The Seventh Son

While I was standing in the checkout line at my beloved Happy Foods (as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a daily shopper), their in-store music system which pays a rather unusual selection of material began playing Poor Side of Town. I said to the checkout clerk, a young woman in her early twenties, “I bet that you don’t know who that is.” No one in the vicinity knew. “It’s Johnny Rivers.”

Johnny Rivers, originally John Ramistella, was born in New York in 1942 and grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He started recording in the 1950s. In the 1960s he had a string of hits including Poor Side of Town, Seventh Son, and Secret Agent Man. He did a lot of covers. A number of his hits were covers of Chuck Barry songs including Maybellene and Memphis. Rivers’s rendition of Memphis hit #2, outselling Barry’s original version by far (it had stalled at #84). His last hit was in 1977.

For my money Rivers is one of the greatest of all rock performers and one of the finest of all rock guitarists, right up there with Chuck Barry, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton. Few people today seem to know his name. That’s ironic because so many of them are familiar with his music. Frequently, when they think of a Chuck Barry tune, they’re actually thinking of Johnny Rivers’s rendition of it.

Although he was chronologically considerably younger than Elvis or Buddy Holly, musically he was very much their contemporary. And he’s one of the very few performers from that era who’s still performing.

5 comments… add one
  • Cannons Call Link

    Exceptional. Thanks for sharing.

  • Red Barchetta Link

    “…they’re givin’ you a number, and takin’ ‘way your name…”

    Showing my age, I guess.

    Separately, I tend to shy away from “best ever” labels. Who was the best basketball player of all time? Michael Jordan, of course. But the guy in the rocking chair says Bill Russell or Oscar Robertson…… what? Who was the best golfer of all. Jack Nicklaus, of course. Purists might say Sneed. Today’s generation would say Tiger Woods. Not ’till he hits 19, folks. Now what?

    It is absolute blasphemy in most circles to not name Jimmy Hendrix #1, but he’s not mine. For pyrotechnics or pure vituosity I go for Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Angus Littlejohn and Mick Taylor. Its a genre.

    But for guitar that will slay the soul and heart while incorporating many influences I would name Bert Jansch, Steve Howe, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Duane Allman and David Gilmour.

    I guess this is what makes the world go ’round.

  • jan Link


    I would definitely say that you fall into the category of music aficionado. For instance, I haven’t even heard of 4 out of 5 of those heart and soul guitarists you named!

  • steve Link

    Gotta agree with Red on most of his choices, but I would throw in Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass as I also like jazz guitarists.

    I do think that the theme song for Secret Agent has got to be one of the all time top 5, so Rivers gets credit there. (Limiting it to songs with words and ignoring the quality or success of the TV show.)


  • I love Johnny Rivers I think he is one of the most talented people on the planet!

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