You are on page 1of 4


DESTRUCTION by Alan L. Chrisman
(This is part of a series of blogs Ive been doing on some of the groups and of
some of the perhaps lesser-known songwriters and players behind some of rocks
classic songs.
Johnny Rivers had 9 top ten hits and sold more than 30 million albums in the 60s & 70s. But
hes probably best known for his Live at the Whiskey a Go Go albums, recorded at the famous
club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
Johnny Rivers (Ramisstella) grew up in Louisiana and was in a teenaged band there called the
Rockets with Dick Holler, who would go on to write the novelty hit Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.
There he also knew guitarist and fellow Louisianan, James Burton, who played with Elvis and
Rick Nelson (see my previous article on Nelson and Burton). Through Burton, Rivers met Ricky
Nelson who recorded one of Rivers songs, Ill Make Believe. In 1958, he met legendary DJ
Alan Freed (who some say, first popularized the phrase, rock n roll) who advised him to
change his name to Rivers after the Mississippi river.
His big break came though, when he was asked to perform regularly at the Whiskey a Go Go in
1964. The owner had copied a famous club in Paris, Chez Regines, which had followed the
Peppermint Lounge in N.Y. (see previous article on the Lounge and The Twist). He decided to
put girls spinning records and dancing in cages (because the club was so small) above the stage
and these became known as Go Go Dancers. (Go Go may have come from the French word, la
gogue, or the American soldiers expression, Go, man Go. Rivers was the house band and
soon Hollywood and musicians were lining up to get in and dance.
Lou Adler, who would go on to produce Carol Kings Tapestry and The Mama & The Papas,
decided to record Johnny Rivers live at the club (in which he would do a medley of blues and
rock classics like Chuck Berrys Memphis) and it sold lots of albums. In fact, Rivers was one of
the few old-school American artists to survive the newly arrived Beatles and British Invasion at
the time.
This brings us to songwriter, P.F. Sloans also interesting story. P. F. Sloan, when only 13 years
old, met Elvis in a L.A. music store, and Elvis gave him a guitar lesson. In 1963, he started
working for Lou Adler as a guitar player and songwriter. He and partner, Steve Barri, wrote the
theme song for the T.A.M. I. teen TV show( the show where Mick Jagger was reluctant to
perform after James Brown). Sloan and Barri wrote and played and sang on the hits for
imitation Beach Boys, Jan & Deans surf hits Dead Mans Curve and Little Old Lady from
In 1965, Sloan wrote the classic protest song for Barry McQuire Eve Of Destruction (youre
old enough to kill, but not for votin). Sloan also played lead guitar on Mamas and Papas songs
and its his guitar beginning their California Dreaming. He wrote and made the famous riff
for Secret Agent Man, theme for the British TV series starring Patrick McGoohan (later The
Prisoner Series), a big hit for Johnny Rivers in 1966. He also wrote hits for The Turtles, You
Baby and Let Me Be, and later most of The Grassroots songs, Where were You When I
Needed You , Things I should Have Said Today , etc.
Johnny Rivers would go on to have several more hits in the 60s and early 70 including his own
soulful song, Poor Side of Town , and covers of Motowns Baby I need Your Lovin and
Tracks of my Tears. Rivers also discovered and produced the black group, The Fifth
Dimension and their hit from the musical Hair, Let the Sunshine In and their Wedding Bell
Blues. He also gave songwriter Jimmy Webb a big break when the 5th Dimension recorded
Webbs, Up Up and Away. In 1975, Rivers had another hit with a remake of Brian Wilsons,
Help Me Rhonda with Wilson on back-up vocals. Johnny Rivers also recorded the title song
for the popular American TV concert show Midnight Special. And along with Paul
McCartney, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, etc. appeared on a tribute album to Buddy Holly in 2000.
But one of my favorite Johnny Rivers albums is 1968s Realization. It contains some of his more
reflective songs, like Going Back to Big Sur and Scott Mackenzies (who wrote the 60s classic,
San Francisco (Wear Flowers in Your Hair) Whats the Difference being Different as well as
the hit, Summer Rain, which perfectly captured the Summer of Love( Sgt. Peppers playing
in the sand). I saw Johnny Rivers perform at my university that year along with Petula Clark
(Downtown etc.). And one of my prized P.F. Sloan LPs is Raised on Records, 1972, with his
own version of the song he wrote for The Turtles, Let Me Be and the title song about the
influence of music.
Johnny Rivers was an artist and producer who seemed to be able to adapt to the times from
old-school blues inspired rock n roll to the changing times of the 60s and 70s and still have
hits and P. F. Sloan wrote and played, behind the scenes, on many hits for many artists and
should be recognized.

See Johnny Rivers doing Chuck Berrys Memphis, Tenn., 1964:
See Johnny Rivers doing Secret Agent Man, 1966, written by P.F. Sloan:

Hear Summer Rain from J. Rivers 1968 albumRealization
All summer long we spent dancing in the sand
And the jukebox kept on playing
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Eve of destruction written among many other hits, by P.F. Sloan
See Barry McQuires classic protest 1965 hit, EVE OF DESTRUCTION: