Press clippings

20 Year Anniversary of the 3 LP

Barry McMinn interviews Robert Berry's Robert Berry reminisces with ELP band archivist, Tony Ortiz about creating music with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, and the story behind 3.

Well it’s 20 years ago this week that the 3 LP was released. Can you give us some insight on how you guys wrote and recorded together? Well Tony it was an incredible experience. When Keith, Carl and I started the band it was called Smoking Guns. And we had a female singer/songwriter involved named Sue Shiffrin. She had some great songs but they were written for someone more like Tina Turner. You know, format top 40 hits. Of course you also know that in honor of her time spent with us we did do her song Chains on the record. While she was in the band she sang Chains and one other song when we started to rehearse. And I had brought in Talkin' Bout' and another song called Runaway which I had written for a movie called Out Of Bounds a year earlier. Sue's songs were done kind of the way she wrote them because they were pop songs but my songs were especially embraced by Keith. He would spend hours in his music barn working on new arrangements and musical interludes. When we were practicing the 3 of us would spend time on those developing or stretching my songs into what you heard on the final album. That's how it started. With already written songs being worked on by all of us. Sue wasn't involved in Talkin' Bout' and Runaway because she was only a singer and I was singing those.

What I'm trying to explain here is how the creativity got launched. This is what ignited the spark and started the flame burning. After Sue left I wrote a song called Lover to Lover and Keith really liked it but felt it needed something to bridge the mid section. One day when Carl and I arrived at Keith's barn to rehearse he had it all laid out on his 8 track recorder. It was simply fantastic. Just the way he presented it to us is what is on the album. Although the sounds and of course the drum parts were all developed during the final recordings. Keith had also started working on a piece based on a classical piece he was interested in. We started putting it together instrumentally before Keith mentioned to me about writing some lyrics for it. I could be wrong but in my memory I said I wanted Carl and myself to write the lyric together and we could all split the tune. Carl was up for it so we started in. Carl speaks Spanish so it was our idea to do a lot of it in Spanish but it was Carl's idea to name it Desde La Vida. From there it just blossomed into a great piece of music with great lyrics to match. By the way, incredibly fun to play live. I don't know how Keith felt about it. The amount of layered keyboard patches, the amount of different keyboards that he had to jump to and that fast jazzy piano section in the middle really made it an incredibly hard piece to play live. But I know he loves this piece. We are all very proud of it's outcome. So in a nut shell most of the pieces started with one of us having part of an idea and then blossomed when al 3 of us added our expertise to it.

On My Way Home is another example. Keith had started to write a piece to honor their old manager Tony Stratton Smith who had passed recently. He brought it to me and asked if I could write a lyric something like "I'm leaving the lights on for you". I went back to my flat that night and came up with the melody and lyric. When I brought it to practice the next day and sang it for him he couldn't believe I did it in one night and it was exactly what he was looking for. He also couldn't believe that I gave my writing credit for that to him. I just felt that the whole things was from his heart and he had inspired me to write the lyric so it should be his to honor Tony with. That is also the way the band worked. We were in it together and we shared everything except the wives.

During all this writing the common tread that tied it all together was the sense of pulse that Carl had and also his sense of tying things together. He really helped each of our songs come to life with his instinctive arrangement ideas. There have been so many articles written about the failed 3 project or the unsuccessful attempt of 3. But for the record, we got along great, wrote some incredible music together, had a very successful tour and each made great money. I built a house in my home town from the money I made in the band. Unheard of for a musician here.

Also don't forget that Talkin' Bout' went up to number 9 on the Billboard hot 100 charts. Hardly a failure. What was a failure was Geffen Records not following through enough on the first album so that we felt we could honestly do a second album that could succeed. You had asked me where we wrote and I think you can tell that Keith did his writing at home. Carl did a lot of his in the rehearsal room. He is full of ideas and his energy just makes things happen. If you want to be in a successful band, get Carl in it. He's a dynamo. I would do most of my writing back at my flat in London. I was alone there and had brought over my 4 track recorder and an assortment of guitars and keyboards. Geoff Downes had loaned me a drum machine and a keyboard so I was pretty well set up. Not knowing anybody else but Steve Howe, Keith, Carl and Geoff made it pretty easy for me to find time to write. There was a Pizza Hut downstairs from my flat on Kensington High Street and a few nice Italian restaurants near the management office so I rehearsed, ate, slept and wrote. It was the only time in my life that I have only had my own music to work on. Usually I am producing and recording all kinds of artists while squeezing in my own music in between.

