After decades performing and recording in Southern California, guitarist-songwriter Jack Rivera has lately been jetting back and forth to Europe for small tours, club dates and festivals. Without a manager, a label or a touring band, Rivera has succeeded in cobbling together small tours as a solo artist and backing other musicians, relying on friendships (many through social media) and the fellowship of like-minded souls.
Starting out as a drummer for Los Angeles punk band the Stains while a young teenager in the early ‘80s, Rivera soon switched to guitar and was a member of popular ‘60s throwback band the Crawdaddys. He later formed R&B-influenced the Berry Pickers, and several bands followed, keeping him busy steadily performing and recording in Southern California ever since. But, starting in 2012, restlessness influenced his decision to look across the pond for new opportunities.
Music Connection: What brought about your first trip to Europe?
Jack Rivera: In 2012, I went to perform in England for the first time under my own name. That happened via MySpace, which was a major network for musicians at the time. I had a band called the Great Americans, and we had some tunes on MySpace. I became friends on the site with a British musician named Lance Hazelwood, and he offered to help me put a band together over there and book some gigs. I realized it was a good selling point for me not to bring a band, so I let it be known that I’d be like Chuck Berry––a guy showing up with a guitar.
MC: Did you audition any of these musicians online before going to England?
Rivera: No, just blind faith! I knew we were on the same page musically. I did research some of them on YouTube. It all worked out fine. We played eight or nine small club shows in and around London over two weeks. I played the Alley Cat, which is a club in the basement of what used to be Regent Sound, where the Rolling Stones recorded their first record! That alone was worth the trip!
MC: What promotion did Hazelwood provide? Did he act as your manager?
Rivera: He did what bands do—Facebook, flyers, phone calls. He wasn’t a manager; he was acting as a fellow musician and fan.
MC: How did you fund the trip?
Rivera: One of the clubs put up half of my airfare. We just did the usual band thing of staying where we could, getting around on our own. We were provided with some meals at the clubs, and drinks. I ended up with enough money to pay the band and came back with a little bit of dough.
MC: When was your next trip to Europe?
Rivera: In 2013, my friend Michael Rummans from the Sloths, a legendary ‘60s garage band, asked me to go over to Spain and play guitar with the Sloths for the Purple Weekend Festival, which is an annual Mod/’60s rock festival in Leon. For the festival, we were completely taken care of—hotel, dinner before the show, transportation. That wasn’t a solo gig for me, and again I came back with some money.
It was then that I met Konstan Chao, the promoter of the festival. He knew of me from the Crawdaddys, who were big in Spain, as well as Italy and Germany. The ‘60s garage rock thing is actually more popular over there than punk. He invited me to play the festival the next year.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get money in advance out of promoters, but he sent me a plane ticket, put me up in a hotel. So in 2014, I played the festival and he booked a solo tour with an incredible band from Spain called the Limboos. I had stayed in touch with a bunch of Spanish kids I had met the year before, and they offered to back me up. We toured clubs all over Spain. We were staying in hotels, had enough money for meals, and to pay the band. Once again, I came back home with some dough.
MC: Were you working with any kind of contract?
Rivera: There was a simple contract for the festival, but everything else was a gentleman’s agreement.
MC: How big were the audiences at the clubs?
Rivera: Usually between 150 - 300, with ticket prices around the equivelant of $5 - $15. The festival audience was about 2,000.
MC: Your next trip was to Eastern Europe?
Rivera: In 2015, I played England and the Czech Republic. Long John Laundry, who played harmonica with me in England back in 2012, came back in the picture. It is so important to maintain these friendships. He had played the Czech Republic, and suggested we put a band together and tour there. I flew to London, stayed with him and we rehearsed for a few days and then hopped over to Prague. We hooked up with a Czech band called the Goodfellas, who were sponsored by Red Bull. They really had it all together—a Red Bull van, cases of product. They had other sponsers as well, and enough money to pay me to come along as their opening act. We played 10 gigs in the Czech Republic and Poland. There is really no rock & roll there, so the kids just went nuts. Once again, I did come home with some money!
MC: Have you been to Europe since 2015?
Rivera: No, but related to my European tours, last year I went to New York to play the International Pop Overthrow festival, invited by a band I met in Spain, a Swedish Mod band called the Most. They paid my airfare and put me up in the Airbnb they had in Harlem. They played their own show one night and backed me up the next. Because of the experience in Spain, they knew all my songs.
MC: Did you have any merch to sell on any of these tours?
Rivera: Not until 2015! I recorded two songs and pressed a CD, mostly self-funded, and used that as a calling card to hand out in Spain that year, and later in Czech Republic and New York. Some people actually offered me, like, five Euros or dollars here and there.
MC: What is the next stamp on your passport?
Rivera: I’m probably going back to Spain and maybe Germany later this year.
Photo by Dena Flows