Best of Berlin

I am no music aficionado and my opinion certainly isn’t as authoritative as an NPR critic’s, but after spending innumerable hours with Rick Berlin over the past four months, I thought it would be fun to make a list what songs of Berlin’s speak most to me. These tunes all ended up on here for various reasons, which are listed below.

Paper Airplane: I Wish I Could Talk To My Dad

The lyrics have a personal resonance for me, but aside from dads, the words also speak to any type of difficult relationship that one wishes could be different.

“I wish that I could talk with my dad

Most of the time, he seems so distant and sad

I know it’s hard to know, but I got this idea in my head

We just standing on a rock somewhere

With a night as cold as death.

…I wish that I could talk with my dad

Most of the time, he seems so bitter and sad.”

Orchestra Luna: My Little Sam

This is a song off Orchestra Luna’s eponymous album, the band with whom Rick had his first taste of fame. “My Little Sam” was written by Rick and beautifully sung by his sister, Lisa, about her brother-in-law’s son.

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Rick and a Roadie

Rick Berlin has been in the business of making music for nearly four decades and he and former roadie Gene Amoroso have been friends for just as long. Orchestra Luna, Berlin’s first band, gave Amoroso a job in the mid-70s that would irrevocably change the direction of his life.

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It was 1974 and Amoroso had just graduated from Boston College. He was floundering, looking for any path to pique his interest. Amoroso had always been a music fan and even learned how to play several instruments, though he had never achieved proficiency with any of them. Nevertheless, his lack of success did not dampen his enthusiasm for the craft and his desire to work in it.

Always one for discovering new bands, one serendipitous night Amoroso went to Lucy In The Sky  — a Brighton nightclub — to see a band called Orchestra Luna, upon the suggestion of a friend. Based on the venue, he was skeptical about the talent of the rock band. But his skepticism gave way to glee when Orchestra Luna began to perform. Continue reading

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Rick Berlin With The Nickel and Dime Band Rock The House of Blues

On Thursday night, Rick Berlin played the third biggest venue of his career with The Nickel And Dime Band.

The House of Blues (HOB) was the place, hosting Dr. Dog, Purlin Hiss and The Nickel and Dime Band for an evening of rock and roll. All three bands played to rave reviews from the Boston Globe: “At minimum a generation removed from his current bandmates, Berlin looked and sounded as inspired as he did stalking city stages back in the day when he could capitalize off of punk’s freedom without conforming to its sound,” wrote Scott McLennan.

Preparation began well before stage call though. Sitting in Berlin’s apartment at 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, I fiddled with my video camera while the first load-in of the day commenced. Equipment was hauled down a long flight of creaky wooden stairs and into Rick’s olive-green Kia. Rob Manachio, a guitarist of The Nickel and Dime Band, and one of Rick’s roommates, was pensive.

“I don’t know if I’m excited or nervous,” Manachio said.

On the sidewalk in front of the apartment building, it was decided who would ride in which car. Berlin’s second roommate, TJ Wenzl, had earned his ride with official camera and unofficial roadie duty; likewise I had clinched mine with the innumerable hours spent with Berlin. Plus, I had a professional video camera.

Manachio and I squeezed into guitarist Ricky Mclean’s car. Mclean’s young daughter sat quietly in her car seat, stubbornly refusing to sing along to “Little Bunny Foo Foo” blasting out the open windows. Mclean sang loud enough for both of them, doing his part to rouse Violet, band members and hangers-on (Wenzl and myself).

After both Mclean and Berlin turned down Landsdowne Street and pulled up to the HOB, equipment was moved inside the club. Dr. Dog was doing their sound check. “This is fucking beautiful,” said Rick, while passing out green all-access badges and printed pages of instructions for the band. Berlin was clearly the coordinator of the group, directing band members, smoothing over issues with HOB staff, and preparing for their sound check.

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Roadies – Times, They Are A-Changing

Bygone eras are a common theme in this blog. You can find people throughout my writing and reporting who laud and lament things from the past that have disappeared.

Roadies have proved to be an interesting lens to look at bygone eras in the music industry. “We don’t call them roadies anymore, they are technicians,” says Tim McKenna, production manager at the House of Blues in Boston. This statement belies larger changes, such as what has happened in the touring industry over the past couple of decades and how those changes have affected the technician’s profession.

Check out my radio piece, which explores how technology is shaping the industry from a few different “on the ground” perspectives, peppered with some fun stories from the road.

For those in the music business reading this, do you agree or disagree? Has the industry changed? What do you think? I’d love to hear about it. Blog and Soundcloud comments, tweets and facebook posts are welcome.

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A Rock Star Spills On a ‘Statesman’

David Minehan, producer and owner of Woolly Mammoth Sound Studio, has been in the Boston music scene since the 1980s. A former frontman-guitarist of The Neighborhoods and Stardarts, he spent about 19 years performing before moving primarily toward a career in producing music.

A good friend of Rick’s for many years, as well as a producer on three of his albums — I Hate Everything But You, Forced to Swallow and Old Stag — he talks about how they met and why we should all listen when Berlin has something to say.

How did you first get to know Rick?

I’m old enough to say that I saw Rick’s Orchestra Luna back in the late 70s at the Rat in Boston. He was already a rock star to me. I didn’t know him for many years after, but somewhere in the 80s we struck up a friendship. In the 90s, as luck would have it, mutual friends brought us together in the studio.

The first album that you did together was The Shelley Winters Project?

Yes. That sounds right. This is where my Alzheimer’s kicks in (laughs). That was about 300 albums ago.  Those [Shelley Winters’ albums] were done at the old Woolly Mammoth [in Fenway].

Why did you want to work with Rick?

The thing about Rick is that he comes from much deeper musical reference points than anyone realizes and I think his age certainly has a lot to do with that, but he also is very curious about music. But I could tell from the recording I’d hear, and also what I’d seen, that this was a guy who seemed to take all the best of the past, create some alchemy, and put it forward into the future. You always hear a good dose of bygone eras in Rick’s music and yet somehow it’s turned into a fresh penny. Newly minted.

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Berlin’s Bands: Part V of V (The End?)

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.

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Berlin’s Bands: Part IV of V

At the close of yesterday’s Part III, Rick Berlin had burned through four bands: Orchestra Luna, Orchestra Luna II, Luna and Berlin Airlift. A surfeit of obstacles impeded each band’s continued success. Nevertheless, Berlin’s reinvention continued.

Glen Moran, the newest drummer, created the next band’s name by giving Berlin two options: “It should be Rick Berlin – The Movie. Or Moran, Moran,” Berlin imitated in a gravelly voice. So, upon Moran’s suggestion, Rick Berlin – The Movie (The Movie) was created in 1985. This was the first time that the band didn’t pull material from past bands. They decided to start from scratch.

The Movie had two female vocalists, Julie Woods and Nancy Adams. Adams was a sassy broad with major attitude, says Berlin. Laughing, he recalled a gig at The Rat when Adams was singing “Somwhere Over The Rainbow” and she had come to a pause, holding out the microphone. Someone in the crowd yelled, “Suck on it!” With a sultry laugh and wave of her wrist and Adams said with faux-modesty, “Get out of town.” Woods was more proper, wearing a holster with deodorant on her belt to spray whenever Rick farted on stage. Perry was still in the band, along with Moran and Balmond. The Movie added a new bass player, Tom Shepard, and mimist/choreographer Carter Timmons. Mike Mangini, who would eventually marry Jane, became their second drummer when Moran later quit the band.

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