R & B Renaissance Man : Richard Berry©2008JCMarion


Richard Berry was born in April of 1935 in Extension, Lousiana, and then moved with his family to Los Angeles as a young boy . He suffered from the effects of polio as a young boy. His first love of music was when he learned to play the ukulele. By the time he was a teenager he was enamored of the vocal group sounds that were soon to become a staple of would be performers in the musical field known as Rhythm & Blues. He first came to notice in the music trade press during the summer of 1953. A group he was a member of called The Flairs were signed to the independent label Modern Records in L.A. Members of the group beside Berry were Obie Jessie, Cornelius Gunter, Thomas Fox, and Bev Thompson. The group also signs on to appear at Gene Norman's Blues & Jazz Jamboree at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Modern records the group on the songs "She Wants To Rock" and "I Had A Love" for the company's new Flair label # 1012. Later in the year Flair recorded Berry as a solo artist on the songs "I'm Still In Love With You" and "One Little Prayer" on # 1016. A group listed as The Hunters (actually The Flairs) recorded "Rabbit On A Log" / "Down At Hayden's" on Flair # 1017. Flair # 119 features The Flairs on "Tell Him You Love Him" and "You Should Care For Me". Late in the year a group called The Five Hearts (also The Flairs) record "Please Please Baby" and "Fine One" for Flair on # 1026.

Early in 1954 The Flairs record "Love Me Girl" and "Getting High" on # 1028. In April Flair released Berry in a duo mode listed as Rickey & Jenell (Hawkins) with "Each Step" and "This Time It's Real" on # 1033. During the summer "Baby Wants You" and "You Were Untrue" is issued on Flair # 1041. This was followed by another record by The Flairs - "This Is The Night For Love" and "Let's Make Some Love" on # 1044. By September Richard recorded with an all girl group called The Dreamers in which he sang lead on the song "Bye Bye" and "At Last" for Flair # 1052. In October Richard & The Dreamers appeared at the Johnny Otis Hep Cat Ball at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium. Also that month Flair releases Richard Berry on "The Big Break" (similar to The Robins "Riot In Cell Block #9" with Berry for Lieber & Stoller's Spark Records) and "What You Do To Me" on # 1055 with Arthur Lee Maye & The Crowns. "Break" gets great airplay in the Northeast led by Alan Freed who lends his own narrative over the closing sirens and machine gun sounds. The Flairs also record "I'll Never Let You Go" and "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Chill Me" on # 1056. The Dreamers return with "Daddy Daddy" and "Baby Darling" on # 1058. Richard Berry & The Flairs close out the year 1954 with "My Darling My Sweet" and "She Loves To Dance" on Flair # 1067.

In January of 1955, Richrd Berry & TheDreamers appear at Irving Granz big "Rock And Roll jamboree" at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. Also appearing were Joe Houston, Oscar McLollie, Marvin & Johnny, Chuck Higgins, The Dominos, Shirley Gunter & The Queens, The Medallions, Jewels, T-Bone Walker, and Gene & Eunice. Richard & The Dreamers recording od 'Daddy Daddy" is a good seller on the R & B charts in Southern California. Berry appears as vocalist on Etta James record of "The Wallflower" (with "Hold Me Squeeze Me" on the flip side) on Modern # 947. Originally called "Roll With Me Henry" as an answer to The Midnighters "Work With Me Annie", the Etta James song is sweeping the R & B charts and breaking out nationally. In February Flair Records releases "Uh! Oh! Get Out Of The Car" and "Please Tell Me" on # 1064 with vocal backing by Arthur Lee Maye & The Crowns. "Car" is also covered by The Treneir Twins for Epic. In March Richard signs on with the Modern Records Caravan, a touring show that also stars Etta James & The Peaches, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and the Big Jim Wynn Band, to tour the Southwest and Texas. In late April the tour continues in the Southeast for a series of one nighters. "Hey Henry" (with "Be Mine") is released by Modern on # 957, reprising the role of Berry as "Henry" from "The Wallflower". In May "God Gave Me You" and "Don't 'Cha Go" is released on Flair # 1068. This is followed by "Crazy Love" and "Next Time" on # 1071. In August "Together" and "Jelly Roll" are released by Flair on # 1075. In September Berry stars with Percy Mayfield and The Medallions do SRO business in two shows in Oakland, California. In November Richard appears on Hunter Hancock's television show in L.A. Richard Berry closes out a very busy year with a new record - this time on Modern's subsidiary label RPM. The songs are "Rockin' Man" and "Big John" recorded with the band of Maxwell Davis on RPM # 448. Richard also made some "guest" appearances on records by Arthur Lee Maye & The Crowns and Shirley Gunter & The Queens for the Modern and Flair labels.

