This is the man who sang the wonderful tribute song
about our mutual Buddy Holly.
In 1962 He Made His Mark in the UK with “A Tribute to Buddy Holly”
(Interview Conducted by Beverly Paterson – TLM Staff Writer)
[Paterson notes: If you grew up in England during the early sixties, chances are you spent countless hours digging the wild and crazy sounds flying forth from every single imaginable corner of the country. And if you weren't listening to the radio, spinning records or attending live shows, you probably played in a band yourself. Great Britain truly was rife with rock and roll combos and musicians blessed with taste, style and ambition to permanently change the overall complexion of pop music.
Mike Berry is one such fellow who was part of the bustling environment and made quite a memorable mark. The London based singer and guitarist originally came to prominence in 1962, when his "A Tribute to Buddy Holly" disc hit the airwaves. Subsequent releases like "Don't You Think It's Time," "My Little Baby," "This Little Girl," "Who Will It Be," "That's All I Ever Wanted from You" and "Warm Baby" are only a brief mention of Mike's other notable sixties endeavors. Snatching the best elements of vintage rock and roll and adding his own personality to the package, Mike exhibits a sincere devotion to the music he performs. Here it is, forty-five years after his first record landed on the decks and he's still pleasing crowds with his buzzing brand of guitar pop rock.]
Beverly Paterson (TLM Staff Writer): Where were you born and raised?
Mike Berry: I was born in Northampton, England but was there only six weeks before being taken by my mother to live with her family in North Wales. Then from the age of about three we moved down to London and I've been here ever since.
Beverly: What are your earliest musical memories?
Mike: Courtesy of my mum and big sister Val, who now lives in Carlsbad, New Mexico, Glen Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" and "Sunrise Serenade," along with a few other records I can't remember. We used to play them on a wind up gramophone. I was the youngest of four and we could all sing and used to harmonize round the fire at Christmas.
Val sang like Doris Day and Eydie Gorme and my mum used to play piano and accordion at parties and Christmas. Val went out with one or two American service men and they'd bring the latest records to parties at our house. She finished up marrying one in the fifties and has lived in America ever since.
Beverly: What was the very first record you ever bought?
Mike: Elvis' "All Shook Up" on HMV Records at 78rpm - brilliant!
Beverly: Who would you say were your biggest influences?
Mike: Little Richard and Elvis were the biggest, followed closely by Fats Domino, Larry Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly.
Beverly: What was it about these artists that inspired you to play music?
Mike: Unlike Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and the swing era artists, these rock and roll guys were easier to sound like. Their tunes were simple, with only three or four chords and the lyrics were all about teenage angst, which we all identified with. But they were also a lot more raucous and exciting, which is what teenagers were desperate for, something we could all call our own and recreate with a small combo and basic instruments like guitar, bass and drums, not a twenty or thirty piece band.
Beverly: Do you remember the exact moment you said to yourself, "This is what I want to do and that's play music!"
Mike Berry - Baby I Don't Care
Mike: No, I don't think there was a "Eureka!" moment. I started singing in the church choir and just loved music. I found that when my voice broke I could still sing. I would emulate the likes of Frankie Laine, Pat Boone and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and found it easy. Then when rock and roll happened, that was it. I sang like everybody and I was like a one-man jukebox!
Beverly: How did you go about performing music?
Mike: I began singing to my friends, sitting on a bench by a grassy area at the bottom of my road, so it was just solo stuff to begin with. Then three of these friends and I formed a skiffle group, which is a bit like a jug band without the jug. I sang and played the washboard, which was the forerunner to the washing machine and it consisted of a piece of galvanized, corrugated steel fixed in a wooden frame, about 30" x 15" and originally used to scrub clothes clean in a tub of hot water. I put sewing thimbles on my fingers and scrubbed back and forward in time with the songs. It was really quite effective, except it almost drowned out my vocals.
