Johnny Rivers’ distinct guitar playing on the song “Secret Agent Man” helped make the song a hit.
Rivers, who has had a string of hits in his lifetime, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, at the Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles. Tickets are available by calling 888-695-0888, or by going to the Arcada’s website, www.oshows.com.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Rivers about the upcoming show.
Eric Schelkopf: For people who come out to the show, what should they expect? Are you kind of going through the hits and then some?
Johnny Rivers: Well, you know, you always have to play the hits. But we always put in a lot of cuts from various albums, and I do a little acoustic set in the middle of the show. It should be fun. We have some new arrangements on some of the old hits. It’s just a four-piece band – guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. It’s really kind of fun, because it’s just the basic rhythm section.
Schelkopf: But you like being just a four-piece?
Rivers: Well, it’s real comfortable for me. And I’m the guy who played guitar on most of those old records anyhow, so it’s easy for me.
Schelkopf: At age 15, you met disc jockey Alan Freed, known for coining the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” who convinced you to change your last name.
Rivers: On my first record, I was using my family name, Ramistella. Back in those days, it wasn’t cool to have a long ethnic name. Everybody had shortened their name. He asked me where I grew up, and I told him Baton Rouge, which is on the Mississippi River. He says, ‘Why don’t we call you Johnny River?’ It became Rivers. But my dad didn’t like it. He wanted me to keep the family name. He really didn’t care for it until I had my first big hit.
Schelkopf: And I’m sure you will be playing “Secret Agent Man” at the Arcada.
Rivers: I have young guitar players come up to me who have said they learned guitar playing “Secret Agent Man,” including Eddie Van Halen. That’s a pretty good compliment. But I also played the guitar on all those other records, “Memphis” and “Seventh Son” and “Mountain Of Love.” I came up with some interesting guitar riffs that were recognizable, especially the openings.
Schelkopf: Out of all your accomplishments, is there anything you are most proud of?
Rivers: Just everything. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’ve worked with a lot of other artists. I was one of the guys who put together the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and performed on it the first night along with Simon & Garfunkel. That was the first music festival. After that, they did Woodstock and started doing festivals everywhere. But it was nice to be part of that first one, which went off without a hitch. No one got arrested, no one died and no one went to jail.