The Norman Transcript

N-town stories

May 9, 2014

Johnny Rivers rolling into Riverwind



Rivers arranged for the 5th Dimension to record Webb’s fluffy “Up, Up and Away” composition which became a runaway hit and snagged an incredible five different Grammys in 1967. Coincidentally, Webb is performing at the Sooner Theatre May 9. In a 1998 TNN interview, Rivers also acknowledged introducing Webb to singer Glen Campbell, which led to an uber-successful writer-artist collaboration.

During the 1970s Rivers continued covering other writers’ material including “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Help Me Rhonda.” He released the curiously titled “L.A. Reggae” album in 1972 which included a string of non-reggae tunes including “Brown Eyed Girl.” Rivers is remembered by many in that era for singing the theme song for late night TV rock concert show “The Midnight Special.” That tacked on to his earlier television program notoriety singing “Secret Agent Man” for the 1964-1966 boob tube series “Secret Agent.” It’s the song that plays unbidden if you open Rivers’ website today.

The 1980s is not regarded as a stellar decade for popular music but Rivers continued plugging away. He released the “Borrowed Time” LP and reactivated his Soul City Records label for a platter titled “Last Train to Memphis.” Possibly because of his early experience as a record label founder, Rivers was among the few artists who started a career in the 1950s to have personally retained copyright ownership of his own recordings. Towards the turn of the century he was rediscovering the blues roots that had inspired his youth. In 2000 Rivers was included with Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Sir Paul McCartney on a tribute album to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame five years ago.

Rivers’ 21st century shows preserved digitally from outdoor events, such as the 2009 city of Monterey’s 200th anniversary celebration, reveal an artist who has changed little over time. His voice is strong. He’s trim and handsome and still plays guitar standing up on stage. A question that comes to mind is why has Rivers never been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame? It’s just a matter of time and he undoubtedly has years of artistry ahead of him. Next week’s Riverwind show may be an opportunity to see Rivers in the year before his induction.

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