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Authors: Joel Selvin

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Here Comes the Night

BOOK: Here Comes the Night
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Copyright © 2014 Here Comes the Night LLC

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Selvin, Joel.

Here Comes The Night : the dark soul of Bert Berns and the dirty business of rhythm & blues / Joel Selvin.

pages cm

ISBN 978-1-61902-378-9

1. Berns, Bert. 2. Sound recording executives and producers--United States--Biography. 3. Rhythm and blues music--New York (State)--New York--History and criticism. I. Title.

ML429.B357S45 2014

782.421643092--dc23

[B]

2013043961

Cover design by Jeff Miller, Faceout Studios

Interior Design by
meganjonesdesign.com

Photo Credits: Getty Images; 24, 40, 80, 134, 338, 422, William “PoPsie” Randolph; title page, 274.,Broadcast Music Inc.; 154, 196, 226.,Carmine DeNoia; 318., Author; 117. George Schowerer; 174. All others courtesy the Berns family.

COUNTERPOINT

1919 Fifth Street

Berkeley, CA 94710

www.counterpointpress.com

Distributed by Publishers Group West

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

contents
INTRODUCTION

        
I.
     
Bronx [1950] + Havana [1958]

      
II.
     
Washington, DC [1947]

     
III.
     
New York City [1955]

      
IV.
     
1650 Broadway [1959]

       
V.
     
Atlantic Records [1955–60]

     
VI.
     
A Little Bit of Soap [1961]

    
VII.
     
Brill Building [1961]

  
VIII.
     
Cry to Me [1962]

     
IX.
     
If I Didn’t Have a Dime (to Play the Jukebox) [1962]

       
X.
     
On Broadway [1963]

     
XI.
     
Cry Baby [1963]

    
XII.
     
Twist and Shout [1963]

  
XIII.
     
My Girl Sloopy [1964]

   
XIV.
     
Here Comes the Night [1964]

     
XV.
     
Hang on Sloopy [1965]

   
XVI.
     
Half as Much [1965]

  
XVII.
     
I’ll Take You Where the Music’s Playing [1965]

XVIII.
     
Up in the Streets of Harlem [1966]

   
XIX.
     
Are You Lonely for Me Baby [1966]

     
XX.
     
I Got to Go Back [1966]

   
XXI.
     
Heart Be Still [1967]

  
XXII.
     
Piece of My Heart [1967]

BERT BERNS DISCOGRAPHY [COMPILED BY ROB HUGHES]
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
BIBLIOGRAPHY

To Brett and Cassie

You made it possible

Also by Author

Ricky Nelson: Idol For a Generation

Monterey Pop

WITH JIM MARSHALL

Summer of Love

Mid-Life Confidential

WITH STEPHEN KING, DAVE BARRY, AMY TAN, AND OTHERS

San Francisco: The Musical History Tour

Sly & the Family Stone: On the Record

Treasures of the Hard Rock Cafe

WITH PAUL GRUSHKIN

Smart Ass: The Musical Journalism of Joel Selvin

Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock

WITH SAMMY HAGAR

Peppermint Twist: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Nightclub of the ’60s

WITH JOHN JOHNSON JR.

Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoos

WITH ED HARDY

Bert Berns (center) with Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd

 

 

Starring

Bert Berns—songwriter, record producer, Bang Records

Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler—Atlantic Records

Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller—songwriters, record producers, Red Bird Records

Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich—songwriters, record producers

The Producers

George Goldner—record producer, Red Bird Records

Phil Spector—record producer, Philles Records

Luther Dixon—songwriter, record producer, Scepter Records

Jerry Ragovoy—songwriter, record producer

The Songwriters

Burt Bacharach—songwriter

Carole King, Gerry Goffin—songwriters

Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman—songwriters

Bob Feldman, Richard Gottehrer, Jerry Goldstein—songwriters

Wes Farrell—songwriter

Music Publishers

Don Kirshner—music publisher, Aldon Music

Jean and Julian Aberbach, music publishers, Hill & Range Music

Bobby Mellin—music publisher, Mellin Music

The Engineers

Tom Dowd—Engineer

Brooks Arthur—Engineer

Phil Ramone—Engineer

Label Owners

Morris Levy—Roulette Records

Florence Greenberg—Scepter Records

With

Carmine De Noia (“Wassel”)—artist manager

Tommy Eboli—acting capo, Genovese family

Patsy Pagano—union official, Genovese family

Sonny Franzese—Colombo family

And Musical Appearances by

Van Morrison

Neil Diamond

Solomon Burke

Freddie Scott

The Drifters

The Beatles

And many more . . .

Berns with the Goya guitar at his penthouse

 

 

INTRODUCTION

B
ERT BERNS WAS
one of the great originals of the golden age of rhythm and blues. He prospered and thrived under the auspices of Atlantic Records, a company devoted to authentic, vibrantly musical rhythm and blues records at the forefront of the art form. Under the beneficent encouragement of Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, Berns developed into one of the leading record men of his day. His records with Solomon Burke established Burke as one of the most formidable figures of the rhythm and blues world, shoulder to shoulder with peers such as Sam Cooke, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and Ray Charles. He brought the heart of the mambo into rock and roll—not the supple Brazilian samba rhythms found in records by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller or Burt Bacharach, but fiery Afro-Cuban incantations that pulsed with sex and sin. Almost alone among his contemporaries on the New York scene, Berns traveled to England as his song “Twist and Shout” rose as an anthem to a new generation of British musicians, where he made key records in the country’s pop transformation. As he devoted more time to running his own record label, Bang Records, Berns started the careers of future giants Van Morrison and Neil Diamond.

All the time Berns was making records, he was in a hurry. After falling ill with rheumatic fever as a teenager, Berns was told he wouldn’t live to see twenty-one. He didn’t even start in the record business until he was thirty-one years old, and once he started, success couldn’t come quick enough for him. He devoured his career. He vaulted from the ranks of the amateur into the highest realms of the music world in less
than two years, and his ambition never flagged. The ever-present damaged heart drove him relentlessly, as it filled his waking hours with the terror of death, fears he masked with a carefree, happy-go-lucky façade.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick
. Only a few intimates knew that Berns was standing on a trapdoor. It leaked into his songwriting. Other writers could employ the songwriting clichés around hearts without irony, but for Berns, these similes and metaphors were his life. The cries by his singers came from deep within Berns. He was a man with a bum ticker and he carried his doom like a cloak around his shoulders. For Berns to write
take it . . . take another little piece of my heart
was a plea straight from his life. When his own dark tragedy combined with the pathos of his music, his life took on epic dimensions.

At the end of his life, as the stakes rose sharply and events spiraled out of his control, Berns associated with big-time operators in organized crime, both personally and professionally. It caused a fissure in his world, but Berns was comfortable with these men and what they represented. He was a man who needed to take shortcuts. Threatened by a fatal catastrophe, surrounded by a world where moral boundaries blurred easily, Berns broke some eggs making omelets. In the end, his inflexible fate collided with his greatest aspirations and their frustration, a cataclysmic denouement of almost operatic grandeur.

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