Berlin’s Bands: Part III of V

Yesterday, we left off with the future of Orchestra Luna II — Rick Berlin’s second band — uncertain. Karla DeVito had left to join Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell Tour and OLII was at a crossroads.

Orchestra Luna II was over. In 1978, Kinscherf renamed himself Rick Berlin and Orchestra Luna II simply, Luna. Luna was a 5-piece, all-male band: Berlin, Steven Paul Perry, Chet Cahill, Bob Brandon and one new member, Joe Petruzzelli — “Joe Pett” — on the drums. Rick says this band was a deliberate move away from the theatrical nature of Orchestra Luna I and II’s music. “We formed Luna, which would be more of a rock band, less musical, less of a show,” says Berlin. “All of the things that Orchestra Luna was, we said, ‘No more of that, no choreography, we’re gonna be fucking serious bad ass musicians.”

In terms of popularity, this band had the biggest success with crowds, filling The Paradise Lounge several times. There were no lack of challenges for Luna though. In order to pay for a demo, the band traded their recording rights to producing company Titanium. Though they got a hit single out of the demo — “Hooray for Hollywood” — this move impeded the band’s potential success when they were offered a deal by Steve Popovich of Cleveland International Records. The producer from Titanium wouldn’t release Luna’s recording rights for less than $100,000 and Popovich wasn’t willing to pay. “Steve said, ‘Until you get rid of this asshole, I can’t sign anything,’” says Berlin. Luna even drove to Cleveland to plead with Popovich, promising they would get rid of the Titanium issue quickly. It took them five years.

Awash with legal troubles, Luna was also short on cash and some of the band members were supplementing their income in less than conventional ways: driving cabs and shoplifting. “I had a coat with big, gaping openings that I could slide steaks and duct tape into. It was absurd,” says Berlin, adding, “Then I became a driver.”

Securing gigs also became more of a challenge during this time due to the raise in the drinking age from 18 to 20. This cut out a significant portion of the demographic attending shows and made it even more difficult for a band to make money. The obstacles eventually wore down Luna. They disbanded in 1979.

Following that draining experience, Berlin, Perry, Cahill and Barry Marshall formed “The Suitcase Band,” a band that played music solely for enjoyment. “The idea of this band was, ‘Let’s not try to get anywhere, let’s just have a really good time,” says Berlin. Marshall played a suitcase with a hole and a microphone in it. He would hit the case so it sounded like a kick drum and a snare. The band was together for six months.

As it should be clear by now, Rick couldn’t stay away from a serious band for long. Berlin Airlift took off in 1981. Billie Best, who was still managing the band, told Rick that he needed to write some hit songs. So he did, accompanied by Jane Balmond on the piano and vocals, Perry, Pett and Cahill. In an ironic twist, Ron Alexenberg — the same person who dropped Orchestra Luna from Epic Records — signed Berlin Airlift to Handshake Records, a subsidiary of Epic. The band went to New York to record a self-titled album at The Hit Factory. Shortly after however, with the bad luck that had become familiar for Berlin’s bands, the label folded due to bankruptcy. Momentum for the album came to a halt. Despite the setback, the band got significant airplay on Boston radio for “Over the Hill” and “Don’t Stop Me From Crying.”

In 1983, the band traded out Pett on the drums for Glen Moran and released an EP, “Professionally Damaged,” with Lo-Fi Records. Though the band had some success by managing to get on tour opening for the J. Geils Band for a set of shows in the New England area, Berlin Airlift flatlined in 1984. “[Berlin Airlift] became disjointed, because both Steve and I were writing songs and it wasn’t working,” said Berlin.

We’ve made it to the mid-80’s. We’re more than halfway there! How many bands to go? Not so many. But ahead in the last two posts are the elements of every great story: drama, disappointment and triumph. Come back tomorrow to find out what transformation is next for Rick Berlin.


About Melissa Tabeek

Melissa Tabeek is a freelance journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon. She reports on politics, culture and social issues in the Middle East. On her website, you can also find her blog, where she writes about her work and daily life in Lebanon. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Journalism from Northeastern University.
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