Bert Sommer

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Bert Sommer
Bert Sommer in 1970
Bert Sommer in 1970
Background information
Birth nameBert William Sommer
Born(1949-02-07)February 7, 1949
New York, New York, U.S.
DiedJuly 23, 1990(1990-07-23) (aged 41)
Troy, New York, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, television performer
Years active1960s, 1970s
Labels
Associated acts
Websitewww.bertsommer.com

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[edit]

Sommer was born in New York City[1] and grew up in Queens and Hartsdale, New York, and was a self-taught musician (piano and guitar), who began writing songs in his teens.[1] He attended Woodlands High School as well as Quintano's School for Young Professionals in Manhattan. He became friendly with other young musicians and songwriters in the area, including Peter Sabatino, Leslie West, Tom Feher, and Michael Brown, and wrote several songs for West (then known as Weinstein)'s band, the Vagrants, including their single "Beside the Sea", co-written with producer Felix Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins.[2]

In 1967, Sommer joined Michael Brown's band, The Left Banke, as lead singer, replacing Steve Martin Caro and co-writing their single "And Suddenly" with Brown. He also sang lead on "Ivy Ivy", written by Tom Feher. The group (which included Michael McKean on bass) soon fell apart, following legal threats by Martin's lawyers. In the same baroque vein as the Left Banke, Sommer wrote "Brink of Death", recorded by the band Childe Harold.

Next, he was recruited as a member of "the Tribe" for the musical Hair, and then promoted to the role of Woof. His "frizzed-out Afro" hair and eyes were featured on the Los Angeles Playbill for Hair in 1969.[1][2][3]

Sommer had been 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,[2] and Simon & Garfunkel's "America", after which he received the festival's first standing ovation.[4] Bert was accompanied by Ira Stone (guitar, Hammond Organ, Harmonica) and Charles Bilello on Bass. According to some accounts, because he was signed to a rival record label, none of his audio performance was made publicly available until 2009.[1] However, his performance singing "Jennifer" was captured in D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Woodstock Diary (1994). In 2019, the entire Bert Sommer set became part of the Woodstock 50th anniversary 38-CD set, restored by Andy Zax.

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[5] at,[6] for, and about the Woodstock festival,[7] about his experience there.[8] The song reached number 48 on the Hot 100 in September 1970.[9] 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.[10] A third album, Bert Sommer, was released on Buddah in 1971, but, like Sommer's other albums, was commercially unsuccessful.[2] Sommer spent some time in a rehabilitation facility in the early 1970s, then formed a trio in Brockport, New York. Sommer, Landis & Roberts, with Gary Roberts (also known as Johnny Rabb) and Rob Landis[10] played local clubs and cafes in the college town for a couple years.

While Sommer continued to write songs, he received another offer. 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. Again, the album was unsuccessful, and he was dropped by the label.[10] The follow-up album that never happened, to have been produced by Trevor Lawrence, contained songs such as "You", featured in the films The Patriot (1986) and Stella (1990).[10]

Sommer returned to Albany in August 1983 and almost immediately began to perform in local venues with Johnny Rabb, and Carla and Kevin McKrell, in The Fabulous Newports. He also teamed up with Eddie Angel and Johnny Rabb in The Poor Boys. His last performance was again with Rabb, at an outdoor concert in Troy, New York on June 11, 1990.

Sommer died in Troy, New York on July 23, 1990, after a long battle with a respiratory illness.[citation needed] He is buried in Valhalla, New York.

Discography[edit]

  • The Road To Travel (Capitol, 1968)
  • Inside Bert Sommer (Eleuthera, 1970)
  • Bert Sommer (Buddah, 1971)
  • Bert Sommer (Capitol, 1977)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Bruce Eder, Biography, Allmusic.com. Retrieved August 20, 2019
  2. ^ a b c d Sharon Watts, "We're All Playing In The Same Band", Shindig! No. 94, August 2019, pp.44–48
  3. ^ "Bert Sommer | THE GENTLEBEAR". Gentlebear.wordpress.com. May 2, 2010. Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  4. ^ Fusilli, Jim (August 6, 2009). "Woodstock's Forgotten Man". The Wall Street Journal.
  5. ^ Liesl Bradner (August 1, 2019). "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 January 30, 2020.
  6. ^ Brad Littlepround, Joanne Hague (2009). 40th Anniversary: Woodstock – Peace, Music & Memories, with Foreword by Artie Kornfeld, Epilogue by Wavy Gravy. Krause Publications, Inc., a subsidiary of F+W Media, Inc. ISBN 978-0-89689-833-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ "Bert Sommer". Psychedelicized. Retrieved January 30, 2020.
  8. ^ James Stafford (October 2, 2016). "From The Stacks: Bert Sommer — 'We're All Playing In the Same Band' (White Label Promo)". Why It Matters. Music. Stories. Essays. Records. Retrieved January 30, 2020.
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 657. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  10. ^ a b c d Robert Ian Hawdon, "Bert Sommer – The forgotten Woodstock artist", 8 August 2019. Retrieved August 21, 2019

External links[edit]