One of Chuck's greatest songs from 1963.,_Tennessee_(song)
  • It Wouldn't Happen With Me – (Raymond Evans) –  Professional songwriter Ray Evans wrote truckloads of songs including Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" in 1950 and Doris Day's "Que Sera Sera" in 1956. I assume this is an original for Rivers.
  • Oh Lonesome Me – (Don Gibson) –  Don's country hit (#8, #73 pop) from 1958
  • Lawdy Miss Clawdy – (Lloyd Price) –  Originally by New Orleans singer/songwriter Lloyd Price from 1952 (#1 US R&B charts)….but done, notably, by Elvis in 1956.
  • Whiskey a Go Go – (Johnny Rivers) –  an original.
  • Walking the Dog – (Rufus Thomas) –  Rufus Thomas had a #10US hit with it in 1963.
  • Brown Eyed Handsome Man – (Chuck Berry) –  another magnificent Chuck Berry tune, from 1956.
  • You Can Have Her – (I Don't Want Her) –  – (Bill Cook) –  This was the great Roy Hamilton's last hit record (#6 R&B, #12 pop) from 1961.
  • Multiplication – (Bobby Darin) –  Darin's #30 hit from 1961.
  • Medley: La Bamba – (Traditional; arranged by Johnny Rivers) –  / Twist and Shout – (Phil Medley, Bert Russell) – La Bamba was Richie Valens #22US hit from 1958 but it was also on Trini Lopez' #2US hit folk go-go album "Trini Lopez at P.J.'s" from 1963. "Twist and Shout" was recorded by the Top Notes in 1961, then covered by The Isley Brothers in 1962 (#17 US pop), and then covered by The Beatles in 1963.

Tracks (best in italics)

  • Memphis – (Chuck Berry) –  This is magnificent and put Rivers on the map. The song has some controversy attached though in relation to whether Rivers lifted it from his friend Elvis' version which he had heard and which hadn't been released yet. Rivers' "Memphis" is closer to Elvis than to Chuck but who cares. Elvis had had many hits and Johnny was his freind ….
  • It Wouldn't Happen With Me – (Raymond Evans) –  a song that name checks both Elvis and The Beatles can't be all bad. In fact it's quite good …it's a bit novelty but it's infectious.
  • Oh Lonesome Me – (Don Gibson) –  a country lament given the up tempo treatment.
  • Lawdy Miss Clawdy – (Lloyd Price) –  this works …but it always does.
  • Whiskey a Go Go – (Johnny Rivers) –  an original though River's name checks John Lee Hooker and the beat is Hooker-ish.
  • Walking the Dog – (Rufus Thomas) –  Rivers doesn't speed this up much but the beat is up front …as is the audience. His version is raucous like the Rufus original (or The Rolling Stones cover) but it is slyly seductive
  • Brown Eyed Handsome Man – (Chuck Berry) –  excellent …
  • You Can Have Her – (I Don't Want Her) –  – (Bill Cook) –  a great song but it doesn't really work in this setting.
  • Multiplication – (Bobby Darin) –  I love this song in the original version so this works for me.
  • Medley: La Bamba – (Traditional; arranged by Johnny Rivers) –  / Twist and Shout – (Phil Medley, Bert Russell) – a good medley of two great songs – no one could stuff this up and Johnny really gives them a good performance.

And …

Excellent …. perfect for parties …  I'm keeping it.

Chart Action



1964  Memphis  The Billboard Hot 100  #2 


1964  The Billboard 200  #12 





It Wouldn't Happen With Me

Mp3 attached



Not easy to find wanything on-line (not hip enough to be reviewed?)




About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
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