Wednesday, November 12, 2008

'66 - ? and the Mysterians, Johnny Rivers

? and the Mysterians -- 96 Tears

Here's Rudy Martinez, the "?" in ? and the Mysterians, and the band playing "96 Tears" in 1999, sounding like they did 33 years before when they came out of nowhere exploiting the Tex Mex sound that Doug Sahm had pioneered with the Sir Douglas Quintet a few years before, organizing rock and roll in the process. Rudy, like Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter, has still never removed his sunglasses in all these years.

The original "96 Tears" was recorded in the Mysterians' manager Lilly Gonzalez's living room in Adrian, Michigan. Martinez and the rest of the group were born in Mexico but had all emigrated with their parents to the Saginaw Valley in the Wolverine State. "96 Tears," originally released on the Pa-Go-Go label, gained significant airplay and popularity in Flint, Bay City, and finally Detroit, where Cameo Records president Neil Bogart (later an executive at Buddah Records and the founder of the Casablanca and Boardwalk labels) heard it, purchased the master and released it nationwide; it hit #1 for a week on October 29th. According to legend, the original title was "69 Tears," but Martinez has never officially confirmed that. 

"96 Tears" has been covered most notably by Aretha Franklin, Big Maybelle (whose version hit #96), British bands The Stranglers and Inspiral Carpets (as you might expect from those two keyboard-heavy groups),  Joe "King" Carrasco, and Garland Jeffreys.

Johnny Rivers --Poor Side of Town

This was Brooklyn-born John Ramistella's biggest hit and his lone #1. John and his parents moved to Baton Rouge, LA when he was three and he became proficient on guitar and mandolin beginning at age eight. As a teenager he visited New York and Nashville to find work in recording studios and sat in with local bands. On one such visit he met legendary deejay Alan Freed, who liked what he heard and got him a contract with Gone Records, changing his name to Rivers in the process.  The single he put out on Gone didn't click and he went to Nashville, where he forged a friendship with Roger Miller and wrote "I'll Make Believe" for Ricky Nelson. 

After meeting Nelson in Los Angeles in 1958 Rivers found that he enjoyed the southern California lifestyle; by 1963 he was building up a following at Gazzara's on Sunset Strip and soon was headlining at a new club that would spawn the careers of many southern California superstars, the Whiskey a -Go-Go. Things fell into place quickly as producer Lou Adler signed him to a contract with Imperial Records, where he would join Nelson. His first few major hits ("Memphis," "Maybelline," Seventh Son" ) were recorded at the Whisky.

"Poor Side of Town," in which Rivers welcomes back a girlfriend who had strayed with a wealthy suitor, was Rivers' only major hit that he wrote himself. It hit #1 on November 12, 42 years to the day I am writing this.


Joe Hedio said...

It's too bad that it had to take more than 35 years for the original recordings of ? & The Mysterians to get back in print. The CD reissue only came out a couple of years ago along w/the rest of the Cameo/Parkway catalog. They should have been reissued back in the late '80s-early 90s to take advantage of the CD reissue boom which has now passed. As Beatle George once said, "Beware of ABKCO"

Rob in OH said...

Where did many of us listen to all of this great music? On the legendary 77 WABC New York, of course. Check out the website for many of the old jingles, stories, and a full hour of an original Cousin Brucie show from September 9, 1968.