March 20, 2017

"Of all the versions of my recorded songs, the Johnny Rivers one was my favorite. It was obvious that we were from the same side of town..."

"... had been read the same citations, came from the same musical family and were cut from the same cloth. When I listened to Johnny’s version of 'Positively 4th Street,' I liked his version better than mine. I listened to it over and over again. Most of the cover versions of my songs seemed to take them out into left field somewhere, but Rivers’s version had the mandate down— the attitude and melodic sense to complete and surpass even the feeling that I had put into it. It shouldn’t have surprised me, though. He had done the same thing with 'Maybellene' and 'Memphis,' two Chuck Berry songs. When I heard Johnny sing my song, it was obvious that life had the same external grip on him as it did on me."

Wrote Bob Dylan, at pages 60-61 of "Chronicles: Volume One," in a passage I found looking to see what he might have written about Chuck Berry. That's the only place in Bob's book where he mentions Berry. As for Rivers, here's that version of "Positively 4th Street," and here's Johnny singing "Poor Side of Town"...



... which I think Bob had in mind when he wrote "we were from the same side of town."

Do-doo-doo-wah, shoo-be-doo-be...

23 comments:

Rob said...

I wonder if "Evidently Chickentown" is an homage to "Positively 4th Street."

Jonathan Smith said...
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Earnest Prole said...

John Henry Ramistella got more out of other people's songs than anyone in the rock era, with obvious exception of the Elvis.

Jonathan Smith said...

Professor, typo in 2nd to last sentence (last full sentence) "her" where you meant to say "he".

A wonderful post, enjoyed Dylan's humbleness, and it reminds me of when he gave Mississippi to Cheryl Crowe, then re-did it the way it was supposed to be: slower, more of a slow tell...

Etienne said...

Rivers version had the voice too far back. The music assaulted me about half-way through it, and I was looking to kick the drummers ass. God almighty those boys were loud!

Carter Wood said...

Speaking of humbleness, Bob Dylan pays tribute to Bobby Vee by playing his "Suzie Baby." (St. Paul, 2013) Dylan briefly played piano for Bobby Vee's band in 1959 touring the outposts of North Dakota. Bobby died of Alzheimer's last October.

Chuck said...

The cool thing with Johnny Rivers was the number of hit recordings that were live, or that were made to sound live. When every other pop hit sounded like it came out of a studio, it always sounded like Johnny Rivers was on stage in a bar on Sunset, and everybody was having a ball...

One more bit of Dylan trivia; I regret to report it, because I so wanted it to be true, but Bob never said that "Smokey Robinson is the greatest living American poet." A publicist at Motown named Al Abrams concocted it, with an assist from one of Dylan's own p.r. staff, when Dylan was touring in the Detroit area. (Dylan, himself a p.r. savant, could have quickly shot it down, but didn't.)

Static Ping said...

As I understand and I may understand it wrong, Johnny Rivers preferred to cover songs written by other artists than write his own. Ironically, he actually wrote "Poor Side of Town" and it is his only #1 single. Every other Top 40 single was written by someone else, though sometimes he was the first artist to sing it.

His version of "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" is epic.

Rick Turley said...

My favorite concert of all time was at a run-down Navy Pier in Chicago for Chicagofest about the early eighties with Bobby "Drop Kick me, Jesus" Bare opening for Johnny Rivers. That was something. It didn't occur to me until years later what an odd pairing that was.

Mike Sylwester said...

Ann, less than a year from now you will be embarrassed that you did not write one post critical of Bob Dylan while he was being awarded the Nobel Prize in 2016.

gadfly said...

Across the tracks, on the po' side of town, y'all.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

For a moment I thought you were saying that Dylan wrote "Poor Side of Town" and I was very surprised.

I love Rivers' Secret Agent Man

Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman; Rivers was born John Ramistella. I think that's all I have.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

That's funny, Mike.

YouTube Eels - Poor Side of Town
A different take.

eddie willers said...

and I was looking to kick the drummers ass

My Johnny Rivers memory is of his drummer and not him.

This was at the Atlanta Pop Festival of 1969. This was a month before Woodstock, so my preppy ass was totally unprepared for 150,000 people sitting in the infield of Atlanta International Raceway. After the shock, I settled down on a blanket with some hippies and was made the best of it.

After the sun went down, it was Johnny River's turn and right in the middle of the set, the lights go out! I mean everywhere. No power anywhere and so no microphones or electronic instruments. Pitch dark.

After a stunning, embarrassing silence, the drummer goes wild. Playing loud and clear all the way across the raceway and entrancing an audience that was close to panic.

When the lights came back on he got a deserved standing O.

Some people started yelling, "Turn the lights back off!"

Roughcoat said...

Johnnie Rivers played several multi-night gigs at the little music club in Denver where I worked in the 70s (it was called "Ebbets Field" after the Brooklyn Dodgers stadium). It was a tiny club, seating about 250 max. He was terrific. Sounded just like his records. His band had a full, lush wall-of-sound Phil Spector kind of sound, and his voice was great. He really rocked out too, his band was tight and smoking hot. He was a consummate professional, gave people their money's worth and then some. A great vocalist, one of the best of his era, and his versions of other artist's songs were often better than the originals.

khematite said...

A couple of years ago, Dylan was interviewed by the AARP magazine and had this to say about Chuck Berry:

“I was still an aspiring rock n roller. The descendant, if you will, of the first generation of guys who played rock ’n’ roll — who were thrown down. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis. They played this type of music that was black and white. Extremely incendiary. Your clothes could catch fire. When I first heard Chuck Berry, I didn’t consider that he was black. I thought he was a hillbilly. Little did I know, he was a great poet, too. And there must have been some elitist power that had to get rid of all these guys, to strike down rock ’n’ roll for what it was and what it represented — not least of all being a black-and-white thing.”

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Johnny Rivers is powerful. I love his version of Memphis and always have. Here is a relatively recent performance of Poor Side of Town from the Marty Stuart Show. That song is one of the iconic songs of my youth. Really resonated with me.

https://youtu.be/9n4-GU3VqDs

virgil xenophon said...

Johnny Rivers was a Baton Rouge guy. I dated a girl at LSU who went to HS at Lee High. Jonny, a student at B.R. HS, used to play at all the local High Schools with a local band he formed. She said he was good even then..

traditionalguy said...

Rivers was also the seventh son of a seventh son.

Quaestor said...
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Yancey Ward said...

Rivers is still doing live shows. I saw him once about 10 years back. A very good show.

MPH said...

Same can be said for "Where Have All The Flowers Gone."

rightguy2 said...

I caught Johnny R @ Boulder Station/Vegas ten years ago and it was great a concert. J R looked just as does in the photos on the 4th street video and I am here to tell you that he is great live, both as a singer & a guitarist. A great book of hits to rock out on and the boy can play. The modal riffing on Secret Agent Man was the biggest highlight.