1968 Johnny Rivers – Summer Rain/Look To Your Soul
John Henry Ramistella was born in New York City but grew up primarily in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He formed his own rock group and even wrote and recorded his first single, Little Girl, when he was only 14 years old.
Two years later, Johnny was visiting New York City and met disk jockey Alan Freed. He convinced Johnny to change his professional name to Johnny Rivers. He also helped Johnny get signed to Gone Records, although the singles on that label did not do well.
Johnny moved to Nashville in 1960 and worked singing on demo records and writing songs and moved to LA in 1961. Guitarist James Burton was also from Louisiana, and he and Johnny became friends. James was working in Rick Nelson’s band and helped get one of Johnny’s songs recorded by Rick. Over the next three years, Johnny recorded singles for nearly a dozen different record labels without any success at all.
Johnny filled in for a jazz trio that failed to show up for a show at Gazzarri’s nightclub in 1963. The audience response to Johnny’s music earned him a long-running spot at the nightclub and that led to a one-year contract at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood. He recorded an album of live performances at the club. His live cover of Chuck Berry’s Memphis reached #2 on the Hot 100 in 1964 and was the first of five top twenty “live” performances over the next two years.
In 1966, Johnny started his own record label. He used Jimmy Webb as a songwriter and arranger while producing the first album for the 5th Dimension. He also recorded Secret Agent Man, the theme song for the Danger Man television show. He co-wrote Poor Side Of Town with producer Lou Adler and the single became his only number one hit.
Johnny recorded the studio album Rewind In 1967, using Lou as his producer and the Wrecking Crew as backup musicians. The album contained covers of two Motown songs, Baby I Need Your Loving and Tracks of My Tears, that each reached the top ten on the Hot 100.
I remain most impressed by Johnny’s next album, Realization. Johnny produced the album and wrote or co-wrote several of the songs. His two singles from the album were both written by James Hendrix, a folk artist who had previously been in two different groups with Mama Cass.
The first single was Summer Rain, which even had some rainstorm effects at the start of the song. The single peaked at #14 on the Hot 100 in January 1968.
The second release was Look To Your Soul. The single peaked at only #49 on the Hot 100 in May. While Summer Rain still gets some airplay, I can’t remember the last time I heard Look To Your Soul.
In spite of the poor showing of the singles compared to the releases from Rewind, Realizations reached higher on the album charts (#5 versus #14). I wasn’t the only one who liked the album!
Johnny hit a dry spell and didn’t reach the top forty again until 1972. He had four more top forty singles before his singles stopped completely in 1978. Johnny continues to appear live and maintains a website at http://johnnyrivers.com/
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