JOHN RIOLO Onstage at the San Jose Civic Auditorium 1966
John Riolo was the original drummer and a lead singer for PEOPLE! from the very beginning. He was a founding member along with Al Ribisi on electric guitar and Farfisa organ, Geoff Levin on electric guitar, Rob Levin on electric bass, and Dave Anderson on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. These were the original members of the group and they performed at local coffee houses, parties, and teen dances. When singer/acoustic guitarist Dave Anderson was replaced by Gene Mason and Larry Norman , John continued his drumming and lead singing providing a solid foundation for PEOPLE! in it’s next incarnation.
EARLY HISTORY OF PEOPLE!
It was fall of 1966 and twenty-one year old PEOPLE! guitar player and leader Geoff Levin was giving guitar lessons downtown at Moyer Brother's Music to finance his music equipment and pay tuition at San Jose State College. At that time Geoff had quite a few guitar students, and fortunately a new student was referred to Geoff by the store's management. The New student turned out to be Mike Hunter, aka Captain Mickey, the program director and a popular disk jockey at the biggest local AM radio station KLIV of San Jose, California. Mike wanted to learn some guitar to be able to sing for his beautiful wife. Geoff gave Mike lessons regularly and then realized that "Captain Mikey" might be able to promote PEOPLE! in the local music scene. Geoff was very cautious at first not to ruin a good student/teacher relationship, but then decided it would be O.K. to ask him to manage PEOPLE!. Later Geoff informed the band members that Mike Hunter would be coming by to audition them, so they prepared a song list to be ready when Mike came by the Ribisi Garage practice place.
Al Ribisi's parents were very supportive of their son's musical adventures with John Riolo and other neighborhood kids in the AARDVARKS and later with PEOPLE!. Al's father, who was a very busy surgeon at O'Conner Hospital, would often show up at a teen club job unannounced to support and encourage PEOPLE!. Dr. Ribisi would pop in virtually out of nowhere and cheerfully proclaim, "You boys are Really Fabulous! I Loved it! Good Going!",as he smiled ear to ear. As suddenly as he appeared he would often disappear and speed away in his Thunderbird to save someone's life at the hospital or another emergency situation. There was also the beautiful and bright Mrs. Ribisi, who would usually be home when the band practiced out in the garage. She was known to magically show up just at the right moment with cookies when the band was having a "low blood sugar" extended disagreement. She also let the band use the piano room and record player to learn their songs and work out their four and sometimes five part vocal harmony arrangements.
Dave Anderson, came from a home with liberal Socialistic roots and he helped run his family's poultry farm in Morgan Hill. Good looking Dave Anderson was stage manager and announcer for San Jose's most influential and hip folk club The Offstage. He would regularly introduce nationally know touring folk acts and local Bay Area folk acts like Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Paul Kauntner,David Frieberg, and Jorma Kaukonen who had not become International Rock Stars yet and were at that time playing acoustic music. He also managed a famous folk club near La Honda, and while there he had met Ken Kesey and other wild members of his bus troupe acid testers who lived nearby. Connected, cool,and amazingly the right man at the right place, Dave was a man of integrity and knew exactly what his personal musical direction would be. What he artisticly aspired to had a social consiousness perspective along the musical lines of Bob Dylan, P.F. Sloan, or the Jefferson Airplane.
He had seen too much by now to be needlessly enamoured by "Teeny Bopper" and "Bubblegum Music" that was popular with the Junior High radio listeners. PEOPLE! were getting upstaged by these local Top Forty copy bands and although Dave Rocked Out with the best of them, found the musical direction of PEOPLE! quite unamusing. Geoff and Captain Mikey knew a change in the group line-up had to be made if the group was to have a chance to prosper in the current musical market of San Jose and the South Bay. Like Mick of The Rolling Stones once said, "You gotta be a success right where you are today, in the area right where you live, right now, or you're dust!"