(Did you write together or separate. Where did you write. Did you write the music with Keith and Carl together?)

My personal favorite song on the LP is “Desde La Vida” (From the Life). Do you have a favorite track, and why? You know my favorite track would have to be Talkin' Bout'. I didn't write that thinking it would make the radio. I wrote it for my then girlfriend now wife, Karen. And when it made the album I didn't consider it would be the single. And bang there it was, #9. Wow. I still can't believe it. But besides that, the keyboards and drums in that tune are amazing. Electronic and acoustic drums and more keyboard layers than I think Keith had ever used before. You know it's not easy making a keyboard record that competes with some of the best guitar rock of the day. But what we consistently heard on tour from the DJ's was how good that song sounded on the radio. It rocked with the best of them.

I heard the first incarnation of the band was you, Carl, Don Ayres and Joe Lyn Turner, is this true, and if so was any recording ever done.

That is true. And my first time playing with Carl. We had been talking about starting this band and I had met his manager Brian Lane at a GTR concert but this was the first step. We flew to New Jersey and got together at Joe Lyn Turner's rehearsal space. Interesting enough, Joe only wanted to do his material and wasn't to interested in what Carl and I had brought to the table. I still can't believe that he had the great Carl Palmer in his space and basically dissed us both. As far as I know Joe hasn't had any major success since before that time. Oh well. It's the team that makes the score you know. Don Ayres on the other hand was a lovely person. Great player good person. The timing just wasn't right with that whole thing. After that I spent a year with Steve Howe in GTR. It also wasn't right for the band Alliance that I am in now. Gary Pihl from the band Boston, David Lauser from the Sammy Hagar Band and Alan Fitzgerald were trying to get me to replace Sammy and keep their band going but I had this chance to work with Carl and I couldn't pass that up. It wasn't until a few years after 3 broke up that Gary called me and they still wanted to give it a try. And now we are making some fantastic music and our third album. My best lyrics and production I believe. Carl has heard a few Alliance songs in the mid 90's and said he was impressed. I think he meant it. And no there was no recordings of the first attempt with Carl and I.

The moment the idea of a tour came up and you realized you might have to sing an ELP song that Greg Lake wrote what did you think?

You know Tony it started way before that. When Brian Lane first told me that Keith Emerson would like to have lunch and talk music I was incredibly excited. I was not only a fan but I had played keyboards in my band Hush and the Moog was very close to my heart. And Keith was king of the Moog. So we got together for lunch and had a chat. We talked style, equipment and wine. And then Keith popped the big question. His 'almost' exact words. "You know Robert ELP has a history and I don't want to completely leave that all behind. How would you feel about having to sing a couple of ELP songs? That is really my only concern about us starting the new band off right away." And my answer was - - - - - - no problem. I really do believe that the history a person carries with them is something that their fans have bought into and care about. You take that away from the fans and you take a little piece of the soul of the artist's music away. So the union was born right then and there. I think Carl had already convinced Keith that this was a positive move and Keith just wanted to check my ego out.

Do you have any memories of the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary show that was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City?

Fantastic ones. We played in Texas the night before. The band had to get right out of the show. No encore just run. We flew to New York that night and immediately they rushed us to Madison Square Gardens to check the equipment we were borrowing from Led Zeppelin. Yes Led Zeppelin. And Keith had a special new synth/organ that Yamaha had flown in just for the occasion. So we arrive around 12 midnight and walk in the back door. Now Madison Square Gardens backstage is about as big as a football field and the main room is enormous. And from the back we hear this blues band checking the PA. Or at least that's what we thought. We walk on to the stage and there is Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jason Bontom. Whoa! It was them. Pretty amazing. And they sounded incredible. So we just looked around a bit and then went to our hotel. Everything was provided top notch. It was there that Brian Lane taught me how to steal an expensive robe if I ever wanted one. The minute you get in the room just call room service and tell them that they forgot to put a robe in your room. I don't know why that was an important lesson but it's one he tried to teach me. Fortunately I don't wear robes.

