Bert Berns was a native New Yorker who made his mark on 60's pop music as a songwriter and record producer.
He was born Bertrand Russell Berns in the Bronx section of New York City in 1929, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. As a young man he found work as a session pianist and record salesman in New York City in the 1950's. This led to jobs working for various small music labels in New York City in the early 1960's, in various capacities. His first notable success was a song for which he composed the words and music titled A Little Bit Of Soap, which was a #12 hit in 1961 for the Jarmels on the Laurie label.
Berns continued writing songs, sometimes using the name Bert Russell, and working for different record labels. Eventually he succeeded Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as the writer-producer at Atlantic Records, the label run by industry giants Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. Berns also helped to set up a music publishing company, Web IV, and furnished song material to such artists as the Drifters, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, and Tony Orlando. His influence spread far and his work touched the careers of a number of prominent recording artists of the 60's.
Berns crossed the Atlantic Ocean to work for Decca Records in London in 1964. In this regard he produced records for notable artists from the British Isles such as Lulu, Them, and Them's lead singer, Van Morrison. In 1965 Bert Berns helped to establish the Bang label, as well as the Shout label as an outlet for his love of R&B music, with a stable of artists that included Morrison, Neil Diamond, and the McCoys. He began to promote Van Morrison as a solo act and produced Morrison's self-written hit Brown Eyed Girl in 1967, as well as Morrison's first album as a solo act, although the artist was not happy with the album.
Over time, Berns had a hand in so many projects and so many songs that it was difficult to go for very long without hearing something which he had not touched. Among the songs on which he is listed as producer (either as Bert Berns, Bert Russell or Russell Byrd) were:
Among the songs for which Bert Berns or one of his aliases is listed as writer or co-writer:
The music scene was changing as the 60's wore on. The Brill Building Sound popularized by songwriters such as Bert Berns, Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector, Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and others was no longer the dominant force that it had once been in the music industry. One of Berns' last successful acts in his career was a song he wrote titled Piece Of My Heart. He produced a recording of the song by Erma Franklin; it was recorded a short time later by Big Brother and the Holding Company and their dynamic lead singer, Janis Joplin, and went on to become a classic of 60's rock.
In late 1967 Berns suffered a heart attack. He died in New York City at age 38 just as that year was coming to an end, but not before he had left a lasting legacy for those who appreciate the great pop music hits of the 60's.
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