This is an interesting album. This is Johnny's last album for United Artists which he had been with since 1964 (well, the United Artists banner – he was on Liberty and imperial as well, see trivia at end) and, it was issued three years after leaving the label.
Johnny is an American phenomena. Apart from some sparse chart placings in England , Australia and Europe most of his hits were in the US and in Canada.
He had a fabulously successful chart career in the mid-1960s with a number one "Poor Side Of Town" and batch of Top 40s in the US as well as chart placings for all his albums. Then in 1968 the hits started to dry up (he was 25 years old) and it stayed that way for about three years. He had some minor charting songs but nothing like the mid-60s. His album sales dried up also.
For Johnny Rivers and the money-men at United Artists Records, this was a worrying time.
In 1972 his luck changed when he released "Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" which reached #6 in the US and #3 in Canada.
On the back of the single Johnny Rivers’ went into the studio to record the “L.A. Reggae” album which reached #78, a respectable placing, and his highest chart placing since "Realization" in 1968. He enjoyed a minor hit with his cover of “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1973 (#38) but the accompanying album and the one that followed failed to make the Top 200. He signed to Atlantic Records and released the album "The Road" (1974). It also failed to chart. He was dropped, or left, Atlantic and ended up at Epic records where he would release the "New Lovers and Old Friends" album in 1975 (called "Help Me Rhonda" in the UK after the single). That single, a cover of the Beach Boys classic was a hit, #22 US, #35 Canada; #34 New Zealand, #52 Australia (it didn’t chart in the UK). The album reached #147 in the US. As a result his old label United Artists raided their vaults (specifically the recording sessions for his “Home Grown” (1971), “L.A. Reggae” (1972) and “Blue Suede Shoes” (1973) albums) for any unreleased Johnny Rivers material and put together an album, "Wild Night".
The lack of the singer’s involvement probably explains the poor cover art for the album but the music itself, is quite good and hangs together well.
The tracks all seem to be recorded over that period from the early 70s, though, the liner notes say the songs were recorded between 1973 – 1975.
Session guitarist Dean Parks plays guitar on most with Joe Osborn on bass, Jim Gordon on drums and Larry Knetchel on piano with all sorts of other well played sessionmen dropping in.
Rivers sound is consistent and all his influences are apparent, old school rock ‘n’ roll, soul, deep south blue eyed balladry, a touch of reggae (which he had discovered in the 70s) all through the prism of his funky 70s retro rock ‘n’ roll which was going through a revival of sorts in the early to mid-70s … bands like Sha Na Na, Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids, Showaddywaddy (in the UK), the chart re-entry of Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Elvis (though Elvis had never really left), films like “American Graffiti” and TV shows like “Happy Days).
Rivers wasn’t one of the 50s idols being remembered by the revival but he was a 60s singer who owed his rock sensibility to the 50s so it was natural to hop onto this sound which sits between his neo hippie introspective material in the late 60s and his slicker straight rock and pop of the late-70s (he subsequently return to 50s and 60s straight rock).
The album tanked but as an album of what Johnny Rivers was thinking about in the early 70s it is worthwhile. He stays true to the spirit of the originals, which are a mixture of hook-laden, up-tempo tracks and beautiful ballads with a bit of country rock and southern boogie thrown it to contemporise them.
Rivers went to to have another hit in the late-70s before disappearing from the charts. He is still playing today and still releasing albums.
Check out my other entries for biographical detail.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Wild Night – (Van Morrison) – from Van Morrison's influential album "Tupelo Honey" (1971) and a hit single (#28US 1971). John Mellencamp later had a #3 (1984) with it in a duet with Meshell Ndegeocello. Rivers' version is suitably melodically rockin' with just the right amount of soulfullness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Night
- Something You Got – (Chris Kenner) – Rivers was digging into his background when he covered New Orleans R&B singer Chris Kenner. The song sold few copies outside out of New Orleans, but was widely covered (by Wilson Pickett, Alvin Robinson, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Chuck Jackson, Earl Grant, Maxine Brown, Bobby Womack, The Moody Blues, the American Breed, Fairport Convention, Bruce Springsteen and Jimi Hendrix and others). Another rockin tune that has a joy for times past.
- Brown Eyed Handsome Man – (Chuck Berry) – Chuck Berry's classic rocker done by everyone (Chuck had a #5 US R&B hit with it in 1956). Rivers covered the song on his first album, "At the Whisky à Go Go" (1964). Here he has slowed the song down and, surprisingly, it works. It is now more of a rumination and quite ":groovy". Hal Blaine polays drums and James Burton plays guitar. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Eyed_Handsome_Man
- Rain Song – (Ada Richter) – Ada Richter was a prolific writer of piano music and a piano teacher. A pretty little song
- Georgia Peach – (Bernie Leadon – Michael Georgiades) – Country rock Georgiades played session, live and co-wrote songs with Rivers in the 70s (and subsequently) before forming the short lived "Bernie Leadon-Michael Georgiades Band" with Leadon of the Flying Burrito brothers. This a country rock stomper.
- Get It up for Love – (Ned Doheny) – Written by soft rock singer-songwriter Ned Doheny who released it on his second solo album, "Hard Candy" (1976) it has been covered a bit. There is still a bit of boogie here but the boogie has a distinct NYC disco-ish feel as opposed to the rural boogie of the other Rivers songs.
- Dear Friends – (Herb Pedersen – Nikki Pedersen) – Herb Pedersen is another west coast country rocker who played and wrote for Johnny in the 70s as is Nikki. The type of soulful ballad Rivers had hits with.
- Lightning Special – (Johnny Rivers – Nikki Pedersen) – another country rocker with southern boogie elements …and, naturally, a train song.
- Louisiana Man – (Doug Kershaw) – Rivers digging into his Louisiana roots again. Kershaw’s Louisiana Cajun country rock classic. It went to #10 US Country when recorded by Kershaw and his brothers as Rusty and Doug. Often covered. Johnny nails it … well, he is a Louisiana man (bred in Louisiana, born in NYC). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Man
- Reggae Walk – (Johnny Rivers) – a instrumental with no reggae sounds. It sounds like a song that needs a vocal track.
Very solid and certainly no worse from similar albums. It should be more well known. .. I'm keeping it.
Something You Got
Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Excellent Glenn A Baker bio on Rivers
- Produced by Johnny Rivers
- Songs recorded by year (according to liner notes): 1973 – S1S3, S1S4, S1S5, S2S2 / 1974 – S1S2, S2S1, S2S3, S2S4 / 1975 – S1S1, S2S5
- Up till 1973 Rivers was on the imperial, Liberty and United Artists labels. Imperial was formed in 1946, sold to Liberty Records in 1964, which, in turn, was purchased by United Artists in 1968 (UA was bought by EMI in 1979. The catalogue and name are now owned by Universal Music Group).