Then there were two acoustic guitars, which were almost always out of tune and a tea chest bass. This was a box, literally a chest that loose tea was packed in. We were all about fifteen years old and were called the Rebels. We used to rehearse in the laundry room beneath the community hall, which served the flats in which some of my friends lived and where I used to live. Then we played the community hall itself but for no money.
We actually recreate the sound today as part of our set in the UK using those same improvised instruments.
Beverly: Where did your first professional live performance take place? What was the audience's reaction and were your nervous?
Mike: I was maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, and we were called Kenny Lord and the Statesmen. Get it? Lord? Statesmen? Subtle, eh!? It was my post-skiffle, first electric guitar band and we performed at the guitarist's dad's Italian dinner dance club. I seem to remember, through my slightly rose tinted glasses, that we were an unqualified success, although I suspect that most of the older members of the audience were thinking, "Mama Mia! What on earth is going on and where is the accordion player?!"
Beverly: As we all know, England was a hotbed of rock and roll in the early sixties. Did you have a feeling something special was happening?
Mike: As I said earlier, after the swing era, we kids were looking for something to make our own, something to identify with that was nothing to do with what had gone before and rock and roll was it! So yes, it was very special and we were on an all time expectant high.
Beverly: What was the atmosphere like with all those great groups kicking about? I can imagine you have some cool stories to tell about seeing these bands while they were still in their early stages.
Mike: The atmosphere was great, but we didn't really realize what was happening and we weren't sure it would last. Of course a lot of this feeling had to do with just being young and your hormones going ballistic, but rock and roll was a great release and enhanced the excitement of youth and all its positive sides, especially if you were performing.
As for the stories, it's difficult to know what was run of the mill and what was cool in hindsight. There were no drugs in the early days, just drink and girls, so it wasn't all bad! When I think back with whom I've toured and even topped the bill with, it's pretty mind blowing; but at the time, I thought nothing of it: The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and all the other Mersey bands, along with the Four Seasons, Brenda Lee, and the list is endless. But they were just gigs then.
Beverly: The first single you recorded with the Outlaws was "A Tribute To Buddy Holly," which is a fantastic disc. Did you have any idea the single would take off the way it did? According to history, it was extremely well received, but there was some controversy behind it because certain people thought it to be rather dark to sing about a deceased performer. That's unbelievable!
Mike: The first single I actually recorded was "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which was released on Decca. But it was not a great rendering and was annihilated by the Shirelles' wonderful version! "A Tribute To Buddy Holly" was written especially for me by Geoff Goddard and was my second foray into the record world and my first chart entry. I had no idea it would take off the way it did.
In fact, when the record first entered the charts, I was working in a music shop called coincidentally Berry's Pianos and I was walking up the road reading "The New Musical Express," a music paper equivalent to "Rolling Stone," and there I was, in the hit parade as we called it back then. The record was at something like number twenty-four.
I don't remember what I did next. I probably went back to work and rang Joe Meek to find out, "What happens next?" Not a lot it would seem! The record's climb up the charts was halted by the controversy surrounding a "death" record as they became known, and making money from it. The irony being I never got paid, and the people that did, like Joe Meek and EMI (the record company), weren't held to account.
It was me, a sincere eighteen year old fan, who innocently recorded a sincere tribute to one of his heroes, who bore the brunt of the abuse, although there was a lot of support from the fans and they bought the record despite the bad press and the BBC banning it. I think that may have actually helped the sales in retrospect. All the more for Joe and EMI!
Beverly: Yes, you worked with producer Joe Meek on your early recordings. How did you hook up with him and what was it like working with him? He was definitely a visionary of sorts.
Mike: As Kenny Lord and the Statesmen, we made a four-track demo recording in John Hawkins' living room. He was actually a recording engineer and had rigged up his home as a studio. The demo consisted of "Dream Lover," "Be Bop A Lula," "Please Don't Tease" and "Peggy Sue Got Married." Through a friend of a friend, Joe Meek heard the recording and got very excited and enthusiastic to sign me up as his "British Buddy Holly." In hindsight, maybe not the wisest career move, but who knows if I made the right choice?
