Think of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, think of Baby Please Don’t Go or Here Comes The Night by Them featuring Jimmy Page, Piece Of My Heart, or Under The Boardwalk by the Drifters and the name of New York songwriter, producer and record company exec Bert Berns probably won’t spring to mind, but he had a hand in every one of them and many many more.His impact on music was extraordinary and widely unknown.
I first came across his name in a Radio 2 programme about producers presented by Charlie Gillett, a man with impeccable taste in r’n’b, soul and reggae.Any album he recommended was a risk free purchase, it would be great. I duly purchased The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns and the only thing less than perfect about it was the sub 30 minute running time. It includes the Isley Brothers Twist and Shout ad Solomon Burke’s Cry To Me, covered by the Beatles and the Stones respectively.
He worked with songwriters Goffin and King. And co-wrote with Lieber and Stoller I’d be interested to read the book Ivylander mentioned in the Carole King thread to find out more. In Lieber and Stollers auotobiography Hound Dog he gets a single mention. Atlantic boss Jerry Wexler said about him “if I knew where he was buried I’d piss on his grave” so I suspect he didn’t win any popularity contests. My copies of Charlie Gillett’s books The Sound Of The City and Making Tracks
Atlantic Records and the Making of a Multi-billion-dollar Industry have been on “loan” for the last 6 years so I can’t refer to them.
When I discovered that he produced blind Cuban tres player Arsenio Rodriguez – who may have come on some AW’ers radar when Elvis Costello and Tom Waits guitarist Marc Ribot released a couple of albums covering his songs. – I was surprised to put it mildly. Thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. While Lieber and Stoller were spicing their R’n’B with Brazilian rhythms, Bert Berns was adding Arsenio’s Afro Cuban fire to his.
If anyone has knowledge of Bert Berns and any favourites please post away.