In yesterday’s post, Rick Berlin had quit playing in bands, possibly for good. The demise of yet another band, Rome Is Burning, had convinced him that it was time to go solo.
It was through a variety show called “Marlene Loses It At The Lizard Lounge” that got Rick back in a band. Through the show, Rick met David Berndt, whom he strongly connected with. After nearly eight years without a band, based largely on the vision of Berlin and Berndt, The Shelley Winters Project band was born. For the first time, it was a brand-new cast that included musicians who hadn’t been in any other of Berlin’s bands.
Meredith Cooper (violin), David Berndt (guitar), Noah Scanlan (bass), Jeff Muzzerole (drums) and Rick Berlin (vocals/songwriter)
Shelley Winters Project was signed to Windjam Records and while under that label, recorded one EP and two albums: Shelley Winters Project, I Hate Everything But You and Forced To Swallow. They recorded at Woolly Mammoth Sound Studio with producer David Minehan. In 2003, they opened for the B-52s. An award-winning independent filmmaker, Bill Anderson, was filming a documentary on the band focused on Berlin called “Lightbulb in a Dark Room.” The band should have been exhilarated.
But there was tension. According to Berlin, some band members were critical of the music and eventually left the band, such as drummer Nigel Grover, who had to be replaced when he moved to California. Another drummer had to be fired. Additionally, the strong connection between Rick and David was complicated and ended up being a large part of the band’s undoing. “A big part of that band was my relationship with David and how it was unrequited [for me],” says Berlin.
David Minehan, producer
In an interview, Minehan spoke of his deep disappointment that the footage from “Lightbulb in a Dark Room” ended up on the cutting room floor. “The footage, the interviews, in the studio, I thought ‘Oh my god, finally a rock documentary that’s going to get it,’” says Minehan. However, while working with Shelley Winters Project in the studio over the course of two albums, it became clear to Minehan that there was, “a lover’s tension there and it was almost as though that love was reciprocated and yet it was damned at the same time. I think the chafing was well underway, especially with Dave, who was younger,” he said.
After much filming, David announced he was leaving the band and that he wasn’t going to sign off on the movie. Minehan was furious. He attributed it to Berndt’s panic of his and Rick’s relationship being seen in a light that he wasn’t comfortable with. “[In the documentary] You would’ve seen Rick in his finest glory: his strengths, weaknesses, his foibles, hilarity, vunerability. Brilliant,” says Minehan. Regardless of Berndt’s reasons, without him the vision for the band was muddled. Shelley Winters Project broke up.
For the next six years, Rick was band-less, focusing on solo projects and songwriting. In 2010 at the Brendan Behan Pub, there was a fortuitous meeting between Berlin and Ricky Mclean, the bass player for The Nickel and Dime Band. As soon as Berlin heard Mclean play, he was interested. After a gig at The Alchemist and an exchange of music, the karaoke band and Berlin decided to form the now eight-piece Nickel and Dime Band consisting of a diverse set of players. It has come full circle for Berlin, who created Orchestra Luna with his sister Lisa, and now nearly 40 years later, plays in a band with Lisa’s son, Sam Dudley.
Rick has just as much energy for this band as he did in 1972. One can look at his past and wonder how he kept creating new bands, even after the innumerable disappointments and missed chances. Berlin isn’t naive. He knows that he may never get to stand in front of a crowd of thousands to perform his music. But he says his art has become honest and innocent again. Today, when Berlin is on stage with The Nickel and Dime Band, he is damn near euphoric. “So, that’s what you’ll keep doing, reinventing?” I asked. Berlin nodded and added, “Unrelenting.”