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Memphis by Johnny Rivers

Album: Johnny Rivers At The Whisky a Go GoReleased: 1964Charted:
2
  • Chuck Berry wrote this and recorded it in 1959 as "Memphis, Tennessee." It languished as the B-side of his Back In The U.S.A. single, but was revived when the white Blues guitarist Lonnie Mack covered it in 1963. With the title shortened to "Memphis," his version went to #5 in the US.

    Johnny Rivers, who had some success as a songwriter (Rick Nelson's "I'll Make Believe"), but had yet to score a hit as an artist, landed a regular gig in 1963 at the Whisky a Go Go, a popular club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles (The Doors would later make their mark playing shows at The Whiskey). In 1964 he released a live album recorded at the club called Johnny Rivers At The Whisky a Go Go, with "Memphis" issued as a single. It became a huge hit for Rivers, going to #2 in America and launching a career that included nine Top 10 singles. He also had tremendous influence on the business side; he started a record label called Soul City which signed the Fifth Dimension and Jimmy Webb.
  • This song tells quite a story and has an interesting twist ending. We hear about the singer getting a phone call from a girl who wouldn't leave a number, but he knows it came from Memphis, Tennessee. He calls the operator, trying to locate his girl Marie (which conveniently rhymes with "Tennessee"), who he thinks is the one trying to reach him. At the end of the song, we find out that Marie is his six-year-old daughter, and that he is a divorced father trying desperately to get in touch with her.

    Chuck Berry drew on accounts he heard from friends and acquaintances to craft his lyric. "I had known couples who had divorced and the tragedies of the children," he said.
  • Rivers followed up this song with another Chuck Berry cover: "Maybellene," which went to #12 in the US.
  • In February, 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent a week hosting The Mike Douglas Show. During this stint, Lennon performed this song and "Johnny B. Goode" with Chuck Berry, who Lennon referred to as "my hero." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
  • This song made a return to the charts in 1981 when Fred Knoblock's cover made #10 on the Country charts and bubbled under at #102 on the Hot 100.
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Comments: 15

On September 23rd 1964, Johnny Rivers performed his first two charted records, "Maybelline" and "Memphis", on the ABC-TV program 'Shindig!'...
See posts below for info on "Memphis"; "Maybelline", another Chuck Berry song, entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart on August 9th, 1964 at position #70; and on September 20th, 1964 it peaked at #12 {for 1 week} and spent 9 weeks on the Top 100...
R.I.P. Jimmy O'Neill {Shindig's host, 1940 -2013} and Johnny Rivers, born John Henry Ramistella, will celebrate his 72nd birthday in two months on November 7th {2014}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
I've been a big fan of Johnny Rivers since the '60s. I love the Whiskey-a-Go-Go album. I get that he released a lot of cover songs, but he also released "Secret Agent Man" and "Rockin' Pneumonia" and "Summer Rain" (my personal favorite) as originals, not to mention "Slow Dancing". I was fortunate enough to see him a few years ago on my birthday -- what a great birthday present!Susan - Atlanta, Ga
On June 20th 1964, Johnny Rivers performed "Memphis" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
(See second post below for chart info).
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On June 2nd 1963, "Memphis" by Lonnie Mack entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; and on July 14th it peaked at #5 (for 1 week) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 5 of those 13 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
Was track 5 from his 'The Wham of That Memphis Man' album; and two other tracks from the album made the Top 100, "Wham!" (peaked at #24) and "Baby, What's Wrong" (reached #93)...
He had one other Top 100 record, "Honky Tonky '65", it stayed on the chart for 5 weeks, peaking at #78...
Mr. Mack, born Lonnie McIntosh, will celebrate her 73rd birthday next month on July 18th, 2014.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On January 16th 1964, the night club 'Whisky A Go Go' at 8901 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, CA opened for business...
And on May 24th, 1964 Johnny River's debut record, "Memphis", which was recorded at the club, entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on July 5th, 1964 it peaked at #2 (for 2 weeks) and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100 (and 6 of those 12 weeks were on the Top 10)...
It reached #1 in Canada and Germany...
The first week it was at #2 the #1 record was "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys and the next week it was "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons that kept it out of the top spot...
Mr. Rivers, born John Henry Ramistella, celebrated his 71st birthday two months ago on November 7th (2013).
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
@Mike in Cincinnati... The story about how Johnny Rivers swiped the song from Elvis Presley has been refuted by (the song's composer) Chuck Berry, Johnny Rivers, Johnny's record producer, and even by some other close friends of Elvis. I have a great deal of trouble believing that story.Doc - Dallas, Tx
Mr. Cover, that's our Johnny, he had 29 records that made Billboard's Top 100, 20 of them were cover versions. Interestingly emough his biggest hit, 'Poor Side of Town' was an original recording!!!Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Johnny Rivers & Elvis were very good friends. Elvis had this song but had not made a commitment to record it. Johnny stopped by to see Elvis, saw the song and recorded it. This upset Elvis so much that they never spoke again.Mike - Cincinnati, Oh
Johnny Rivers was also famous for hiring the 5th Dimension to his label, Soul City. They were the label's most successful act. He introduced them to Jimmy Webb, who wrote Up, Up, and Away, which was a Top 10 song for the group.Susan - Chantilly, Va
Brian--I agree. I always thought the same thing. Those Whiskey-a-go-go recordings sounded a little too neat to be 1960s barroom tapes....And yet... I still like them.Dirk - Nashville, Tn
I always thought Rivers' songs sounded like studio recordings with the crowd noises dubbed in.Brian - La Mesa, Ca
This song sound like it was written for Elvis, that's why I was shocked to discover it was sung in 64. "Marie is only 6 years old, information please... tore apart our happy home in Memphis Tennesee"Steph - Menomonee Falls, Wi
This was also covered by Jan & Dean on their album "Little Old Lady From Pasadena", they copied the live sound of River's recording almost exactly.R - Seattle, Wa
Rivers always had his biggest successes with other peoples songs. Just about evry song he released as a single is a cover or remake. But that's ok, he does it so well.Joe Smrekar - Green Bay, Wi
Recorded live at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Los Angeles.Charles - Charlotte, Nc