The Margate Rock Festival will feature Johnny Rivers and John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band.
ATLANTIC CITY — On the list of major recording acts from the 1960s and ’70s who have performed in Atlantic City, one name is glaringly conspicuous — but only by its absence.
Johnny Rivers, the prolific hit-maker whose songs are inexorably woven into the fabric of a generation, has never performed in Atlantic City. Not during the pre-casino days, when the old Steel Pier was living up to its billing as “the showplace of the nation.” And not since 1978, when casino showrooms became the venues of choice.
While lesser-known artists from that era have become casino showroom regulars over the years, how has Rivers, who’s sold more than 30 million records and has more than a dozen Top 20 hits, managed to fly under the gaming hall radar?
“I don’t know. Just lucky, I guess,” he says with a laugh during a phone call from his California recording studio. “It’s just one of those things. I’ve played all around New Jersey. I did a big thing a few years ago with [Bruce Springsteen’s] E Street Band over at the Count Basie Theater [in Red Bank]. But I’ve never played Atlantic City.”
Even after this weekend, Rivers still won’t be able to include an Atlantic City casino on his impressive resume of performances in some of the world’s top venues. But he’ll be ever so close.
The singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer, who’s been turning out hits since the early 1960s, will headline Sunday’s seventh annual Margate Rock Festival, a free outdoor concert at Washington Avenue and the bay. The show, sponsored by Caesars Entertainment and by radio station KOOL 98-3, also features John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band opening the program. The evening concludes with a fireworks show over the bay presented by Cape Bank.
The festival, to be held on the same island and just a few miles south of those elusive casinos, is presented by the Gold Foundation, which raises and distributes funds to a wide array of regional charities and non-profit organizations.
Rivers, 68, has an impressive discography that includes some original material. But he’s had his biggest successes covering songs by other artists.
His only original song to hit the top of the Billboard chart was “Poor Side of Town” in 1966. And the song for which he’s best known, “Secret Agent Man,” was never supposed to be a single and was originally a minute-long tune.
Rivers was on tour in England in 1964 when the producers of the British TV spy series Danger Man approached him and asked if he could come up with a new title song for the show, which was about to air in the United States.
“At that time they just had an instrumental theme song, and they asked if we could try to put something together,” Rivers recalls. The singer and guitarist consulted with songwriters Steve Barry and P.F. Sloan, and a new song, consisting of a single verse and chorus, was written.
Rivers then added the distinctive guitar hook that’s not only become synonymous with practically all spy movies, but has inspired fledgling guitarists learn how to play the instrument.
Game On! started the Wild Summer Nights Concert Series Memorial Day weekend. It runs every Friday night through Labor Day weekend featuring live bands and drink specials.
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