The Rivieras are a classic one-shot band from the 60's who left one well-remembered song that still gets lots of play wherever 60's music is heard.
They formed in 1962 as the Playmates in South Bend, Indiana. The original members were Marty "Bo" Fortson (born in 1945) on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Joe Pennell on lead guitar, Doug Gean on bass, Otto Nuss on organ and drummer Paul Dennert. Most members of the teenage group were from South Bend Central High School. When they found that there was another group that called itself the Playmates, they changed their name to the Rivieras, taking the name from the Buick Riviera automobile. The Rivieras became part of the frat rock sound that was prominent in American pop in the early to mid-60's.
Henry Glover had been involved in the music business in many ways including as a songwriter and record producer. He had worked with veterans such as Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Little Willie John, and James Brown, among many others, as well as being the co-writer of Joey Dee & the Starliters' #1 hit Peppermint Twist. Glover was working for the Riviera label in the early 60's when the Rivieras were signed to that label and recorded Glover's composition of California Sun, with Marty Fortson on lead vocals, and Otto Nuss' driving organ. The original recording had been a minor hit on the R&B chart previously for Joe "You Talk Too Much" Jones. The Rivieras' recording of California Sun struck a chord with the record-buying public, zooming to #5 on the pop chart in early 1964. It thus became one of the very last American hits by an American band before the British Invasion, led by the Beatles, changed pop music in the mid-60's.
The Rivieras like many groups began to undergo personnel changes. Following shortly after the success of California Sun, Fortson and Pennell left and joined the United States Marines. They were replaced by Willy Gaut on vocals and rhythm guitar and Jim Boal on lead guitar. Drummer Dennert left and was replaced by Bobby Wantuch. Although they were quite young, the group made good music that had quite an appeal. Band manager Bill Dobslaw took over as lead singer and the Rivieras subsequently reached the bottom rungs of the Hot 100 with recordings such as Little Donna, Let's Have A Party, and Rockin' Robin. They also recorded two albums.
Music was changing. Some members of the band were pressured by their parents to leave to pursue an education. With the changes in music tastes brought on by the British Invasion, the youth of the band members, the Selective Service draft, as well as frequent personnel changes, the Rivieras disbanded in 1966. The band was revived by some members in the 80's and toured. Joe Pennell passed away in 2011 and Marty Fortson, the lead singer from the session that produced California Sun, died a year later.
The Rivieras may have been a frat rock band composed of teenagers, but with the opening drum solo and a solid guitar/organ riff on California Sun, performed by a group of young but very talented musicians, California Sun has endured as one of the classics from rock's greatest decade.
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