Friday, February 13, 2009

Boss Tracks; California Sun by the Rivieras

In this blog I strive to go for the original recordings of a song. On this occasion I felt it was warranted to go with the second recorded version. It was the Rivieras proto-Garage version that made this Henry Glover song into a hit after all. Joe Jones' original take on the song had barely dented the charts. The Rivieras' version however made it all the way up till the number two spot on the Billboard charts in 1964. Held back only by those pesky Beatles, who had just started to take the nation by storm with their first American release "I Want to Hold Your Hand". The Rivieras recording session pre-dated that Beatles release. In that sense it the Rivieras' success proves that self-contained bands were already scurrying in their garages before America noticed those British mods. Contradicting popular believe that the Beatles were at the root of the tidal wave of self contained American R&R groups. Though they no doubt enforced that development in R&R, it seems to me that it was more a parallel movement than is acknowledged in popular culture today. The Rivieras would soon disappear in obscurity however. Their musical chops were far to raggedy to produce a successful follow-up, plus the draft soon got about half of the band. It was the Rivieras version however that would lead to the song's most famous incarnation by the Ramones over a decade later when the world became sick and tired of the pompous album rock the Beatles had help create. The Riviera's California Sun would prove to be the kick start of the Surf craze, not bad for a band from Indiana.

Still their fate was better than Joe Jones, who originally tried his hands on the song for Roulette. Label owner Morris Levy had convinced Henry Glover to come over to his label to set up the R&B department. While proficient in the Jazz market, Roulette still had to crack that far more lucrative market. That Joe Jones even came to record the song was something of an odd twist of events. Jones' run with the label had failed to produce any hits. Under the impression Roulette had forgotten about him, he cut You Talk To Much for the New Orleans based Ric label. The song had been written by Fats Domino's brother in law Reggie Hall, but rejected by the Fat Man because he felt the song had no potential. When New York radio stations started picking up Joe Jones' version on Ric, it appeared Fats' instincts had failed him. Roulette soon remember they had signed Jones and filed an injunction against Ric, re-releasing the song on Roulette, scoring a major national hit. So it was in pursuit of a follow-up that New Orleans based piano player Joe Jones came to record California Sun, half a continent away from the songs subject matter. As mentioned, without the hoped for success.

Henry Glover's career however had been much more successful. As it often goes with producers, their significance to the history of R&R tends to get obscured by the performing artists. Many of them who wouldn't have been as successful without their producers in the first place. Glover was one of the first black record-executives the industry had ever seen. A status he acquired on the basis of being able to write hits across the board. Springsteen fans may be familiar with Glover's Seven Nights to Rock, Henry wrote for hillbilly piano player Moon Mullican over at Syd Nathan's King studios in Cincinnati. Just as easily Glover produced hits for the immensely popular and influential Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (the band that started the original Twist craze). Similarly Glover was at the cradle of many careers. Glover produced James Brown's early hits, guided Little Willie John's career and convinced the Hawks to pursue a career of their own, away from Ronnie Hawkings shadow, a move that led to the Band, Bob Dylan's most famous backing group and another source of inspiration for the Boss, who covered their Rag Mama Rag during the Seeger Sessions tour. But that's a story for another day. Meanwhile enjoy a little sunshine on the edge of winter with the Rivieras.

The Rivieras

Available on Time Life Rock 'n' Roll Era Street Corner Serenade II

Joe Jones

You Heard It Here First! (Original Versions of Famous Songs) (highly recommended)

Sprinsgteen played a snippet California Sun in Light of Day during his infamous October 23rd 1999 Reunion tour show in L.A. and again on November 9th 2007 at a benifit show for Joe Torre's Safe at Home Foundation. See a video here thanks to Pam from BTX.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I heard the Joe Jones version on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. It's been a pretty painless way to hear some interesting alternative versions of great songs.

The Rivieras definitely got it right though.

By the way, thanks for the great link to the collection with the Joe Jones version. That looks like one Hell of a great CD. Will have to check it out.