The Rivieras formed in 1962 at South Bend Central High School in Indiana. Originally called The Playmates, they were forced to change their name and renamed themselves after a car, the Buick Riviera.
The band had their only hit in 1964 with a cover version of the song California Sun by Joe Jones. It was nudged out of the #1 spot on the US charts by The Beatles‘ I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Bo Fortson and Joe Pennell left the group for the Marine Corps shortly after releasing the single and were replaced by Jim Boal (lead guitar) and Willie Gaut (vocals, rhythm guitar) while the band’s manager, Bill Dobslaw, took over as lead vocalist.
Other members left the group under parental pressure to concentrate on their education, with replacements including Jeff McKew (vocals, guitar), Bobby Wantuch (drums), Rocky Geans (guitar, bass) and Terry McCoy (drums).
The band quit after two years due to a combination of the draft, multiple lineup changes and the shifting musical taste of the public (partially due to the British Invasion).
Fortson, Gean and Nuss reunited in the 1980s to perform again, recording a 10-track vanity album to be sold at appearances.
The band was revived in 2000 under the name Wildcat by Fortson, Pennell, and Dennert with Kevin Szucsits on keyboard and bass. The name (from the Buick Wildcat) followed the retirement of Gean and Nuss. With the name change came a more modern, hard rock sound.
Joe Pennell died on 21 April 2011, at the age of 66. Bo Fortson died on 26 September 2012 at the age of 67.
Marty “Bo” Fortson
Stanley “Chip” Baginski