Tidbits: Winnie the Pooh and the Go-Go Connection

johnny rivers

In our "Forgotten Gem" feature this month we recall the early 1970s "Return to Pooh Corner" as performed by Loggins & Messina. Fact is songwriter Kenny Loggins has written a lot of gems, and not all of them forgotten. Two that come to mind are "A Love Song" and "Danny's Song," both of which reached #1 on the pop and adult contemporary charts for vocalist Anne Murray. Add in a few more major pop hits, and Mr. Loggins starts looking like a modern day Johnny Mercer. "Footloose" is unquestionably a pop classic, as are other movie themes "I'm Alright" from Caddyshack and "Danger Zone" from Top Gun. Loggins has a couple of notable collaborations, perhaps the most iconic of which is "What A Fool Believes," which was co-written with...

...Michael McDonald, ex of the Doobie Brothers, often blamed for "sanitizing" that group's Southern Rock sound. McDonald wrote quite a number of tunes with Loggins, and eventually became a successful producer as well. McDonald is known for producing one of...

...Christopher Cross' hit albums. Cross was a hugely successful light rocker in the 1980s who certainly deserves mention in any discussion of American Popular Song from that decade. Incidentally, Cross'self-titled first hit album featured McDonald on backing vocals. Notable hits from that release include "Sailing" and "Ride Like the Wind." The Eagles' Don Henley also lent backing vocals, as did Christian author Stormie Omartian, whose husband...

...Michael Omartian produced and arranged Cross' first album, which netted him a Grammy Award. Omartian has been all over the map of pop music over the past 40 years; he in fact played keyboards and a few other instruments on "Return to Pooh Corner," the Loggins & Messina Forgotten Gem mentioned above. But did you know that Omartian had two huge pop hits on his own? As frontman for Rhythm Heritage, Omartian topped the charts in 1976 with "Theme from S.W.A.T." Rhythm Heritage had another modest hit with "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow," also known as Baretta's Theme. One of Omartian's frequent vocalists in Rhythm Heritage was...

...Ray Parker Jr., best known for his Academy Award nominated theme from the movie Ghostbusters. In that movie, as you may recall, the primary tool used for "busting" ghosts was a "Proton Gun" connected to a backpack-sized particle accelerator. (work with me here) The internationally-recognized leading research facility in particle acceleration is Brookhaven National Laboratories. Brookhaven is located...

...on the former site of Camp Upton, NY, where Irving Berlin wrote his first musical revue, Yip Yip Yaphank. Well, that's a bit of a stretch, wouldn't you say?

We're getting ahead of ourselves.

Back to Omartian's Rhythm Heritage. Co-founder of the group was Steve Barri, a songwriter and record producer probably best known for his collaborations with P.F. Sloan on acts like The Grassroots, Barry McGuire, and The Turtles. He also wrote a monster hit for legendary Johnny Rivers, called "Secret Agent Man."

Johnny Rivers brings up a whole bunch of interesting connections. Born Johnny Ramistella, legend has it that he was discovered by none less than Alan Freed in 1958. Freed advised him to change his name and helped Johnny garner his first recording contracts, but nothing came of it. In 1959, while touring through the southeast, Rivers had his second chance at greatness when another music legend heard him play in

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featured performance

Anne Murray sings her #1 hit version of Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song"


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Birmingham. Audrey Williams, widow of Hank and mother of Hank Jr., was so taken with Rivers' talent that she brought him to Nashville and scored another recording contract...and missed again. During his brief stay in Nashville, Rivers wrote songs, did session work, and supposedly rubbed elbows with future Grammy winner Roger Miller.

Third Time's a Charm?

1960 found Rivers back home in Baton Rouge, where he was introduced to guitar legend James Burton. Burton wanted Rick Nelson to record a Rivers composition, so he packed up for Los Angeles. He again worked as a songwriter and session man, and in 1963 did a live performance at Gazzari's on Sunset Strip that finally made him an "overnight sensation" and led to his contract at the Whisky a Go Go. The Whisky had a provocatively dressed female DJ who spun records from a cage-like structure between acts. Rivers' sound was so driving that she danced during his performance...

...and inadvertently created the phenomenon known as the "Go Go" dancer.


Johnny Rivers "Secret Agent Man"

So how does Johnny Rivers fit in a website on American Popular Song? Admittedly, most of his music was more of a rock/blues sound. But certainly songs like "Poor Side of Town" and "Summer Rain" and "Slow Dancin'- Swayin to the Music" and "Mountain of Love" are undeniably pop classics that cut across all genres. Others, like "Secret Agent Man" or "Memphis" are more on the fringe of pop, and the argument could go either way.