The Norman Transcript

N-town stories

May 9, 2014

Johnny Rivers rolling into Riverwind

NORMAN — Johnny Rivers rolling into Riverwind

In 1964 Johnny Rivers performed his current hit “Maybelline” for a crowd of young people on the TV dance show American Bandstand. After the three minute song, host Dick Clark asked Rivers when he got his first big break.

“It was at the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas and then Harrah’s Casino at Lake Tahoe,” the then 22-year-old Rivers replied.

Fifty years later the senior statesman of rock ‘n’ roll is still playing casinos. He will be rocking the Riverwind Casino, 1544 W. State Highway 9 in Norman, 8 p.m. May 17. Tickets are $35-$45 and are available at

Rivers has actually never stopped playing clubs. Much of his early success in the 1960s resulted from recordings of live performances at joints such as the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Calif.

Some blame the British Invasion of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who for diminishing Rivers’ and other American artists’ careers. But Rivers has never stopped recording, producing and playing live shows. Back when the recording industry was very much an insider’s business, Rivers founded his own label, Soul City Records. Having come out of the Louisiana music scene and known for covering songs by African-American performers, soul was no stretch for him. It wasn’t lily white Ricky Nelson who recorded Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son,” Rivers did it in 1965 when racial tension was at its height in America. It’s notable in the American Bandstand show mentioned above that the audience was a happy jammed-together mixture of black and white kids.

From his Soul City Records work Rivers won a Grammy as producer of the 5th Dimensions’ hit “Aquarius/ Let the Sun Shine In” which won Record of the Year in 1969. He is also responsible for giving Okie singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb a massive boost to his career a few years earlier.

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