Bert Berns  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Bertrand Russell Berns (November 8, 1929 - December 30, 1967) (a/k/a Bert Russell and Bert Berns and Russell Byrd) was one of the great American songwriters and record producers of the 1960s. A pioneer of sixties rock and soul, Berns' contributions to popular music are among the most significant of his generation. His untimely death from heart failure at age 38 put a stop to a remarkable run of success as songwriter, producer and record label chief.

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". 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 "Gloria"), and Lulu.

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

Bert Berns' death in the last days of 1967 marked an end to the golden era of rock and soul music. One of his last songs, "Piece of My Heart", was originally recorded that year by Erma Franklin, 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 BMG, 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.

Selected writing credits

Selected producer credits

Selected discography

  • The Heart and Soul of Bert Berns (2003) a CD encompassing some of Berns' best work.
  • 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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bert Berns" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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