The thing about working with Joe was, I had no experience with any other studios to know any different. It's only after the event one realizes how unorthodox and very talented Joe was. He was a true eccentric but a very disturbed and unstable character as evidenced by his untimely end. There is just too much about the man to go into an article like this, but for anyone interested in Joe, I can recommend the definitive biography written by John Repsch called "The Telstar Man." It's a great and accurate read with quotes and stories from all the people he worked with and was associated with, including me!
Mike in the 60's.
In 1962 He Made His Mark in the UK with “A Tribute to Buddy Holly”
(Interview Conducted by Beverly Paterson – TLM Staff Writer)
Beverly: You eventually moved into the production end of the music business yourself.
Mike: I have only produced in a small way and this started with writing and producing commercials in the UK in the seventies. There was another Mike Berry in the UK who I am sometimes confused with. He produced quite a few records, singles mostly, but more than I, although I don't think he had a great deal of success.
Beverly: What prompted you to try your hand at producing and tell us about some of the records you worked on.
Mike: I've always had an interest in recording and most things technical, so when I moved to my present house, in about 1978, I built a studio at the bottom of the garden - often referred to as "The Shed" - initially for producing demos of my and other friends' songs. But it gradually developed into a master recording base and I've been producing some, if not all, of my own recordings ever since. In the last couple of years, in fact still as we speak, I've been working in close cooperation with Albert Lee and Hogan's Heroes in the production, recording and mixing of their last two albums, "Tear it Up" and "Between The Cracks" in my "Shed," which is now officially known as Bulletproof Studios.
Beverly: Are there any other musicians you're just itching to work with? Musicians you would like to perform with or produce?
Mike: How long have you got?!!! Actually, not really "itching" but I wouldn't say no. Having worked with someone at the top of the talent tree like Albert Lee, I've been a bit spoiled and unfortunately a lot of my rock and roll heroes that I'd love to have worked with are no longer with us or just not available: Bobby Darin, a hugely underrated talent, Carl Perkins, James Burton, who is one of my all time favorite guitarists, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and—well, you get my drift?
I've no real ambitions in the production area; I'm not organized enough and I produce more by feel rather than with a great depth of technical knowledge. But the aforementioned artists are the kind of people I would like to work with. I did fulfill one of my ambitions and made an album called "About Time Too" with the Crickets at JI Allison's studio in Lyles near Nashville, with an old pal and great musician Chas Hodges producing, and that was brilliant. I could just see the guys with Buddy Holly, when they were young and bursting with ideas and enthusiasm and at the forefront of the rock and roll explosion, throwing ideas around and working on their new songs like "That'll Be The Day," "Not Fade Away," "Oh Boy" and "Looking For Someone To Love," which is a great favorite of mine.
And all those other great songs they wrote and recorded—can you imagine the excitement and feelings of elation listening back to their own creations? They must have known those tracks were all class songs and potential smash hits!
Beverly: Getting back to the sixties, you recorded a number of fabulous singles after "A Tribute To Buddy Holly." Obviously, the experience with that song didn't dampen your spirits and you carried on with confidence! Though you toured regularly throughout Europe, American audiences didn't have the pleasure of being introduced to your music. Was there ever talk of promoting you in the United States?
MIKE BERRY - A TRIBUTE TO BUDDY HOLLY
Mike: Although "A Tribute To Buddy Holly" broke out in a few states in the US and I received a very complimentary letter from Buddy's parents, it was pre-Beatles and British artists [that] weren't taken seriously. After all, we were, as we say here, "Taking coals to Newcastle,” Newcastle being a major coal-mining town in the UK. So British artists performing American music, usually not as well as American artists, didn't look like a great investment.
