CULT CLASSIC: JOHNNY RIVERS-NO THROUGH STREET.
Cult Classic: Johnny Rivers-No Through Street.
As 1983 dawned, Louisiana born singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Johnny Rivers had just turned forty, and had been a professional musicians since 1956. Back then, he was still known Johnny Ramistella when he formed his own band The Spades, who later that year, released their debut single.
Less than two years later, and fifteen year old Johnny Ramistella from Baton Rouge, embarked upon a solo career when he released his debut single Little Girl in February 1958. Later in 1958, DJ Alan Freed who advised Johnny Ramistella to change his name to Johnny Rivers after Mississippi River that flows through Baton Rouge. Little did, Alan Freed realise that the name Johnny Rivers would go on to feature on thirty-million records.
Twenty-five years later, and Johnny Rivers was a successful recording artist who had twenty-nine hits to his name and had released twenty-one studio albums and five live albums between 1964 and 1980. This included his last album Borrowed Time, which was released by RSO Records in 1980, but failed to trouble the charts. After the commercial failure of Borrowed Time, Johnny Rivers left RSO Records, and was without a recording contract. For Johnny Rivers who had enjoyed such a long and successful career, this came as a huge blow.
Nearly three years passed before Johnny Rivers returned in 1983 with a new album, which was released on Priority Records, which was one of the many specialist imprint owned by CBS Records. However, this particular imprint, Priority Records, specialised in gospel music, and was Johnny Rivers one and only gospel album. No Through Street was a new chapter in his career and surprised many people.
Some within the music industry were surprised that Johnny Rivers had signed to Priority Records, and was about to start work on a modern gospel album. However, Johnny Rivers was now a man of faith, who had occasionally included devotional songs on his albums. He decided to take things further on No Through Street, which saw Johnny Rivers reinvent himself yet again on a gospel album with a twist.
For his first ever gospel album, No Through Street, Johnny Rivers penned Nowhere Else To Go and arranged the traditional song The Uncloudy Day. These songs were joined by covers of familiar and soulful songs including Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come; Ben E King, Leiber and Stoller’s Stand By Me; Holland, Dozier Holland’s Reach Out, I’ll Be There and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and Carl Hampton, Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson’s Shelter In Time Of Storm. They were joined by Leo Graham’s Turning Point; David Miner and Larry Knechtel’s Believe In Me; Jim and Ginger’s Hendrick’s New Meaning; Bob Cotton and Hadley Hockensmith’s Live It From Day To Day and Bill Tuohy Dion DiMucci’s Golden Sun, Silver Moon. These twelve songs became No Through Street, which Johnny Rivers recorded in Hollywood, LA,
Johnny Rivers headed to Weddington Studios, in Los Angeles which was home to the best session musicians on the West Coast. He knew many of these musicians, and some had played on his previous albums. As a result, it was a mixture of familiar faces and new names that joined Johnny Rivers who took charge of production on No Through Street.
Joining vocalist and rhythm Johnny Rivers in the rhythm section were drummers Jim Keltner, Ron Tutt, Bill Maxwell and percussionist Alex Acuña and bassists Darrel Cook, Jerry Scheff, Larry Prentiss and Hadley Hockensmith who laid down some of the lead guitar parts on No Through Street. The rest of the lead guitar parts were recorded Dean Parks. They were augmented by keyboardist and pianist Larry Knechtel, keyboardist and organist Harlan Rogers, saxophonist Jim Horn and trumpeter Chuck Findley. Adding the final piece of the jigsaw were backing vocalists were The Walters Family, Julia, Maxine, Luther and Dren who added a soulfulness and spiritual sound to No Through Street, which was scheduled for release later in 1983.
