The cabbie king

John “Mad Dogg” Riegle

Photo By Jill Wagner

Cab drivers are often the focus of feature films (such as Night on Earth and Collateral). Perhaps it is the odd hours and anecdotal tales that attract filmmakers, and audiences, to the unique cabbie lifestyle. John “Mad Dogg” Riegle, owner of Mad-Dogg Taxi [(916) 247-RIDE], is a notorious figure in the local cabbie scene. Famous for his “Memphis Gangster” cab, personable service and uncanny ability to channel Elvis Presley, Riegle is Sacramento’s very own contribution to the Travis Bickles and Latkas of cabbie lore. Riegle is the proprietor of five local cabs, and he and his trusted drivers (including the infamous “Ghostbuster”) guarantee a 15-minutes-or-less response time and a fun, safe ride. Remember Riegle’s mantra: Elvis rides with the Dogg!

Your cab is decorated with Elvis paraphernalia and American iconography.

This is the Memphis Gangster. We call it the Freedom Flyer. It has 13 of my gold records on it, 35 pictures of me [Elvis], and will have a few more pictures on there pretty soon. Anyhow, a lot of folks in this town like Elvis.

So, what was your inspiration?

Elvis himself. He’s been my inspiration since I was a little boy. When I was 12 years old, we had no music. Nothing to click our fingers to. They had big-band sound, they had Guy Lombardo and “How much is that doggie in the window?"—who cares?—and Lawrence Welk. Kids didn’t enjoy that. 1956—I’m 12 years old and heard “That’s all right, Mama …” [he breaks into song]. We had music! Here’s what happened: Phoenix, Arizona. I’m farm boy. I heard the name Elvis, didn’t know what it meant. Nobody listened to radio; they had talk shows, no music really. The kids at school were saying, “You’ve gotta listen to the radio tonight at 6 o’clock.” The whole state must have tuned in at 6. Twelve hours, all night long, Elvis! No DJ. No commercials. They played one record, back to back: “That’s all right now, mama. That’s all right with you.” The next day, the Phoenix paper—God be my judge—wrote that the station broke every listening record in the entire state of Arizona for all time by playing one record all night long.

That was a pivotal moment?

Oh, we had music! And every few weeks, it seemed like another song, another song. Then, pretty soon, new artists were coming out: There was Fats Domino. Here comes Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens.

But Elvis stuck with you?

He had the beat, the music. I’ve lived every Elvis song, except for “Viva Las Vegas” and “Blue Hawaii.” He just didn’t have the looks; he had the stories, the charisma. … No matter what it is, we all have a little tiny bit of Elvis in all of us, whether we realize it or not. For 21 years, he was dirt poor, slept on floors, ate nothing; he was a sharecropper. Age 21—boom! Until he was 42, another 21 years of fame and fortune. Half and half. Elvis was born with a twin brother who died at birth, Jessie Garon [Presley]. His mama always swore he always had the energy of two.

So, why is your cab called the Memphis Gangster?

That came as a recommendation from one of my customers, a 12-year-old named JD. He said it was his favorite cab to ride in because of the tinted windows. He said it was a gangster car. Now, Elvis piled around with his cronies and called themselves the “Memphis mafia.” It kind of all just tied in together.

Are you an Elvis impersonator?

I am not just an Elvis impersonator; I can channel Elvis Aaron Presley. I just relax. Then it’s not me, and I watch myself be him. There’s a certain flow zone, and I pump myself up to it, and when it hits it, I know it’s him.

How long ago did you start this up?

I’ve been in the cab business for seven-and-one-half years. I started my own business about 17 months ago with just one taxi. I’m the most well-known driver in the Fulton/Marconi area; all the bars eventually came to me because I’m reliable. That’s my stamping grounds.

Is New Year’s busy?

Last New Year’s Eve, I knew we were going to be slammed. We had 423 calls. It’s hard to get a cab, but we scooped up all our fares in less than 20 minutes. The phone rings all night long. The main thing people in this town don’t have is a fast cab service. I run mine like a military operation. I’m military retired. Zip, zip, zip.

You like being a cabbie?

It’s not really work. I’m a juke-box junkie. When I’m out honky-tonking, they all know me as "Dancing John," because I’m one of the best freestyle dancers in town. I can dance down a bar top and back and not touch a beer glass, ashtray or eyelash. I just keep my adrenaline pumping all the time. This is the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done in my life.