Bert Sommer in 1970
|Birth name||Bert William Sommer|
|Born||February 7, 1949|
Albany, New York, United States
|Died||July 23, 1990 (aged 41)|
Troy, New York, United States
|Occupation(s)||Singer, songwriter, television performer|
|Years active||1960s, 1970s|
Bert William Sommer (February 7, 1949 – July 23, 1990) was an American folk singer, songwriter and actor. He appeared in the musical Hair and at the Woodstock Festival, and released several albums as a singer-songwriter.
Life and career
Sommer grew up in Queens, New York, learned piano and guitar, and began writing songs when in his teens. He attended Woodlands High School. He became friendly with other young musicians and songwriters in the area, including Michael Brown and Leslie West, and wrote several songs for West's band, the Vagrants, including their single "Beside the Sea", co-written with producer Felix Pappalardi and his wife Gail.
In 1967, Sommer joined Michael Brown's band, The Left Banke, as lead singer, replacing Steve Martin and co-writing their single "And Suddenly" with Brown, but the group soon fell apart following legal threats by Martin's lawyers. Sommer also wrote "Brink of Death", recorded by the band Childe Harold. Shortly afterwards, he was recruited as a cast member of the musical Hair, soon being promoted to the role of Woof. His "frizzed-out Afro" hair and eyes featured on the playbill for Hair in 1969.
He was signed by Capitol Records, and in June 1969 released his first album, The Road to Travel, produced by Artie Kornfeld as were his next two albums. Kornfeld's involvement with the Woodstock Festival led to Sommer being invited to perform there. He was the third act to perform on the opening Friday, August 15, 1969. He sang ten songs, including "Jennifer", a song inspired by his fellow Hair performer, Jennifer Warnes, and Simon & Garfunkel's "America", after which he received the festival's first standing ovation. Bert was accompanied by Ira Stone (guitar, Hammond Organ, Harmonica) and Charles Bilello on Bass. However, because he was signed to a rival record label, a recording of his performance was not made publicly available until 2009.
Sommer's second album, Inside Bert Sommer, was released in May 1970 on the Eleuthera label, a subsidiary of Buddah Records, and featured the single "We're All Playing in the Same Band", which he wrote at, for, and about the Woodstock festival, about his experience there, reaching number 48 on the Hot 100 in September 1970. Sommer continued to perform in and around New York, often opening the bill for major acts such as Ike and Tina Turner and the Byrds. A third album, Bert Sommer, was released on Buddah in 1971 but, like Sommer's other albums, was commercially unsuccessful. Sommer spent some time in a rehabilitation facility in the early 1970s, and then formed a trio, Sommer, Landis & Roberts, with Gary Roberts (also known as Johnny Rabb) and Rob Landis.
While Sommer continued to write songs, he returned to acting. After being encouraged to audition by music producer Artie Ripp, he appeared as "Flatbush" of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs on The Krofft Supershow in 1976, but did not reprise the role in the second season. In 1977, his fourth album, also titled Bert Sommer, produced in Los Angeles by Ron Dante, was released by Capitol Records, but was again unsuccessful and he was dropped by the label.
He returned to Albany in the early 1980s and continued to perform with Johnny Rabb in a band, The Fabulous Newports. He also continued to record demos in the hope of getting a record deal; one track, "You", was featured in the films The Patriot and Stella. His last performance was in Troy on June 11, 1990, with Rabb.
Sommer died in Troy, New York on July 23, 1990, after a long battle with a respiratory illness.
- The Road To Travel (Capitol, 1968)
- Inside Bert Sommer (Eleuthera, 1970)
- Bert Sommer (Buddah, 1971)
- Bert Sommer (Capitol, 1977)
- Scott Blackerby. "Sommer, Bert". Reston, Virginia: BadCat Records. Retrieved 2013-01-21.
- Bruce Eder, Biography, Allmusic.com. Retrieved 20 August 2019
- Sharon Watts, "We're All Playing In The Same Band", Shindig! #94, August 2019, pp.44-48
- "Bert Sommer | THE GENTLEBEAR". Gentlebear.wordpress.com. 2010-05-22. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
- Fusilli, Jim (August 6, 2009). "Woodstock's Forgotten Man". The Wall Street Journal.
- Liesl Bradner (2019-08-12). "He Got a Standing Ovation at Woodstock - and Then ... Not Everyone Who Performed at Woodstock Is Famous 50 Years Later. Here's What Happened to One Forgotten Star". Time. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
- Brad Littlepround, Joanne Hague (2009). 40th Anniversary: Woodstock - Peace, Music & Memories, with Forward by Artie Kornfeld, Epilogue by Wavy Gravy. Krause Publications, Inc., a subsidiary of F+W Media, Inc. ISBN 978-0-89689-833-2.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- "Bert Sommer". Psychedelicized. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
- James Stafford (2016-10-02). "From The Stacks: Bert Sommer — 'We're All Playing In the Same Band' (White Label Promo)". Why It Matters. Music. Stories. Essays. Records. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 657. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- Robert Ian Hawdon, "Bert Sommer – The forgotten Woodstock artist", 8 August 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2019
- Bert Sommer Official Web Site
- on YouTube
- The Wall Street Journal August 6, 2009: "Woodstock's Forgotten Man"
- ABC News Article (August 15, 2009): "Do You Remember Bert Sommer?"