Johnny Rivers

Younger folks probably think "Secret Agent Man" is just the snappy soundtrack to that recent Chase credit card commercial, but baby boomers know it as one of a string of tunes from Johnny Rivers. Otherwise, Rivers, now 65, is best known for improbable hit cover versions of songs such as "Memphis," "Maybelline," "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" "Tracks of My Tears" and "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu." The former Johnny Ramistella changed his name at the suggestion of none other than original rock and roll DJ Alan Freed, and Rivers's 1965 album Live at the Whiskey a Go-Go proved to be one of the first bona fide hit live records in the folk-rock era. He continued to have other hits ("Swaying to the Music (Slow Dancing)," "Summer Rain"), but the only one he actually co-wrote was 1966's No. 1 hit "Poor Side of Town." Still, his soulful voice and unique laid-back interpretations make him something more than just a professional karaoke singer, evident on definitive 2006 compilation Secret Agent Man: The Ultimate Johnny Rivers Anthology (Shout! Factory/Soul City). And aside from being one of the first white rockers to sport a soul patch, Rivers actually owns most of his own recording copyrights — which means that his bank account should be so flush, he won't need to use that credit card after all.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero