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Published: 2007/08/22
by Brian Ferdman

Last Boogie in Paris: The Complete Concert – Johnny Rivers

Shout! Factory 826663-10538

It's hard to find an equivalent of Johnny Rivers in modern pop music. When he burst on the scene with 1964's Live at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, he was a Baton Rouge rhythm guitarist with a soulful voice and good-guy looks. A hit with the ladies and known for a highly-charged live show that many consider to be the advent of Go-Go music, Rivers’ star rose quickly. His early songs did well on the charts, but he would eventually rely almost exclusively on covers of established R&B tunes to make his bread, scoring major hits with Chuck Berry’s "Memphis" and Holland-Dozier-Holland’s "Baby I Need Your Loving."

By the time 1973 rolled around, Rivers' star was somewhat on the decline, although he was still finding an appreciative audience for his live gigs. His European tour featured the red-hot L.A. Boogie Band, and because this group of session musicians was performing at such a high level, Rivers decided to record the tour finale at the Olympia Theater in Paris on May 23, 1973. The following year, Atlantic Records released a limited edition of eight songs from this show for the European market, and this concert was essentially shelved until Rivers and Shout! Factory decided to release the entire recording as Last Boogie in Paris – The Complete Concert.

From the opening "Sea Cruise," it is clear this band is ready to cook. They are pumping tons of energy into the music, and chugging drums and crisp hornlines punctuate the string of soulful hits that follows: "Barefootin'," "Long Tall Sally," "It's Alright," and "Brown Eyed Girl." A revved-up turn on "Knock on Wood" yields to Michael Melvoin's pouncing piano work on "Rockin' Pneumonia And the Boogie Woogie Flu." Herb Pedersen takes the mood in a different direction with his banjo-led, bouncing bluegrass rendition of "I've Just Seen a Face," giving Rivers the perfect platform to squeeze some pathos out of the Lennon/McCartney lyrics.

Once Jim Gordon drops a thumping beat and Jack Conrad tosses in some perfectly placed bassnotes, we are in the midst of an incredibly funky “Willie and the Hand Jive.” The whole band is now snug in a deep groove, which they ride out through the homestretch, including a sultry spin on “Memphis,” a rocking version of “Walkin’ Blues,” and an explosive turn on “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While).” Rivers’ bluesy “John Lee Hooker 74,” a collection of riffs that were popularized in several songs, closes out the energetic set to deservedly enthusiastic applause.

No one can truly explain why record executives make the choice they make, but Atlantic’s decision to release a small snippet of this concert and then subsequently shelve the recordings was a serious injustice to fans of Rivers’ music. Thankfully, Shout! Factory has stepped in and rescued these tapes, preserving a fantastic performance of a band that was operating in a higher gear in a show that deserves to be heard and enjoyed by the masses.

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