Bert Berns - 1929 - 1967
Bert Berns was a songwriter and a producer, responsible for some of the most popular songs released in the 1950s and
1960s. He worked with The Isley Brothers, The Drifters, Them, Van Morrison, and many other artists during his
career. He was born to russian immigrants sometime in 1929, and grew up in what his brother Brett described as "a tough
New York neighborhood." Here, he was exposed to the music of Blacks and Puerto Ricans, which affected him for the
rest of his life. Much of his work was related to soul music and salsa music, and he had a tendency to integrate these
styles of music into his other work, and was responsible for a great deal of integration of these styles with mainstream
As a young man, he was very interested in music, and attended the Julliard School of Music. He started his career as a
record salesman, but soon started to find himself drawn into other aspects of the music industry. By the 1950s, he had
played music in clubs throughout the Carribbean, and had begun writing his own songs. He generally didn't write songs
under his real name, choosing instead to write under a variety of pseudonyms, most commonly writing as Bert Russel and
Russell Byrd. In 1960, he teamed up with Phil Medley, and the two wrote quite a few songs, including one of Berns's most
famous, Twist and Shout. Before long, he was hired at Atlantic Records as the writer and producer for The
Drifters. His work with The Drifters is a great (although subtle) example of the way in which he merged the music he grew
up with into mainstream music. Under the Boardwalk, specifically, characterizes this.
As the 1960s wore on, Berns moved to England, and began working with several groups there. The most notable of the
groups that he worked with was Them, a band fronted by Van Morrison. Though Van Morrison was writing quite a few songs
for the group at this time, Berns also wrote quite a few of their songs. Berns returned to the US in 1965, but he also
invited Van Morrison to come work with him if he desired. 1965 saw both the release of one of Berns' biggest hits, Hang
on Sloopy and the founding of Bang!, Berns's record label. And, true to his roots in soul, Berns also created
Shout, a smaller division of Bang!, focusing on releasing soul records.
Through Bang! Records, Berns was responsible for many of Neil Diamond's early (non-Monkees) hits, as well as the
release of Van Morrison's most famous song, Brown Eyed Girl. Berns arranged and produced Morrison's album
Blowin' Your Mind. Here, Berns's skill as a producer and promoter actually cause problems, because he wanted a more public
and commercial career for Morrison than the artist himself. Morrison wanted to be more of an
album-oriented aritst, which clashed with the more traditional singles-based artists that Bang! and Berns were used to.
The two eventually came to an agreement that allowed Van Morrison to get off of the Bang! label.
Unfortunately, Berns died of a heart attack on December 31, 1967, at the age of 38. As a child,
he had contracted rheumatic fever, which had weakened his heart, leaving it open for such an event. By the time of his
death, the world of music production had begun to shift from the traditional roots that Berns was familiar with and towards
a more artist-oriented industry. In Berns's time, the artists had only been a front for the more talented writers and
producers behind the scenes. But, by the time of his death, the role had begun to switch. Nonetheless, Berns's work as a
producer was excellent, and he had an incredible talent for writing pop songs and was a prolific writer. Bert Berns had a
great (although relatively anonymous) impact on the world of music.