Bert Berns

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Bert Berns
Birth name Bertrand Russell Berns
Also known as Bert Russell
Born (1929-11-08)8 November 1929
Origin New York, New York, United States
Died 30 December 1967(1967-12-30) (aged 38)
Genres Pop, R&B, rock and roll, soul
Occupations songwriter, record producer, label executive
Years active 1960s
Website bertberns.com

Bertrand Russell Berns (8 November 1929 – 30 December 1967), most commonly known as Bert Berns as well as Bert Russell and (occasionally) Russell Byrd, was an American songwriter and record producer of the 1960s. A pioneer of sixties rock and soul, Berns made several notable contributions to popular music, including "Here Comes the Night", "Piece of My Heart", "Hang on Sloopy", and "Twist and Shout". He died of heart failure at age 38.

Biography[edit]

Born in the Bronx, New York City, to Russian Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, an illness that would mark the rest of his life. Turning to music, he found consonance in the sounds of his African American and Latino neighbors. As a young man, Berns danced in mambo nightclubs, and made his way to Havana before the Cuban Revolution.

Shortly after his return from Cuba, Berns began a seven-year run from an obscure Brill Building songwriter to the chief of his own record labels. His first hit record was "A Little Bit of Soap", performed by The Jarmels in 1961. One year later, the Isley Brothers recorded "Twist and Shout", written by Berns and Phil Medley. During these years, Berns wrote and produced records for a wide range of labels, including Wand, United Artists, Capitol, Laurie, MGM, Big Top, Old Town, Roulette, and Atlantic Records. In 1963, Berns would replace Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as the staff producer at Atlantic, where he produced such acts as Solomon Burke ("Cry to Me" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"), The Drifters ("Under the Boardwalk" and "Saturday Night at the Movies"), Barbara Lewis ("Baby I'm Yours" and "Make Me Your Baby"), Little Esther Phillips ("Hello Walls"), Wilson Pickett and LaVern Baker. Berns was also one of the few American record producers to travel across the Atlantic to London, where he produced a number of British Decca artists such as Them ("Here Comes the Night", "Baby Please Don't Go") and Lulu.

In 1965, Bert Berns formed his own record labels, Bang Records and Shout Records. Bang Records was founded with the Atlantic Records partners, with the label's name derived from the initials of their first names—Bert Berns, Ahmet Ertegün, Nesuhi Ertegün and Gerald (Jerry) Wexler. Bang was home to such artists as The McCoys ("Hang on Sloopy"), The Strangeloves ("I Want Candy"), Them's ex-lead singer Van Morrison ("Brown Eyed Girl"), and Neil Diamond ("Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry"). Berns formed Shout Records as an outlet for his R&B passions, recording Freddie Scott ("Are You Lonely for Me Baby") and Erma Franklin ("Piece of My Heart").

Berns, who had a history of cardiac trouble, died of a heart attack in December 1967 aged 38.

One of his last songs, "Piece of My Heart", was originally recorded that year by Erma Franklin and covered shortly later by Big Brother and the Holding Company (fronted by then-unknown Janis Joplin). The Led Zeppelin outtake "Baby Come On Home" (originally titled "A Tribute To Bert Berns") was loosely based on a song Berns wrote for Hoagy Lands, and was recorded in Berns' honour. While the Bang/Shout Records catalogue is today owned by Sony Music, the Berns family still owns the music publishing operations originally called Web IV Music. The Web IV name was also derived from the founders with WEB as an acronym for Wexler-Ertegun-Berns and the Roman numeral IV for the four original partners.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

Bert Berns was nominated for induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.

A book on his life and career, "Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues" by Joel Selvin is being published for spring, 2014 release.

Legacy[edit]

Though not as widely known as his Brill Building contemporaries, Bert Berns ranks among the most significant and influential of his generation, on a par with the writer / producer teams of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and Holland–Dozier–Holland. Beyond his enormous contribution to artists such as The Isley Brothers, The Exciters, Solomon Burke, The Drifters, Ben E. King, Van Morrison, and Neil Diamond, Berns has been credited with bringing Latin rhythms to soul music and soul to rock and roll.[2]

Selected writing credits[edit]

Selected producer credits[edit]

Selected discography[edit]

  • The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns (2003) a CD encompassing some of Berns' best work.
  • Twist and Shout: The Bert Berns Story - Vol. 1: 1960-1964 (2008), a CD featuring more than two dozen of Berns' R&B and rock hits, released through Ace Records of England.
  • Mr. Success: The Bert Berns Story - Vol. 2: 1964-1967 (2010), a CD featuring more than two dozen of Berns' R&B and rock hits, released through Ace Records of England.

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Joel Selvin (2014). Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues. Counterpoint. p. 320. , ISBN 1619023024

External links[edit]