Our biggest name here was Cliff Richard with a whole string of Americanized hits in the UK and all over Europe, [which] proved that point much better than [me], returning home ignominiously. It's a bit like John Wayne or Fabian performing Shakespeare for Sir Lawrence Olivier and hoping for a contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It ain't gonna happen!
Beverly: What goes through your head when you're up there on stage performing? Do you ever get stage fright?
Mike: I get very nervous before a show, but once I'm on and involved with the music, the band, and the audience, I just love it and have a ball! There are certain set things I have to say about the songs and their writers and past performers, but I also respond spontaneously to the audience feedback.
Beverly: For those who haven't seen you live and in action, how would you describe your shows? What songs are typically included in your repertoire?
Mike: My shows tend to be a nostalgia trip back to my youth. I've performed many genres over the years but I always come back to the beginnings of rock and roll, as that's where my heart is. I also love good country music and it suits my voice. There are just so many great country songs and performers, a lot of which have their roots in the rock and roll music that I love. I perform a huge repertoire of songs but typically we stick with Buddy, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Nelson, Eddie Cochran, etc...I would love to do more black artists like Little Richard, Larry Williams and Fats Domino but I don't presume to do them justice vocally or with our limited instrumentation, Chuck Berry being the exception.
Beverly: How did the psychedelic era affect you? Did the music interest you at all and did you pursue any of these sounds yourself?
Mike: I couldn't have been more out of kilter and therefore less interested. I was on another planet and I don't mean on drugs. In fact, that was the problem. I didn't ever indulge and if you didn't, then it was like trying to hold a conversation with a drunk when you're stone cold sober. You can't! I found it all so self-indulgent and pretentious and all a bit "King's New Clothes," if you know the story. So obviously I didn't pursue any of those sounds myself. I sometimes wish I had but I'm not sure why. I suppose it's the thought I might have missed out!
Beverly: What did you think of the punk rock movement in the seventies?
Mike: I enjoyed some of it but ninety percent of it was compete dross. Just a bandwagon for talentless losers to jump on in the hope that no one would notice they couldn't do anything but bellow into a mic screaming nonsensical, or at best, doggeral lyrics with no discernable tune or message, and that they might get signed by some guillible record company, "talent scout" or tone deaf would be manager. I make this critique with some authority, as in my guise as producer with my own recording set up at home, I had the misfortune to record a couple of these phoney punks I refer to! In the end, it all became big business as usual and the street music went straight out the window, with most of the successful "punks" becoming establishment figures as the fires in their bellies died.
Beverly: The kind of music you love and play will clearly never go out of style. It's so pure and timeless. You can't help but notice how many younger people come to your shows. Have you had a chance to talk with these folks and find out how they discovered your records?
Mike: I hope and think you're right, as kids and oldies alike are discovering and rediscovering rock and roll. And when I talk to them, I'm just amazed at their resourcefulness in obtaining the music they want to hear, including mine! Ebay seems to play a big part too.
Beverly: Out of all the records you have released, what are some of your personal favorites? And what is it that you like about them?
Mike: I suppose "A Tribute To Buddy Holly" is among my favorite older recordings, and an unreleased version of "Somebody Stole My Girl" circa 1966. But my more recent recordings are closer to what I like to record, and so I'd have to say most of the album with the Crickets. Tracks such as "A Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache," "I'm Feeling Sorry," "Before I Grow Too Old" and "A Fool Such As I." There's also a live album we did called "Keep Your Hands To Yourself." I love that title track, "Stood Up," "I'm In Love Again" and a quite different arrangement of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore." I just love the feel and atmosphere these songs evoke.
Beverly: Are you presently recording a new album? What other projects are you currently working on?
Mike: No, I'm not recording at the moment but I would love to collaborate with another artist on something, maybe with a laid-back country flavor a la Don Williams, if I can find a willing victim! Remixing of the Albert Lee album is near completion, then who knows.