No Through Street was the album that was hoped would transform Johnny Rivers’ fortunes. He had released nine albums in the last ten years, and only two had charted. Even then, 1975s New Lovers and Old Friends reached just 147 in the US Billboard 200, while 1978s Outside Help fared slightly better when it reached 142. That was as good as it got for Johnny Rivers since 1973. He desperately needed a successful album to kickstart his ailing career. However, the big question was what would the critics make of Johnny Rivers’ first gospel album No Through Street?
Throughout his long career, Johnny Rivers’ albums had always been well received by critics, including many who were fans of music. Some were surprised by Johnny Rivers’ decision to release a gospel album, but those that reviewed No Through Street were won over by an album that brought new life to many familiar songs.
Opening No Through Street lis the Johnny Rivers’ composition Nowhere Else To Go opens the album where he paints pictures with the lyrics and a vocal that is full disappointment and despair, as the character in the song reflects on the direction his life has taken and the friends and lover he’s lost. Realising there’s Nowhere Else To Go, and nobody left to turn to, he turns to God, and undergoes a spiritual awakening. Johnny Rivers then delivers a rueful, languid, but powerful cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, before the tempo rises on a joyous version of Turing Point. The Waters Family then add soulful and gospel-tinged backing vocals as Johnny Rivers breathes new life and meaning into this uplifting and spiritual rewrite of Reach Out (I’ll Be There). It’s a similar case on the oft-covered Stand By Me, before The Waters Family add soulful vocals during Johnny Rivers’ heartfelt, impassioned and beautiful cover of the ballad Believe In Me. This is one of the highlights of the album, and was the perfect way to close side one of the album in 1983.
Shelter In Time Of Storm is a reminder of eighties soulful, pop rock, before Johnny Rivers heads in the direction of gospel on An Uncloudy Day. Johnny Rivers then gives thanks on a bluesy, soulful reinvention of How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), where The Waters Family’s backing vocals ensure the song swings. Johnny Rivers then shares the details of his spiritual awakening on New Meaning, and follows this one of the album’s hidden gems Live It From Day To Day. It’s a catchy and memorable song that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the West Coast sound. A freewheeling country rock cover of Golden Sun, Silver Moon closes No Through Road and is reinvented by Johnny Rivers and close the album on a high.
Buoyed by the reviews of No Through Road, was released by Priority Records in 1983, but just like Borrowed Time in 1980, failed to find an audience. Johnny Rivers’ decision to release a gospel album had backfired, and he never released another album for Priority Records.
Thirty-seven years later, and Johnny Rivers is seventy-seven and has sold in excess of thirty-million records. One of the oft-overlooked albums from Johnny Rivers’ back-catalogue is No Through Road. It was his one and only gospel album, and released after he enjoyed a spiritual awakening. Like many people who had experienced he wanted to share the ‘news.’ The only problem was, the majority of Johnny Rivers fans weren’t interested in an album of gospel from their hero.
When an emboldened Johnny Rivers released No Through Road in 1983, neither he nor his advisers seemed to have thought of this. A gospel album seemed the wrong album for Johnny Rivers to release in 1983, when his career was at a crossroads.
It didn’t matter that No Through Road was a polished album that featured elements of AOR, blues, country, gospel, pop, rock and soul where Johnny Rivers breathed new life and meaning into a number of familiar songs. The lyrics to some of these songs were tweaked to reflect Johnny Rivers’ recent spiritual awakening. However, very few people heard No Through Road, which was a very personal album from Johnny Rivers.
After No Through Road, it was another eight years before Johnny Rivers released The Memphis Sun Recordings in 1991. Just like No Through Road, The Memphis Sun Recordings failed to trouble the charts, and neither have any of Johnny Rivers’ subsequent albums. He still continued to release the occasional album right up until 2009, but never released another gospel album. No Through Road was a one-off, from Johnny Rivers who with the help of a crack band and The Waters Family, breathes new life and meaning into covers of familiar songs that are thoughtful, uplifting and joyous on this oft-overlooked hidden gem of an album.
Cult Classic: Johnny Rivers-No Through Street.