One of the first great opportunities PEOPLE! obtained before Dave Anderson's departure was to appear as entertainment at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Monterey. The event featured Buckminister Fuller, the fabulous scientific inventor and "Father of Geodesic Design", how lucky the band was to have seen this genius speak. Larry Norman opened up the show before PEOPLE! took to the stage with his solo guitar and voice . It turned out that he was the hardest act the group ever had to follow. He was such a great entertainer and he looked wonderful, was animated, made the audience laugh, told clever stories, clowned around etc., and most of all sang very well. Larry and his beautiful singing could melt your tender heart one moment and burn down the barn the next. His comedy, acting pranks, and obvious show biz wizardry were irresistable to all present.
Geoff made Larry an offer to join the group several days after this chance meeting. Larry Norman wanted Gene Mason in the group also since they had grown up together dreaming of becoming singers like The Righteous Brothers and had also honed their skills in a popular local folk group. They were hired as dual lead singers which would allow PEOPLE! to cover almost any of the top hits. Gene and Larry could dance, sing, switch off vocal duties, and put on an amazing show. In the end, however, it was the group effort, individual talents, and the successful collaboration of all six members that kept PEOPLE! from drifting into obscurity like almost all other acts in San Jose.
Manager Captain Mickey would give PEOPLE! many of the top records before they were played on the radio, and the band would learn them note for note. New Beatles hits, songs like "Hold on I'm Coming", "Working in a Coal Mine", "Mellow Yellow", "My Generation"," Last Train to Clarkesville" would be performed by PEOPLE! before other bands had a chance to learn them. Captain Mikey would also use his radio broadcasts to publicize the band wherever he booked them and the act began to get attention and word spread. John Riolo now found himself in the spotlight performing at major teenage events around the San Jose area as drummer and singer.
JOHN WAS A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN BEFORE HE JOINED ANY GROUP
When The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and changed the popular music world John did not run out and buy a guitar or a set of drums to be part of the fad. John was already an accomplished musician long before that time and long before he had met anyone in PEOPLE!. At the mere age of eight he had already begun taking serious music lessons from the Great Italian Master Accordionist Teacher and Music Publisher, Mr.Louis Figone. At ten he was reading charts for drums and percussion and performing with the school orchestra during the regular school year and at summer sessions.
Mr. Figone introduced John to music theory and helped him develop his great timing and co-ordination. In those early years Riolo had already acquired a solid song repertoire of American Folk Music, European Popular Songs, Italian Popular Music, American Pop Hits, Movie Themes, and Opera Themes. John practiced his accordion music twice a day very seriously and took a First Place Prize Trophy home in 1959 at Northern California Accordion Contest at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. He was just nine years old! He was also studying percussion at school with Miss Muzante and played in her school orchestra and band. His vocal training began in the Third Grade three times a week before class with Mrs. Serrete's Glee Club and Choir. With her fabulous piano playing and four part harmony arraingements, John and his big sister Dianne learned some Broadway Show Tunes, Classic Works, and Other Popular Songs of the day and got to perform with about fifteen other select vocalist . There were many performances, concerts, and shows at school for John to prepare for with the orchestra, band, and choir and he continued lugging his accordion to his private lessons down the steet with Mr. Figone.
John Received lots of help and encourgement from his beautiful mother, Lucille, who demanded he have strict disipline and regularity in his musical world. She had a beautiful voice and certainly knew how to have fun too. John performed accordion music at family gatherings, parties, and at school when he brought the instrument in to "Share" with his classmates. However,there was nothing quite like having a Southern Pacific Railroad Mechanic for a lead singer, and his big grandpa John would step up with little "Johnny the 'accordeen' player" and Rock the house with a few Old Italian songs at a family gatherings. Grandpa John was a Great Dancer and Showman for sure ! Then there was George, John's Dad, who had popped out of the Marx Brother's mould and had a unique comedic way of playing harmonica that is nearly impossible to describe. George was a Great story teller, a natural born drummer, a mandolin player, and an overall entertainer in the extended family circle. John was completely blessed, then, to have been born into a family that weren't a bunch of SQUARES or social couch potatoes.
As he grew into a young teenager John continued his orchestral studies with Mr. Elkier at Edwin Markham Junior High with regular classes in 7th and 8th grade. In summer school he worked with other noted orchestra leaders. John even got to play some trap set dixieland music for the first time after he spotted an old bass drum foot pedal in the music closet and he was given permisssion to assemble a little drum kit from stuff lying around.
