Before sitting down with Rick Berlin for the first time this past Sunday at Sorello’s — a small café in Jamaica Plain — I immersed myself in his expansive history. But since I am still learning his story, I’ll write only what what I have so far: bits of Rick.
Richard Gustave Kinscherf III was born in 1945 in Sioux City, Iowa. Rick graduated from Yale University in 1967 with a BA in Pre-Architecture and American Studies, where he was a Whiffenpoof. He turned down a full scholarship to the School of Architecture at the same university. His most interesting arrest was for nudity in Grenada, while shooting a movie in 1971. He formed his first band, Orchestra Luna, in 1973.
That first band ignited a passion for bands that burned through an eventual nine. In the nearly 40 years Rick has been making music —most notably — he has been signed by Epic Records, dropped by Epic Records, signed by Handshake Records, rejected an offer from Seymour Stein, lost a band member to Meatloaf (the band), hung out with Danny Fields and been scouted by Andy Warhol. There is so much more. But we, Rick and I, have only just begun.
Today, he both plays alone and with the Nickel and Dime Band. He’s happy. Still ambitious.
It’s early afternoon by the time we meet at Sorello’s. Rick slides in his chair across from me. “I’m a little baffled at what you’re planning to do here,” he says. I say I want to write about him and his projects, create a written narrative about the musician and the man. He digs it.
So what does a man with such a lengthy list of artistic accomplishments do on a Saturday night? “I ripped my fucking pants,” he says, showing me the gaping hole in the side of his cargos. He had been at his six-day-a-week haunt, the Brendan Behan Pub. Rick hasn’t had time to fix the pants. He prioritized our breakfast over the repair.
The conversation is all over the place. We talk about his many bands over the decades, their rise and demise. His love of Jamaica Plain and Miller Lite. Once sharing the bill at Frank Zappa’s 10th Anniversary Party with Patti Smith and Patti LaBelle. And seeing great artists perform: “I once saw Jimi Hendrix ride a greased pig onto a stage in Philly,” he says.
He philosophizes on the nature of his principal occupation, a server in a bar: “It’s like being a whore. You gotta balance between phoniness and genuine.” He loves his job, but he gives no illusions about the way he works. “I wear shitty clothes and I fuck up the orders,” he says.
In a radio interview, Rick talked about his inspiration for the title of the album “Old Stag.” It’s the name of a dodgy-looking bar in Jamaica Plain. I ask him about this. Rick says he feels a likeness with that name. “I’m like an old stag. An old four-legged elk.”
Elks, shitty clothes, former stardom, and ripped pants aside, what is most important to know about Rick, according to him?
“If I’m not an artist, I’m nobody.”