Johnny Rivers coming to Centre

October 17, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

The smooth sounds of music legend Johnny Rivers' Southern-inspired rock music will suffuse Newlin Hall Friday when he performs as part of homecoming festivities.

Rivers has music in his blood. His father was a guitar player, and there always was a guitar around the house as he was growing up, the singer-instrumentalist says.

"I grew up with a musical influence," he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "That's the main reason I chose a career in music. And I've stuck with the guitar."

Over the years, Rivers, who grew up in Baton Rouge, La., has seen a number of his songs reach the Billboard Top 10, including "Memphis," "Poor Side of Town," "Secret Agent Man," "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" and "Seventh Son." He started out playing in the 1950s, with the "original crop of rock-and-rollers," including Elvis Presley, Chuck Barry, Little Richard.


"But my strongest influence was the blues," Rivers said. "Great blues artists would come through - Slim Harper, B.B. King. ... And there were great blues singers from New Orleans. The Neville Brothers were around back then, and I got to see them play. They were a strong influence."

As a kid, he also listed to country music, Rivers said.

"Hank Williams and stuff like that," he noted. "(I performed) south Louisiana blues with a little country influence - mainly the blues."

Big break in 1958

Rivers went to California as teenager, he said, and Ricky Nelson recorded a song in 1958 that he wrote. That song was "I'll Make Believe."

"He was hottest thing going," Rivers explained. "That was a big break for me."

Rivers played at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip and recorded for a number of small labels in the early 1960s. He recorded his first live album, "Johnny Rivers Live At The Whiskey A Go Go," which yielded "Memphis." Rivers said that song was his "first big hit single.

"Several live albums came out of there (Whiskey A Go Go) - stuff like "Secret Agent Man," a song that had a big resurgence in Austin Powers," Rivers explains. "It's currently in a Wal-Mart commercial."

The rhythm section that Rivers has traveled with for the last 20 years or so joins him for his shows, which include his hits as well as "different cuts from different albums."

"We probably do a couple of acoustic songs in the middle of the set," he said. "And we'll play (in Danville) songs from the new album, 'Reinvention Highway.'"

That album was released a few months ago, and Rivers has spent the interim time promoting it around the country. He also is looking forward to a concert with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra in February.

"I'm gearing up for that - I did it last year," he explained. "And I did two nights with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, which was really fun. I had a great time with that."

A love for the music industry

Rivers continues to love all aspects of the music industry, a business he learned "from the ground up," he says.

"I learned its inner workings, about writing and promoting. I've worked in recording studios. I'm very interested in all aspects of the music industry," Rivers explains. "I had my own music company (through which) I won two Grammys in the 1960s.

"I love all aspects of the industry, but my favorite is performing in front of a live audience. It's a wonderful means of communication, and a source of gratification."

Rivers won the Grammys for Record of the Year and Producer of the Year for "Up, Up and Away," by The Fifth Dimension. Jimmy Webb wrote the tune.

Getting to be with a live audience entails traveling, which has become a challenge, Rivers said.

"The shows and concerts are fun and wonderful, but getting there is difficult," he noted. "I fly commercial, with equipment, and the security checks get a bit difficult."

He's looking forward to the Danville show and thinks attendees will enjoy the evening.

"The main thing is most people know my songs, my hits," River noted, adding people should see the show "for the fact that I've been doing it for so long. I've perfected the art of communicating with an audience."

If you go:

Johnny Rivers performs at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 22 in Newlin Hall, Centre College. Tickets: (859) 236-4692.

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