By the way, I think Brian is a great man. Nobody ever believed in me more and helped my career as much as Brian. Well maybe except that nothing would have happened for me if Carl hadn't believed in me first. I owe him so much. So anyway, before we played the next day we were hanging around back stage waiting to go on and Carl decided to talk to Phil Colins about drums a bit. The funny thing was that here were these two great drummers with Carl ready to talk shop. But Phil wanted nothing to do with drum talk. He was off on every other subject he could think of but not to thrilled with drum talk. It seemed odd to me but I'm sure Carl thought nothing of it. We played our set to an incredible reception. The stage was so big. I ran from one end to another just trying to cover the audience with a little vibe. It wasn't easy. But we played our hearts out and enjoyed every minute. Unfortunately the Copeland Estate had heard we were playing and we wanted to do Fanfare and they put a stop to it being broadcast. We played it anyway but they couldn't release it. Wouldn't want those damn rock and rollers messing up his piece. Even though it was ELP that probably made him the most money.

(Backstage stories) I heard there was a lot of high jinks on the road during the 3 Tour. Can you share your most memorable one with us?

No! If Carl wants to tell you a few I am ok with it. But I don't want to be the first. Keith probably has the best stories but I'm not sure you can print that kind of stuff on the web.

After the group disbanded you released your solo LP “Pilgrimage to a Point” with some unreleased tracks for the 3 sessions, which tracks were these? And are Keith and Carl playing on these tracks on the LP? And where can we buy it?

I had written songs for GTR before 3 that weren't used also. So I thought that I would like to get this music out to the public. You see both bands were misunderstood by their fans. GTR's first album sounded like a bunch of synth guitars (well I guess that's what it was) and my vision for that band was to make more Steve Howe guitar parts shine and keep the music more powerful. So I wanted to present my vision of what I was trying to do with GTR. I had two 3 songs that I had been working on. One was called Shelter. This was actually taken from a drum beat that Carl had played during practice and I had recorded it on my camcorder. I loved the feel of it and wrote the song around that. The second was called The Last Ride Into the Sun. I had presented this at our last meeting and the guys seemed to like it but it was to late. I had felt after the first album that we should do the reverse on the 2nd one. About 3/4 progressive music and a few rock tunes like Talkin' Bout' for radio play. But Last Ride was my attempt to do something as worthy as Desde La Vida. I play all the instruments on Pilgrimage but it sounds like my friends are on there because I wrote the pieces with them in mind and I am capable of playing a bit in their style. The 3rd song on Pilgrimage that was for Keith and Carl was called Another Man. I actually wrote that after they got back together with Greg to do a reunion tour. I had heard that Greg was short on new material and I wanted Keith and Carl to take that song and make it their own. I never heard what happened but I did hear that Greg doesn't like to do other peoples material. He certainly comes up with plenty of good ones on his own. So I kept it for Pilgrimage. At this point Pilgrimage to a Point is only available through my web site. I've tried to keep control of that one. So much of my work is owned by record companies.

In 1999 you arranged, produced and performed on many of the tracks on the ELP tribute CD that was released on the Magna Carta label “Encores, Legends & Paradox. There are so many great performers on this recording, Jordan Rudess, Simon Phillips, Glenn Hughes, Marc Bonilla, Erik Norlander, James LaBrie, and Derek Sherinian. It must have been a lot of work but great fun putting it all together, how was it all done?

I have to tell you about the response I got from these guys about doing it. I've done so many tribute albums for Magna Carta. Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull. And lots of famous players on them. They have all done a good job but it is usually just a job to them. But when I approached guys like Simon Phillips and Jordon Rudess they jumped at the chance to do their best work. Here's a little insight into how I did Karn Evil 9. It's a very complicated piece and I wanted to retain all the parts that I liked. The record company wanted it a little shorter so I just left off the bits that I felt were a little less driving. I put down a click track which is like a metronome clicking away and then I set out to do a rough piano track for a guide for Simon to play to. Well I think everybody knows that you don't just pluck out Keith Emerson parts. The are very complicated. But I did a one handed Emerson impression just so Simon could follow something. I had changed a lot of the grooves so I decided to play the bass part that I was going to do after I got Simon's drums back. I sent this all to him in LA and he did his parts in his home studio. If you've heard his work you know why I was so impressed. But what you don't know is that he played so tightly to the bass and work piano that I put down that I actually kept all of my scratch bass except two notes. He played some incredible stuff and still had the feel and synchronization perfect. I did send work tracks off to everybody that played drums to start with. Then each musician would get my work vocal along with the final drums and bass so they could do their part. I am very proud of that album. But the only thing was that I did half the album and a friend of mine, a great musician Trent Gardner, did the other half. I did hear that Keith wasn't to happy with his version of one of the songs. But my half of that album - - -it's some of my best work I believe. And I did the whole thing as a thank you to Keith and Carl. I put everything I had into that album.

