|This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2009)|
|Birth name||Bertrand Russell Berns|
|Also known as||Bert Russell|
|Born||November 8, 1929|
|Died||December 30, 1967(aged 38)|
|Genres||Pop, R&B, rock and roll, soul|
|Occupation(s)||songwriter, record producer, label executive|
Bertrand Russell Berns (November 8, 1929 – December 30, 1967), commonly known as Bert Berns or Bert Russell but occasionally as Russell Byrd, was an American songwriter and record producer in 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 produced 51 hits in just seven years before dying of heart failure at age 38.
Born in the Bronx in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, an illness that would affect 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 journey from an obscure Brill Building songwriter to 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. While in London, Berns used teenaged guitarist Jimmy Page for the Them sessions, and later hired Page to play on some tracks when he visited in New York City.
In 1965, Bert Berns formed two record labels, Bang Records and Shout Records. Bang Records was founded with the Atlantic Records partners. 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, Ertegün and Wexler also formed a music publishing company, WEB IV, and Berns was also given partial ownership of Atlantic's publishing firm, Cotillion. In 1966, Berns had a personal and professional falling out with Wexler, and he was compelled to buy out his Atlantic partners of their Bang and WEB IV shares, and also sell back to Atlantic his piece of Cotillion. Nevertheless, Atlantic continued to allow Berns to be the producer for the Drifters, who were signed to Atlantic.
Berns, who had a history of cardiac trouble, died of a heart attack in December 1967 at age 38.
One of his last songs, "Piece of My Heart", was originally recorded that year by Erma Franklin and was covered shortly after 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 owned today 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.
Awards and honors
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, has been released. In 2014, an off-Broadway musical, Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, was produced in New York.
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.
Selected writing credits
- "A Little Bit of Soap" - The Jarmels (1961)
- "Twist and Shout" - The Top Notes (1961) / The Isley Brothers (1962) / The Beatles (1963)
- "Cry to Me" - Solomon Burke (1962)/ The Rolling Stones (1965)
- "Tell Him" - The Exciters (1962)
- "Cry Baby" - Garnet Mimms (1963) / Janis Joplin (1971)
- "One Way Love" - The Drifters (1963) / Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers (1964)
- "I Don't Want To Go On Without You" - The Drifters (1964) / The Moody Blues (1965)
- "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" - Solomon Burke (1964) / The Rolling Stones (1964)/ Wilson Pickett (1967)
- "Baby Let Me Take You Home" - The Animals (1964)
- "Here Comes the Night" - Lulu (1964) / Them (1965)
- "I Want Candy" - The Strangeloves (1965) / Bow Wow Wow (1982)
- "Hang on Sloopy" - The McCoys (1965)
- "Down in the Valley" - Solomon Burke (1964) Otis Redding (1965)
- "I'll Take Good Care Of You" - Garnet Mimms (1967)
- "Are You Lonely For Me Baby" - Freddie Scott (1967)
- "Piece of My Heart" - Erma Franklin (1967) / Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin (1968) / Dusty Springfield (1968)
- "Twenty Five Miles" - Edwin Starr (1968)
Selected producer credits
- "Cry to Me" - Solomon Burke (1962)
- "Twist and Shout" - The Isley Brothers (1962)
- "Nobody but Me" - The Isley Brothers (1963)
- "Under The Boardwalk" - The Drifters (1964)
- "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" - Solomon Burke (1964)
- "Here Comes the Night" - Lulu (1964)
- "Baby Please Don't Go" - Them (1965)
- "Here Comes the Night" - Them (1965)
- "Baby I'm Yours" - Barbara Lewis (1965)
- "Make Me Your Baby" - Barbara Lewis (1965)
- "Piece of My Heart" - Erma Franklin (1967)
- "Brown Eyed Girl" - Van Morrison (1967)
- 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.
- "Songwriter, Producer and Label Chief". Bert Berns. December 30, 1967. Retrieved June 6, 2014.
- Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, website for off-Broadway musical
- "New Bert Berns Collection". Blogcritics.org. Retrieved September 20, 2002.
- Dusty Springfield: Dusty Devotedly - Dusty Definitely
- 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