The life and work of Bert Berns have been subject to a considerable amount of media reappraisal since we issued our second volume of his songs and productions in 2010. In recent months he has become the subject of a biography by noted music writer Joel Selvin and a stage musical based on his story enjoyed a successful run off-Broadway in New York. A documentary film is also awaiting release. It seems more and more people are at last beginning to wake up to something hardcore Berns aficionados have known for years – a lot of genius went into a career that spanned barely 10 years.
Berns, who suffered from rheumatic fever as a teenager, was driven by the knowledge his days were probably numbered, and crammed a lot into his brief career. Our third collection spans one of his earliest recorded songs, ‘I’m Gonna) Cry Some Tears’ by Hoagy Lands from 1960, through to ‘Open Up Your Soul’ by Erma Franklin from 1967, one of his final productions.
A few of the songs also featured in previous volumes, but in very different treatments. One notable exception is the Shirelles’ recording of ‘Twist And Shout’, which uses the same backing track as the Isley Brothers’ version. Several of the featured artists – Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Ben E King, the Exciters and Van Morrison, for example – worked with Berns extensively. Others such as Tammy Montgomery, Roy Hamilton, Baby Washington, Roy C, Wilson Pickett, Tami Lynn and LaVern Baker recorded just one session with him, but their catalogues were enhanced immeasurably by the liaison. Examples of Berns’ productions for almost every label he worked for are included, while the maestro himself can be heard, under his alias Russell Byrd, calling out instructions on how to do the ‘Hitch Hike’.