Richard Berry was still in his teens when he hooked up with Modern Records. A hungry young multi-talented man, with a desire to learn, an envelope-pushing career vision and a willingness to experiment with any and every style of black music, he strove to perfect his craft. His extraordinary versatility was both a help and a hindrance to his career. A help in that it enabled him to apply himself to any strand of R&B from languid doo wop to feral New Orleans R&B, but a hindrance, perhaps, in that hardly any two consecutive singles by Richard sound like they are by the same person. His chameleon-like vocal persona may have prevented Richard from establishing a distinct identity on wax in his early days, but it certainly gave his RPM and Flair recordings a diversity that collectively makes them a fabulous listening experience.
What recordings they are, from first to last! There's consistent greatness in just about every groove, from Richard's youthful homage to the Fats Domino sound (I'm Still In Love With You his first solo release) through to the wild New Orleans session that brought the world Yama Yama Pretty Mama and the uninhibited rocker Mad About You at the same time as it brought Richard's time with Modern to a close. The sly, hip narratives of Next Time and Get Out Of The Car feature Richard's "Willie Mabon" voice one that he also used to such spectacular (and, at the time, incognito) effect on the Robins' Riot In Cell Bock # 9 as does Riot's "unofficial follow-up", The Big Break. Elsewhere in the CD, Richard's warm tenor-baritone can be heard assisting Etta James, as an unaccredited "Henry" on the R&B classic The Wallflower better known as Roll With Me Henry and a previously-unissued alternate take of its sequel, Hey Henry. And on ballads like I Am Bewildered, the doo wop gem God Gave Me You, a gently rockin' What You Do To Me (with the Flairs and the Crowns respectively) and his two ridiculously rare duets with Jennell Hawkins, we hear Richard as he himself liked to be heard best of all dark, deeply expressive and "au natural".
Most of these recordings have previously been released (although not always in these versions, of course). However, it's great to be able to bring something totally new to the table in the shape of Predoehlicious. This lengthy, and rare, example of Richard groovin' on piano with the Modern rhythm section seems to have been a warm-up for the I Am Bewildered session. The session engineer calls it as "Music take 2" (take 1 is a false start, by the way), but we have retitled it in honour of the world's #1 Richard Berry fan, Eric Predoehl a man who does more than most to keep Richard's name alive.
Yama Yama is the result of many hours of serious vault research. It presents for the first time in one package, a version of each and every one of the solo recordings that Richard Berry cut for the Modern group of labels. The finest tapes have been compared with original 45 and 78rpm sources to ensure that we have not inadvertently used an alternate take here when it was not actually our intention to do so. Some of the original mastertapes would seem to be permanently MIA, so where better-condition vinyl and 78 sources have since become available to us, we've also gone back and re-dubbed (and re-CEDAR'ed) those sources for inclusion here. Additionally we have attempted, where possible, to use alternate takes of those recordings Richard made with the Flairs, Etta James and the Dreamers, when the master takes are available on other Ace CDs by those acts. Unless any other long-lost master tapes do suddenly emerge and it's now unlikely that they will Yama Yama is the definitive compilation of Richard Berry's recordings for the Bihari brothers. Run, real fast, to your nearest record dealer and buy it now!
by TONY ROUNCE