Bert Berns

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"Bert Russell" redirects here. For the British mathematician, see Bertrand Russell.
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
Occupation(s) 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 numerous contributions to popular music, including "Twist and Shout", "Piece of My Heart", "Brown Eyed Girl", "Here Comes the Night", "Hang on Sloopy", "Under the Boardwalk" and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love". He died of heart failure at age 38.

Early life[edit]

Born in the Bronx, New York City, to Russian Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, an illness that damaged his heart and 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.[1]

Music career[edit]

Beginnings (1960-1963)[edit]

Shortly after his return from Cuba, Berns began a seven-year run from an obscure Brill Building songwriter to owner of his own record labels. He signed as a $50/week songwriter with Robert Mellin Music at 1650 Broadway in 1960. His first hit record was "A Little Bit of Soap", performed by The Jarmels on Laurie Records in 1961. One year later, the Isley Brothers recorded "Twist and Shout" on Wand Records, written by Berns and Phil Medley. Berns also hit in 1962 with The Exciters' "Tell Him" on United Artists, and with Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me" on Atlantic Records. As an independent producer working with a myriad of record labels, Berns also made important records with Garnet Mimms ("Cry Baby") and Gene Pitney ("If I Didn't Have a Dime (to Play the Jukebox)".

Atlantic Records (1963-1965)[edit]

Berns' early work with Solomon Burke brought him to the attention of Atlantic label chiefs Ahmet Ertegün and Jerry Wexler. In 1963, Berns replaced Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as the staff producer at Atlantic, where he wrote and produced hits for Solomon Burke ("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"), Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett and LaVern Baker.

British Invasion (1964-1965)[edit]

With many of Berns' songs being recorded by British Invasion bands such as The Beatles ("Twist and Shout"), The Rolling Stones ("Cry to Me") and The Animals ("Baby Let Me Take You Home"), Berns became the first American record producer to travel across the Atlantic to work in London.[2] He went to England three times between 1964 and 1965, where he produced a number of British Decca artists such as Van Morrison's Them ("Here Comes the Night", "Baby Please Don't Go") and Lulu.

Bang Records (1965-1967)[edit]

In 1965, Bert Berns formed his own record label, Bang 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").

Shout Records (1966-1967)[edit]

With Bang Records releasing predominantly rock and roll, Berns formed Shout Records in 1966 as an outlet for his greatest passions of R&B and soul music, recording artists such Freddie Scott ("Are You Lonely for Me Baby") and Erma Franklin ("Piece of My Heart"). One of his last songs, "Piece of My Heart", was covered shortly thereafter by Big Brother and the Holding Company (fronted by then unknown Janis Joplin).

Legacy[edit]

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

Though not as widely known as his 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.[3]

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.[4]

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 was published in 2014.[5]

A musical, "Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story" by Daniel Goldfarb premiered Off Broadway in 2014 at the Pershing Square Signature Center.[6]

A documentary film titled "BANG - The Bert Berns Story" is planned for release in 2015.[4]

Selected writing credits[edit]

Selected producer credits[edit]

Selected discography[edit]

  • The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns (2003) a CD compiled by Doug Morris and Universal Music 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.
  • Hang on Sloopy: The Bert Berns Story - Vol. 3 (2014), a CD featuring more than two dozen of Berns' R&B and rock hits, released through Ace Records of England.

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ Selvin, Joel. Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues. Counterpoint Press, 2014, p.23
  2. ^ Selvin, Joel. Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues. Counterpoint Press, 2014, p.222
  3. ^ "New Bert Berns Collection". Blogcritics.org. Retrieved 2002-09-20. 
  4. ^ a b Rohter, Larry. "Many Hit Wonder, Out of Obscurity" The New York Times, 16 July 2014
  5. ^ Gordon, Robert. "Hit Man" The New York Times, 30 May 2014
  6. ^ "Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story", website for off-Broadway musical
  7. ^ Dusty Springfield: Dusty Devotedly - Dusty Definitely

External links[edit]