Throughout the mid- and late 1960s, Johnny Rivers established himself as one of rock 'n' roll's most formidable guitarists. Rivers cranked out a string of hit singles during this time, licks fashioned out of the same rhythm and blues that enamored him in his youth.
Five decades later, Rivers finds himself battling a severe case of rock 'n' roll pneumonia and boogie woogie flu. Rivers is on the road touring in support of his latest album, Greatest Hits and More. On Friday, Nov. 13, Rivers will headline the State Theatre in Easton.
Rivers said fans can expect to hear such concert staples as "The Seventh Son," "Poor Side of Town," "Mountain of Love" and Rivers' signature tune, "Secret Agent Man," plus a handful of deeper, and even new, cuts. The evening will also include a brief acoustic segment to whet fans' appetites.
"I want everybody to walk out there feeling better than when they walked in," Rivers said. "I always mix it up. On some of the older hits, we do new, interesting, arrangements so (the music) doesn't get stale."
He later added, "I just enjoy doing concerts."
Rivers, born John Ramistella, grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his family moved from New York. He remembered seeing pianist Fats Domino perform at school dances as he soaked up all of the different music styles around him -- influences that would shape Rivers as a guitarist and continue to inform his playing.
"We got to see it all. Cajun stuff. It was a great place," Rivers said. "I happened to be at the right place at the right time."
In Action, Rivers' debut studio album, was released in 1964 and reached No. 42 on the Billboard albums chart. That same year, Rivers' rendition of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the former's recording of "Memphis" soared to No. 2 on the charts. Later in his career, Rivers would befriend and has since performed on several occasions with Berry.
Two years later, Rivers' version of "Secret Agent Man" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966. The song was written by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri and recorded by Rivers for the American broadcast of the British spy television series Danger Man. Rivers' version of "Secret Agent Man" is arguably the most popular, having achieved gold-selling status and been featured in countless films and TV commercials. "It's in a class all its own," Rivers said of the song. "It's one of those things that doesn't go out of style."
Rivers' covers of The Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Lovin" and The Miracles' "The Tracks of My Tears" each cracked the Top 10 in 1967. Additionally, Rivers was one of the organizers of, and performed at, the famous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Though Rivers has left his imprint on R&B-infused rock 'n' roll, he still considers himself a blues player at heart. He often tells students and younger players that the genre is the basis for modern music, Rivers said. "I always tell them that music is like this big, beautiful tree that bears all different kinds of fruit. Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruit," Rivers said. "That's where it all came from. It's original, American music."
Guitarist Johnny Rivers performs 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, at the State Theatre in Easton. Tickets cost $50 and $45. Information: statetheatre.org