Hearing Mr. Rivers
Feels good getting back to music posting. Sure, most of my archives are still in boxes stacked about the new place; but the sound system is set up, the ol’ PC is connected again to the internet, and I’ve got a record to write about. So, let’s go. . . [and, of course, nothing went, as Blogger has been clogged most of the day. So it is, when there are, what, 300 bazillion blogs?]
"I Hear Ya" (James Rivers)
James Rivers, JB's 7042, mid-1970's
Here’s a 45 side by a cat with heavy musical connections in New Orleans. I featured an album cut by the James Rivers Quartet early on in HOTG’s existence; and you can read that linked post for what I had to say then about this reedman who has been blowing in bands and on record for over 40 years. There’s not a lot of background available; but I’ve pieced together what I could find, including a somewhat ragged discography* of releases under his own name.
Biographical information on James Rivers is somewhat limited. According to information in the notes to his LP, Thrill Me, he was born in New Orleans in 1938 and was one of six children of Ernest Rivers and wife. He started playing music as a child of eight; and, after graduating high school, attended Houston School of Music. In the late 1950’s, he was a saxophonist in Huey Smith’s band, the Clowns. By 1959, he could be found doing session work for Ric and Ron Records, taking the sax solo, for example, on Al Johnson’s Mardi Gras classic, “Carnival Time”, which was recorded in December of that year. His first (I believe) solo 45 soon followed on Ron, credited to the Jimmy Rivers Combo. Also in 1960, Rivers appeared in the horn section on some of Earl King’s first sessions for Imperial, such as “Come On”. He also played on the road at the time in the Skyliners, a touring band led by fellow saxophonist Bill Sinigal (who wrote a true New Orleans standard, “ The Second Line”). They backed up local singers with records out, as well as nationally known artists such as Jerry Butler and the Impressions, In 1961, Rivers had another solo record out, this time on Instant. He then made at least four more instrumental singles around 1966 for Eight Ball in New Orleans and was a regular player on sessions produced by Wardell Quezergue for Nola Records, Robert Parker’s big hit, “Barefootin’ being notable. In the later 1960’s, Rivers had three known releases on Kon-Ti and one on Pan before hooking up with producer and hustler Senator Jones, who cut numerous sides on the instrumentalist during the mid to late 1970’s, releasing many 45’s and two LP’s on his J-Bees/J.B.’s label. Virtually all of those productions were recorded at Sea-Saint Studios using many of the fine musicians** hanging about the place looking to pick up session work every day.
For today’s selection from JB’s 7042, I’ve picked “I Hear Ya”, which features Rivers on flute. The other side, “The Center Cut” is a decent sax workout; but I find it just a tad less engaging. I usually prefer Rivers, a wind instrument multi-tasker, on the sax; but he gives this one a good go and the rhythm section is cookin’. Just listen to that pumpin’ and poppin’ bass player (possibly George Porter, Jr.?) tearing it up and in tight with the fine drum groove going on. After listening to this track many times, I’m going to give my best non-professional guess that Allen Toussaint is radiatin’ the 88’s on this one. It’s the piano chord voicings, the runs, and that way-cool solo that lead me to the conclusion.
In the brief notes to the Mardi Gras CD, Best of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues Volume Three: James Rivers, which compiles 14 of James Rivers’ JB’s tracks (the sides of this 45 are not among them), the saxophonist is quoted by Jeff Hannusch talking about the Senator Jones sessions. He recalls that although pianist Raymond Jones (a/k/a Ray J, who also made a some records as a vocalist for Senator Jones) was credited with arranging the sessions, pretty much nothing was written out. ‘Head arrangements’ were worked up by the players around the basic melody lines provided by Rivers. There is a long tradition in New Orleans recording of giving the players latitude to develop their own parts, although two of the most successful producers/arrangers, Toussaint and Quezergue, usually didn’t work that way. Anyway, this was a Senator session, so I am sure it was cheaper to let the musicians do some additional (uncompensated) work. A lot of the Senator Jones records of this era on other artists (Johnny Adams, Bobby Powell, Barbara George, and Tommy Ridgley, to name just a few), had a generic, production-line quality to the musical backing that detracted from the strength of the overall product. He didn’t spend a cent more than he had to. But, in the case of “I Hear Ya” and some of James Rivers' other records of the period, the results were better. As he said of his work with the Jones’, “. . . for that era, that material was damn good.”
Mr. Rivers in action
*An Incomplete Discography of James Rivers’ Solo Recordings
Ron 333 “The Blue Eagle” (Parts 1 & 2) – 1960 – Jimmy Rivers Combo
Instant 3232 “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”/”Take Your Choice – 1961
Eight Ball 1560 “Bird Brain”/”Tighten Up” – mid-1960’s
Eight Ball 1561 “Crying The Blues”/”Deep In My Heart” - mid-1960’s
Eight Ball 1562 “Bad Bad Whiskey” (Parts 1& 2) – mid-1960’s
Eight Ball 2555 "Let's Live" / "You Don't Know Me" - mid-160s
Kon-Ti 1160 “Get With It”/”It’s All Over” – late 1960’s?
Kon-Ti 1168 “My Determination”/”Soul Searchin’” – late 1960’s?
Kon-Ti 1169 - "Fonky Flute"/"Unchained Melody" - late 1960's?
Pan 101 “Birdbrain”/”Oh Happy Day” late 1960’s?
J.B.'s 130 "Whenever You Want My Love" / "Ole Pt II"
J.B.’s 136 “Second Line” (Parts 1 & 2) – mid-1970’s
J.B.’s 148 “Dance The Night Away”/”I’ll Love You Forever” mid- 1970’s
J.B.’s 154 “Thrill Me”/”Take It All” – mid-1970’s
J.B.'s 7042 "The Center Cut"/"I Hear Ya" - mid-1970's
JB’s 8235 “Disco Lady”/”Midnight Blues” – 1980’s?
JB’s 101 Thrill Me –mid-1970’s
JB’s (103) Ole – mid-1970’s
Spindletop 101 The Dallas Sessions – 1985 – James Rivers Quartet
This information was derived from various sources, but mainly The R&B Indies. Also helpful, as usual, was Peter, a trans-Atlantic contributor with many singles I don't have, who provided the information on Eight-Ball 2555 (which is not shown in the Indies and was unknown to me), and also on J.B.'s 103 and 130.
** These are some of the players on the James Rivers JB's sessions from the 1970’s:
Keyboards – Raymond Jones, Wardell Quezergue, Isaac Bolden, Sam Henry, Allen Toussaint
Guitar – Leo Nocentelli, Steve Hughes, Walter Washington, Daryl Johnson, Teddy Royal, Jimmy Moliere
Bass – Walter Payton, George Porter, Jr., David Barard, Emmanuel Morris
Drums – James Black, Smokey Johnson, Herman Ernest, Wilbert Arnold
Horns: James Rivers, Clyde Kerr, Amadee Castenell, Edward 'Kid' Jordan