BLRiley interview www.rockabilly.net/billyleeriley/interview.shtml
KB: Tell us a little about the Whiskey A-Go-Go days.
BLR: That was a great job. Johnny Rivers started playing there first. The idea was brought over from France, somebody had been over there and had seen it. And it had trios playing and there was a small dance floor. You could get a lot of people in there, but it was kinda tight. Very intimate. Rivers started out playing there and Trini Lopez was playing at PJs – both were doing the same thing, but the Whiskey was happening . So, I knew the bass player in Johnny Rivers’ band, and Rivers was fixing to go on the road and open some more clubs. The band didn’t want to go with him. Well Joe Osborne went with him, but the drummer wasn’t going. So Joe said: “Why don’t you go down there and audition for Elmer Valentine. I think you can get that job as soon as Johnny leaves. We’ll go down there and audition with you.” So I said: “Fine, man.” So I auditioned and got the job, and I had to hire a bass man, but the drummer stayed there, and he was pretty much educated on what to do there, so he taught me the ropes. So I started playing there, and heck – the guy really liked me, so I started following Johnny . Johnny would open a club in Atlanta and I’d go in after him, same with New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, everywhere there was a Whiskey A-Go-Go. He’d open the club, leave, and I’d go in after him. I stayed in that circuit for about a year and a half.
KB: What was Johnny Rivers like? Did you guys get along?
BLR: We hated each other! He was very jealous of me when I went to the Whiskey A-Go-Go. Before I went to the Whiskey A-Go-Go, Joe Osborn invited me down, said: “Why don’t you come down some night and play harmonica with us onstage.” I said: “Man, Johnny don’t want me up there foolin’ around.” He said : “Aw, don’t worry about it. I’ll get you up there.” So, I took my harmonica down there one night, and he got Johnny to call me up. And I got up there and the crowd just went wild, and that made Johnny mad. Made him jealous. So he wouldn’t let me play with him no more. Then when I started playing there, he got real upset. He came down there one time when I was playing – he had closed out of one club and got back early, and came back before I closed out. So, he came out there on a Saturday night, and it was raining real hard. We had the club packed – completely full, and three hundred people were standing outside in the rain, waiting to get in. And Johnny had to stand outside for a little while and that made him mad. So he came in and was raising Cain and Elmer Valentine was saying “Hey man, don’t he sound good?” Johnny said “Well, I could sound good too if you’d give me some good mikes, like you gave him!” Elmer told me “He was really mad because you had a house full – you had more people than he’d ever had in there.” In Atlanta, I still hold the record for attendance at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, I had more people in there than anybody.
KB: Didn’t Rivers get turned down by Sun Records?
BLR: Yeah he couldn’t make it there. He was just jealous, not just of me, he was just jealous of anybody he thought had a chance to do something.
KB: He had a string of hit records at that time – what did he have to worry about?
BLR: Yeah, he had a bunch of hits, but I guess he was afraid that I was going to get some of the gravy. There’s a lot of people like that, people who are consumed with professional jealousy. That’s how it is in Nashville – they’re eat up with it.
KB: How did you come to record for Gene Norman at GNP?
BLR: He knew me, he knew about me at Sun, and he knew what was going on over at the Whiskey. And when I came back into town, and the Whiskey had gone long-hair and they weren’t doing my type of music anymore, I started working other clubs. Well, he came down one night and asked if I was interested in recording. He rented the studio and just set it up like a nightclub, put tables in there. He served drinks to the 25 – 30 people he had in there for an audience, and we sat up there just like we did on stage and like a live album. That was the In Action album, and the other one – the harmonica album, we just did that in the studio.