Rock and roll was in his Mark Rivers’ blood, going back to when he was young and his grandmother brought him to see Elvis Presley in concert. His grandmother also purchased him many of the Elvis albums.
A native of New York, his family relocated to Asbury Park in the early 1970s where he was drenched in yet another musical culture, led by legendary New Jersey rock star, Bruce Springsteen.
So, it was natural for Rivers to feel connected to classic rock music, even though his own brand of songwriting bridged a host of other cultures including alternative rock, blues, funk and Americana.
A Secaucus resident for the last decade, Rivers said his experiences in Asbury Park and the Springsteen boardwalk culture inspired him to become a musician.
But he also admitted the Springsteen set a high bar for any musician coming out of the same Asbury Park circuit, and especially when he played some of the same venues such as the Student Prince and The Stone Pony.
Having rock and roll in his blood also explains why he decided in his latest release to go back to his roots, and explore the sound and the themes out of which rock and roll emerged: cars, booze and women.
“What I really wanted to do with our new album was to go back to what rock and roll was before Dylan,” he said. “I wanted the music to have more guts.
Edging in on 60 years old, Rivers has fronted his own band, Rivercat, as a guitarist and singer since he founded in the late 1980s and has recorded a half dozen CDs since the mid-1990s.
Rivers moved to Harmon Cove in Secaucus in 2007, where he currently lives in a world so drenched in rock and roll nostalgia that it might serve as a musical museum, filled with signed posters of nearly every classic rock band from Beatles to Led Zeppelin with more than a few images of Springsteen – including a photo taken of Springsteen which he later had Springsteen sign.
The new CD – called “52 Saturday Nights,” explores more than just themes, but re-explores musical landscapes laid down by bands like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and others, but always with River’s own twists. While you can hear the echoes of The Kinks and George Thurogood in humor and sometimes in technique, Rivers seems to keep his own voice intact. His cover of The Beatles’ “One After 909” has significant resonance to even earlier rock and roll because the song itself was an attempt by The Beatles to reach back to their own roots.
The new CD differs sharply from his half dozen previous efforts recorded since the mid-1990s in that it clearly stays away from the musical clichés typical of bands that came out in the late 1980s – even while appearing to pay tribute to movements like Grunge.
While some of his CDs were recorded elsewhere, his later efforts were often recorded in his apartment in Secaucus or in a studio in Union City.
Rivers graduated Asbury Park High School in 1975, the same year that Springsteen’s “Born to Run” was released.
“Although he had albums before that, `Born to Run’ was his break-through album,” Rivers said. “And it left a definite impression on me.”
Rivercat membership has included band members Lee Boyce on lead guitar, Rodney Ledbetter on drums, and Jersey Drew on bass.
Rivers started out as a drummer and took up guitar because he wanted to be more out front.
Rivers road to recording took some odd twists and turns
In the early 1990s, he saw an ad in The Village Voice for a gig at Club Med. This meant free room and board, a salary and an almost non-stop vacation in the Caribbean. He spent two years there, during which he performed, and on his own time, began to write new songs.
While Springsteen might have been a role model, Rivers said he was particularly inspired by the life story of Woody Guthrie, arguably one of the most powerful voices in the history of 20th century Americana music and the man who inspired Bob Dylan.
After two years working for Club Med, Rivers got the itch to come home – only the Shore scene had changed dramatically, and he sought out the remaining scene in Manhattan where he played places like Kenny’s Castaways, and networked with a lot of musicians.
One of these musicians was Garland Jeffreys who he has been working with for about eight years.
Al Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org