In January of 1956 "Pretty Brown Eyes" and "I Am Bewildered" is released on RPM # 452. In June "Angel Of My Life" and "Yama Yama Pretty Mama" is recorded by Berry on RPM # 465. Richard & The Dreamers record "Wait For Me" and "Good Love" on RPM # 477. The Flairs re-record "She Loves To Dance" and "In Self Defense" on ABC Paramount # 9698. The group appears on the Alan Freed network radio program and perform both tunes. In August Berry files legal action against Modern Records claiming royalty payments to him were never made. In October Richard with The Pharaohs record "Teenagers Love Song" and "Watusi" on Class # 202. At years end a big holiday show is presented by Dick "Huggie Boy" Hugg at L.A.'s United Artists Theater. Along with Richard Berry appearing is Googie Rene, The Six Teens, Youngsters, Sonny Knight, and the Jake Porter band. In April of 1957 Richard Berry signs on with Flip Records in Los Angeles. Recording with his new group The Pharaohs, the first record is "Louie Louie" and "You Are My Sunshine" on Flip # 321. "Sunshine" immediately makes the pick hit lists in L.A. as sales are good. Hunter Hancock announces it as record of the week. The flip side "Louie Louie" picks up steam in the Bay area and the Pacific Northwest. In August the follow up by Richard & The Pharaohs is issued - "Take The Key (And Open My Heart)" and "No Kissin And A-Huggin" on Flip # 318. In September Richard Berry & The Pharaohs appear at a big R & B show presented by Earl McDaniels at the UA Theater. Also on stage are Franki Lymon, LaVern Baker, Young Jessie, The Hawkeyes, and others. Late in the year "Sweet Sugar You" and "Rock Rock Rock" on Flip # 327 is released by Richard & The Pharaohs. The year 1957 ends and it is not clear what the lasting effect on music history Berry's song "Louie Louie" will be, but the popularity of the song in the Pacific Northwest is one clue to what is about to happen.

Berry does a number of in person dates in the Southern California area in support of "Sweet Sugar You" which has some success in the region. In late March "You Look So Good" and "You're The Girl" are recorded by Richard & The Pharaohs and released on Flip # 331. Berry goes on tour with fellow Flip Records artists The Six Teens and The Lockettes during the spring and early summer. By August Richard has a record out recorded with The Lockettes. The songs are "The Mess Around" and "Heaven On Wheels" on # 336. In October "Do I Do I" and the old standard "Besame Mucho" are released by Berry on Flip # 339. In 1959 Richard Bery & The Pharaohs had two records for Flip - "Have Love Will Travel" and "No Room" on # 349, and two lovely songs by the group on "I'll Never Love Again" and "Somewhere There's A Rainbow" on Flip # 359. That year there is also a one record release for Warner Brothers Records - "Walk Right In" and "It's All Right" on # 5164. One last Flip side is released in 1961 with a re-release of "You Are My Sunshine" paired with "You Look So Good" on # 359. Crown Records releases an LP album "Richard Berry & The Dreamers" in the early sixties, but by this time Richard and his music fade out as the new sounds of the new decade take hold. He record for a number of small independent labels such as Smash, C-Ray, ARC, and Junco, during the remainder of the sixties.

That innocuous little calypso styled tune that Richard wrote back in 1955 ? It was adopted by a number of bands in the Pacific Northwest for some reason, and soon Rockin Robin & The Wailers recorded it locally, and then a Portland, Oregon based band called The Kingsmen recorded their version and the world would never be the same again. The story of the song has been told many times (none better than the Dave Marsh book) as the Kingsmen's version stood the music world on its ear. From the blasting guitars, out of control smashing drums, to vocalist Jack Ely's breaking in too soon on the second chorus, to his manic shriek ("Let's give it to 'em, Right Now !), to the unintelligible lyrics (which made the halls on congress and an FBI investigation in one of their goofiest moments), this had it all. Richard Berry unfortunately saw very little of the riches from his creation, due to signing over publishing rights before the tsunami broke. Fortunately in ensuing years he was able to recover some of his royalties, and also to participate in the first Louie Louie Marathon called "Maximum Louie Louie" in 1983 and similar endeavors in later years. Richard Berry passed away in January of 1997, at least knowing that so many were appreciative of his talent over so many years. He was a real Rock Renaissance Man with his solo performances, guesting on other's records, with various vocal groups, and with his writing and composing abilities. Listen once more to "Riot In Cell Block # 9", "The Wallflower", "The Big Break", and his version of "Louie Louie" and close your eyes and smile. What a performer !

There are two cds available that provide just about all you need to hear from the musical legacy of Richard Berry. Both are products of Ace (U.K.) which figures that you have to go to a foreign country to find the history of American music. The first is "Yama Yama ! : The Modern recordings 1954-1956" with 28 tracks, and the second is "Have Louie Will Travel : 1956-1962" with 30 tracks. These cds cover all the bases with solos, guest shots, and vocal group recordings. Thank you Ace !

to next page . . . . . . .

back to title page . . . . .