Johnny Rivers Birthday

(Gibson) On this date in 1942, John Henry Ramistella was born in New York City. When he was five years old, his father lost his job and moved the family to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where little Johnny's uncle got his old man a job painting houses and antiquing furniture. No one realized at the time that this reunion of Ramistella brothers would foster one of the most distinctive musical voices of the 1960s.

When Johnny's dad and uncle got together, the two often played Italian folk songs on guitar and mandolin. Soon, Johnny was asking for lessons and his own guitar. But Johnny was less interested in music from the old country and more zeroed in on the sounds he would hear on late-night R&B stations. Local musicians like Fats Domino and Jimmy Reed crossed his path as well, leaving a lifelong impression on the scrawny kid from New York.

By junior high school, Johnny had honed his craft and was sitting in with various local bands. And when Elvis Presley stormed the charts in 1956, Johnny added rockabilly to his repertoire. By the age of 14, Johnny released his first single, "Hey Little Girl" (by Johnny and The Spades), on the local Suede label. A year later, Johnny was on holiday at his aunt's home in New York City. Taking advantage of his time in the media capital, he boldly sought out legendary DJ Alan Freed, who arranged an audition for the teenager. The result was a contract with Gone and End Records and a name change. Ramistella wasn't going to cut it with mass America, opined Freed. He suggested, instead, Johnny Rivers, after the Mississippi River that flows through Johnny's home state. more on this story

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