Johnny Rivers

Band members                             Related acts

- Johnny Rivers (aka John Ramistella) -- vocals, guitar


  supporting musicians (1968)

- Hal Blaine -- drums, percussion

- James Burton -- guitar

- James Hendricks -- rhythm guitar

- Joe Osborn (RIP) -- bass 

- Larry Knechtal -- keyboards



- The Spades





Genre: psychedelic

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Realization

Company: Imperial

Catalog: LP 12372

Year: 1968

Country/State: New York, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $25.00


His discography is immense, stretching back to 1964's "The Sensational Johnny Rivers" and encompassing at least forty studio albums up through 2021's "California Rain."  He's sold millions of albums and scored dozens of hits.  He's been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (but didn't' make the final cut).  And today he's largely unknown to younger audiences - aka anyone under forty.


In that vast discography 1968's self-produced "Realization" is a standout for a number of reasons.  That's certainly the case for his fans.  It's amazing how many of them can remember the album coming out and actually purchasing it.  I'm a little to young to be among that crowd, but I can tell you that when I stumbled across the album in college I was equally intrigued and rushed out to find a copy. In case anyone doubts that comment, I rode my 10 speed Raleigh along the WO&D trail into town and purchased a used copy at a Penguin Feather located in Herndon, Virginia.  


By 1968 seemingly everyone in the music business was trying to hop on the "peace and love" train.  Why would Johnny rivers be any different?  Goodbye short hair and jeans.  Hello long hair, beard, peace signs and velvet suit.  Musically "Realization" saw the same types of changes.  I'm not sure you can really tag the album as psychedelic, but it was definitely an attempt to update his pop-rock sound to accommodate the public's changing tastes.  Self-produced, the album featured a mixture of covers (including three songs by former Mugwumps/buddy James Hendricks) and original material.  For a guy born in New York City (though raised in Louisiana), the album does an awesome job of capturing the mid-'60s Southern California vibe.  Credit Rivers' instantly recognizable voice and support from his all-star cast of "Wrecking Crew" sessions players.  Bassist Joe Osborn is particularly good.  Not that the album was perfect.  On songs like 'Something Strange' and 'What's The Difference' Marty Paich's string arrangements occasionally pushed the album a little too much in the MOR direction,.  The album has always reminded me of a introverted and self-absorbed version of Jimmy Webb.  Perhaps just coincidence, but Webb had produced Rivers' 1967 "Rewind" album.  While the album wasn't intended as a concept piece, exemplified by songs like 'Summer Rain' and 'Going Back To Big Sur' Rivers' goal seemed to be capturing that mid-'60s "California" sound and aura.  I wasn't part of it, but I have to say the results worked for me.  I'll readily admit to liking some of the later albums, but this is probably the best of his mid-career catalog.  Plus you get a couple of his biggest commercial successes via 'Look To Your Soul' and 'Summer Rain.'



"Realization" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Hey Joe (Williams M. Roberts - Johnny Rivers) -  rating: **** stars

Well, Rivers' take on 'Hey Joe' found him diving headlong into the psychedelic sea.  Marching band angelic choir and an extended instrumental lead-in ...  With echo and some sort of effects slapped on his vocals, this may have been even more acid-drenched than Hendrix's better known version.  Pretty darn amazing cover.  The Rivers' co-writing credit was a surprise to me.  I'm guessing it was a surprise to everyone else since the song's generally recognized as having been written by Billy "William" Roberts, but then I realized the lyrics had been updated..  

2.) Look To Your Soul (James Hendricks) - rating: *** stars

On the heels of the opener the ballad 'Look To Your Soul' was much more in keeping with the sound one normally associates with Rivers. The track served to underscore what a unique voice he had - something very sad is built into his DNA.  The other highlight came in the form of the late Joe Osborne's amazing bass lines.  This one was tapped as the lead-off single:

- 1968's 'Look To Your Soul' b/w 'Something Strange' (Imperial catalog number 66286)

3.) The Way We Live (Johnny Rivers) -   rating: **** stars

Beautiful slice of Dylan-esque folk-rock with a classic '60s message that sadly remains appropriate and unfulfilled to this day.

4.) Summer Rain (James Henrdicks) -    rating: **** stars

The second of three James Hendricks' compositions.  Even though I wasn't old enough to experience it, the backing just screams '60s California sessions players to my ears.  Another classic Rivers performance and how can't you smile when you hear the Sgt, Pepper reference?  Here's something impressive - a 71 year old Rivers' performing the song at a June 2014 concert at the San Diego County Fair.  How can he sound so good?   Not only is the voice virtually unchanged, but he still has those guitar chops !!!   Johnny Rivers, "Summer Rain," San Diego County Fair, June 19, 2014 - YouTube.

5.) Whiter Shade Of Pale (Gary Broker - Keith Reid) - rating: ** stars

There's no way around ignoring the fact the Procol Harum original is the classic version ...  As far as covers go Rivers' heavily orchestrated version wasn't bad.  It stuck close to the original arrangement, but  just couldn't come close.  


Liberty released the song twice as a Japanese single:


- 1968's 'Whiter Shade of Pale' b/w 'Brother Where Are You' (Liberty catalog number LR 1991)


- 1968's 'Whiter Shade of Pale' b/w 'Hey Joe' (Liberty catalog number LR 2605)




side 2)
Brother Where Are You (Oscar Brown) - rating: ** stars

The heavy orchestration and chirping backing vocalists sunk this one for me.  

2.) Something Strange (James Hendricks - Johnny Rivers) - rating: *** stars

Fans rave about 'Something Strange.'  Admittedly it's a pretty ballad, but I've always sounded Rivers sounded uncomfortable singing it in a high register.  

3.) What's The Difference (Scott McKenzie) -  rating: *** stars

Yeah, how many folk knew their was more the Scott McKenzie than "Flowers I Their Hair" ?  Unfortunately 'What's The Difference' marked the third heavily orchestrated "big" statement on side two.  This section of the LP hasn't aged that well.  

4.) Going Back To Big Sur (Johnny Rivers) -  rating: *** stars

Well, Osborn's bass lines save this one for me.

5.) Positively 4th Street (Bob Dylan) - rating: **** stars

I didn't have much in the way of expectations for a Rivers' cover of a Dylan tune.  Naturally I was wrong.  Rivers stayed true to the original melody, but his vocals smoothed off some of Dylan's craggy edges without turning the song into a sappy mess.  One of the best Dylan covers I've heard and an album highlight.



Rivers has an interesting website at:




Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Borrowed Time

Company: RSO

Catalog: RSO-0704

Year: 1980

Country/State: New York

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG

Comments: promo stamp on back cover

Available: 1

GEMM catalog ID: 4

Price: $10.00

Cost: $1.00




"Borrowed Time" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) China

2.) Pride

3.) Borrowed Time

4.) The Price

5.) Give Up On Love


(side 2)
1.) Be My Baby

2.) Little White Lie

3.) Dreamer

4.) Living Alone

5.) Who You Gonna Love?



Little White Lie / Be My Baby (Soul City 010) 1980

Romance (Give Me A Chance) / Don't Need No Other Now (RSO 1030) 1980

China / The Price (RSO 1045) 1980


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