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Johnny Rivers: Memphis Tennessee

 

 

I've talked before about hanging out with Johnny Rivers (John Henry Ramistella) when he came up to San/Fran in 1969 to sit in with the "Mad Dogs and Englishman" tour. We strolled around Fisherman's Wharf that was teeming with people and no one recognized him, but when we stopped and he bought some stuff the guy who took his credit card did a double-take when he saw the name on the card. His manager suggested we leave.

 

Johnny Rivers was born in New York City, but moved to Baton Rouge when he was 8, and loved the Louisiana Musical Style, so his father taught him how to play guitar. After High School he played around the country and lived in Nashville for awhile writing songs, but in 1961 he moved to L.A. to seek his fortune. He began work as a Session Musician, and playing gigs around town at night. Then he heard there was an opening at the Hollywood Night Club Gazzarri's, was hired and began to draw large crowds to see him.

 

In 1964 Elmore Valentine signed him to a one year contract to open The Whiskey A Go Go on the Sunset Strip. He was packing the joint every night and keeping my late friend John Kirksey who worked the door busy. The Producer Lou Adler wanted to do an album with Rivers, but The Beatles had just begun the British Invasion and American Acts were being blown off the Charts. But Lou had an idea, Record Johnny Live."

 

Johnny Rivers Live At The Whiskey A Go Go," went Top 20 (#12) on the Album Chart, and the Single, "Memphis, Tennessee," an old Chuck Berry song, was released as the first single because it was the most requested tune at the Whiskey Shows. "Memphis, Tennessee" would climb to #2 on the Pop Chart and establish Johnny as a star. Fun Fact: Rivers was friend of Elvis Presley who played a demo he'd done of "Memphis, Tennessee, with a new arrangement, and Johnny stole it...Elvis never forgave Rivers, he was permanently on Elvis' s**t list.

 

MEMPHIS is a song about a guy calling "Long Distance Information" (if you don't know ask someone older) and asking to contact a girl "On the Southside, high upon a ridge, just a half a mile from the Mississippi Bridge." It turns out that Marie is the narrator's Six Year Old Daughter whom his ex-wife has taken away from him.For the TDR-Tribute Video to Johnny Rivers and his first million selling 7" Vinyl Hit Single, MEMPHIS, we've found a passable clip of Johnny doing the tune on American Bandstand in 1964..unfortunately all the Bandstand performances were lip-synced, but the audio is good.

 

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