(Live in the studio? Via the Internet? Did any of the members of ELP show up in the studio?)

So what have you been working on lately?

My band Alliance has a new release out on April 21st, 08. It's called The Road To Heaven and I think it is our best album. So far the advance reviews have been stunning. I've put everything I had into this effort. This is our 3rd album and hopefully we are going to Europe to perform at the end of this summer. I am also putting the finishing touches on my next solo album for Frontiers in Italy. It will be called The Dividing Line and will be released by the end of the year after Alliance has been properly promoted. Dividing Line has a few progressive pieces on it. One is a song called Wait which I had Keith do a Moog solo in the middle of. There is a fantastic video for that song which will be included on the album and I have some footage of 3 in there before we toured. We were actually doing a concert at a radio promo directors convention. We're only in it for a minute just during the solo but it fit so good that I had to use it. Don't tell Carl.

Just a few things that popped into my mind at the last minute. Such fond memories. Some funny, some I thought were funny at the time and some just plain sad. Either way, it was a time I will never forget.

The Sue duck quack sound. Around the second rehearsal with Sue Shiffrin we were working on the song Chains. Right in the middle of playing it she stopped us and said "you know it's sounding really good but would you mind Keith not using that duck sound on the keyboards?" Well that duck sound is the sound of the infamous GX1 Yamaha keyboard that Keith used in Fanfare. You know the sound. It's what the songs start out with. Just imagine the look on Keith's face when he said "the duck sound?" in a tone that I hadn't heard before or since.

Who's Chuck who's Arnold. Funny thing happened at the hotel the first time I met Carl to work with Joe Lynn Turner. We were checking in and the guy at the desk looked down at the reservations and asked "which one is Chuck and which one is Arnold?" Chuck Berry and Arnold Palmer.

Bug on the vine. While working with Carl in London he used to take me to some really great places for dinner. And he would always order the wine with out the cyclamates in it. (I think that's the term) It's the wine with no preservatives. He said that the preservatives is what gives you the headache when you drink to much and the wine from Spain was all natural. When there is a bug on the vine in Spain they introduce another bug that eats that one and therefore they don't need to spray the grape vines. So we put that to the test and drank so much one night that I could barely get in the Taxi let alone tell him where I lived. The next day sure enough - - - no headache. At least as far as I can remember.

Ass in the window. This was a weird one. Carl and I used to travel by train to get out to Keith's house in Sussex. We would walk from the train station a short ways to Keith's driveway. One day when we arrived we heard this guy yelling "hello there, how are you, come on in, good to see you". When we looked up there was the naked ass of Keith Emerson hanging out the window. He had a hold of his butt checks and he was moving them as if his ass was doing the talking. This is the real Keith Emerson. Always loved a good joke.

The motorcycle. I don't remember exactly what kind of motorcycle Keith had but it was a special one. He loved it. One day he rode it to the recording session and when we took a lunch break he rode it down to the place we had agreed to meet for lunch. He parked it outside the place and when we were done eating we came out and it was gone. That was a heart breaker. Somewhere, some guys has still got it and Keith wants it back.

Fruit stand. Here we are out in the middle of Nebraska on tour. There is nothing but wheat fields as far as the eye can see. Not a soul in site. Barely another car passing by. And here comes Keith up from a nap to the front of the bus. "Hey mate, if you see a fruit stand please stop". We all gave a laugh at that one. I guess you had to be there.

Canadian border. We had a great run in Canada. The crowds really liked us and we were feeling pretty good. All except me. I had come down with a little cold or something. At the border crossing I got out while they were checking our passports to use the bathroom. When I came out the bus had left without me. I was a little upset but figured that we couldn't do the show tonight without a singer so they would be back. It was almost an hour before our touring guitar player Paul Keller noticed I wasn't on the bus. They turned around and as they came up to the border station here was Keith hanging out the side door of the buss with his video camera hoping to catch me in a pissy mood. I wasn't happy but just to see how much he enjoyed my misfortune took the sting out of it a bit.