John's first interest in modern drumming arose in the Edwin Markham Junior High gymnasium where he became immediately mesmerized by live Rock and Roll at sock hops featuring local soul bands like the TORQUAYS, and latter went to the live concerts of Ray Charles and James Brown. He had met several young friends in orchestra class who actually had drum sets at home, and was soon able to rent a small set from Moyer Music with his lawn job money. In the beginning he learned the patterns and breaks for records like "Louie Louie", "Money", and "Wipe Out" which he had already been tapping out on tables, knees, and the floor. John spent long hours and months in his bedroom playing drums to popular Rock and Roll records that his sister Dianne had in her collection. He was a great listener and attempted to learn his parts note for note, always trying to get exactly the right feel for each hit record. Performing with a real Rock and Roll Band was not even a remote day dream possibility back then in the seventh or eighth grade for John Riolo, but little did he know what lie ahead. He once stated that "You can never see into your own future and I just kept mowing lawns and saving my dough so I could go downtown to Moyer Music and purchase my very own Drum Set. When I finally owned a Ludwig Blue Sparkle drum set I used to borrow my baby brother's wagon to transport it. I'd load the drums onto the Radio Flyer Junior and pull it up the street and around the corner to Al Ribisi's house to practice. Al Ribisi, a year ahead of me at Bellarmine Prep, didn't even know me or if I could play the drums well when he had first heard about my drumming. Al luckily came by to meet me one day when I was not home and peeped into my parents garage window and spotted the Blue Sparkle kit. I was hired immediately sight unseen to play drums in his band down the street called The Aardvarks, a surf music combo with a few other kids from the neighborhood. Later on Geoff, Robbie, and Dave came to one of our practices and asked Al and I to join up with them and we quit The Aardvarks.
JOHN HITS THE BIG STAGES WITH PEOPLE!
While John was with PEOPLE!(Dave Anderson vocals) the group performed at Bill Grahm's Filmore in San Francisco opening the show for a new group from Los Angeles called Love with Arthur Lee. They also did five nights with Van Morrison and THEM on their very first US tour at a local club in San Jose called "The Losers Club". PEOPLE! also appeared in concert with THE DAVE CLARK FIVE at the San Jose Civic Auditorium on one of their first US tours. John will never forget the big stage and lights that night and said that " The DC5 were a tight and powerful group, what a show... and they really blew the lid off the joint!". PEOPLE! performed with other locals Bands who had some national record success like Syndicate of Sound and Count 5. At the Santa Cruz Coconut Grove Ballroom they performed with a surf group who later became Harpers Bizzare and had a huge hit record with "Feeling Groovy". Ted Templeman was their guitarist/singer at that time and he later went on to produce "Van Halen" and "The Doobie Brothers".
In the year 1967 John was a junior in high school and the group PEOPLE! was about to go professional and tour extensively. He had not finished high school yet and could not travel more than on week-ends at the ripe age of 16-1/2 years, so PEOPLE! were forced to find a replacement. It was best that John graduate the next year from the famous Jesuit high school Bellarmine Prep to provide a solid foundation for his further education. John certainly feels that he was lucky to have worked with Larry Norman(who became the 'Godfather of Christian Music' and recorded well over 40 albums),his pal Al Ribisi(who owns LA Publishing and whose son is Giovanni the famous young actor), Geoff Levin(film score composer, great musician, top LA Record Producer), Robbie Levin(clothing mogul turned resort tycoon), and Gene Mason(life long professional entertainer, recording artist, bluegrass star).
The Rock Group PEOPLE! was a great experience for John, and he was very happy about all the new friends he had made around the Bay Area. John was always grateful that his life crossed paths with those talented boys and was rewarded richly with quality friendships and good experiences. "One thing I can definitely say about PEOPLE!", John has said, "is that they were all good boys and were a positive influence on my personal growth. They were always kind to me and had good manners on and off stage; I was steered free of trouble with those guys. When I had to be replaced, it was not exactly easy to say good-bye, but I was well known around town by that time and was immediately offered positions in some of the best bands.