Authors: Joel Selvin
Tags: #History & Criticism, #Music
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
Here Comes The Night : the dark soul of Bert Berns and the dirty business of rhythm & blues / Joel Selvin.
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.
Cover design by Jeff Miller, Faceout Studios
Interior Design by
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.
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10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Brett and Cassie
You made it possible
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Bert Berns (center) with Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd
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
George Goldner—record producer, Red Bird Records
Phil Spector—record producer, Philles Records
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Jerry Ragovoy—songwriter, record producer
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Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman—songwriters
Bob Feldman, Richard Gottehrer, Jerry Goldstein—songwriters
Don Kirshner—music publisher, Aldon Music
Jean and Julian Aberbach, music publishers, Hill & Range Music
Bobby Mellin—music publisher, Mellin Music
Morris Levy—Roulette Records
Florence Greenberg—Scepter Records
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
And many more . . .
Berns with the Goya guitar at his penthouse
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.