The Rivieras were made up of teenagers from South Bend Central High School. (This group should not be confused with the Coed Records East Coast rhythm & blues group of the same name who had hits in the late 50s and the early 60s.) Originally called the Playmates, they were forced to change their names as there was already a group playing under that name. They decided to rename themselves after the Buick Riviera.
The Rivieras were one of the many groups in America that became part of the “frat rock” movement in the early 1960s. The group had their greatest hit in 1964 with “California Sun”, which reached No. 5 on the main US pop music chart. In fact, “California Sun” was one of the last pure American rock-and-roll songson the Billboard Hot 100 chart before the “British Invasion”, reaching its peak chart position the same week as the Beatles topped the chart with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
In addition to their one hit, the Rivieras scored three more songs in 1964 that dipped into the Billboard Hot 100: “Let’s Have a Party” (#99), “Little Donna” (#93) and “Rockin’ Robin” (#96). Also that year, their debut album, Let’s Have a Party, peaked at No. 115 on the Billboard 200.
Both personal reasons and drastic changes in pop music led to the split-up of the group in 1966.
Nuss, Gean, and Fortson revived the Rivieras in 1980, and in 1987, this lineup recorded a 10-track vanity album to be sold at appearances.
The band was revived in 2000 under the name Wildcat by original members Marty Fortson (vocals, rhythm guitar), Joe Pennell (lead guitar), and Paul Dennert (drums) in addition to Kevin Szucsits (keyboard, bass). The name change came as a result of original Rivieras members Otto Nuss (organ) and Doug Gean (bass) retiring from performing, and was also named after the Buick Wildcat. With the name change came a style change as well, playing a more modern, hard rock sound.
Founding member Joe Pennell died on April 21, 2011, at the age of 66.Marty Fortson died on September. 26, 2012.