At 10 a.m. on a sunny Monday, Robert Berry enters a meeting room in a central London hotel for the first interview of a press tour to promote The rules have changed, released under the banner of 3.2. Although Berry got off a plane from his Northern California home just over 24 hours ago, he is an affable bundle of energy.
Although he has enjoyed a long career as a musician and producer, spanning a variety of styles, he is acutely aware that The rules have changed may be both the most important album of his career and the one that attracts negative reviews.
“I worry about what people will think,” he admits. “It’s my vision of what Keith Emerson and I could do, depending on what he and I talked about.
But first let’s contextualize The rules have changed. A classically trained pianist, Berry’s musical career began in the mid-1970s. His first band, Hush, played prog covers before moving on to originals. “Progressive rock is in my blood,” he proclaims.
In the mid-1980s, Berry had a few brushes with prog fame. “Carl Palm called me in 1986 to replace Jean Wetton In Asia. It opened the floodgates and prepared my career for the most successful guy you’ve never heard of!”
After Steve Hackett LEFT gtrBerry played alongside Yes/asian guitarist Steve Howe as GTR explored recording a second album. Although that follow-up album never materialized, Berry was now on the prog heavyweight radar. He formed 3 in 1987 with keyboardist Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer after the disappearance of Emerson, Lake and Powell.
Fusing prog and pop rock, the resulting album …to the power of three was met with mixed reception when released in March 1988. It’s a one-album-fresh egg but where it’s good – the intoxicating of life Or On the way backEmerson’s moving memorial to former Nice manager Tony Stratton-Smith – that’s very good.
Elsewhere, and despite Emerson’s embellishments, some pop rock shook. “Run away was one of my favorite songs, but it wasn’t good for 3,” Berry admits. “It’s palatable but there’s no beauty in it. John Kalodner at Geffen found me through this song and saw me as Brian Adams meets Sting. But where does this come in ELP? This is not the case.
Likewise, Berry has mixed feelings about openly trading openly. Chains, originally co-written by Sue Shifrin for Tina Turner. Indeed, Shifrin was at one point proposed as a possible fourth member of 3. “I loved singing Chains“, admits Berry, “but of all the songs on this album, I don’t like it the most when it comes to what 3 should have been. ”
He adds: “Keith was looking for some of that success that Carl had with Asia where there was musicality for progressive fans but songs that your Journey fan liked too. We would have found that in a second 3 album.
But there would be no second 3 album. After a tour, the group meets again in London. Berry was keen to continue but found himself pushing the water uphill.
“I brought Last lap in the sun at the group’s last meeting in London. The group was seated with our lawyer and our accountant. They planned to break up the band because Keith didn’t want to do it anymore. I played Last round… and Carl thought that was pretty good. Keith said, “It looks like me playing.” It was me who made the pieces.
Berry explained how he thought Emerson could improve on his basic tracks. “But Keith got fed up with the criticism of 3 – he just wanted out.”
The band was over and the song ended up on Berry’s 1993 album. Pilgrimage to a point.
Emerson and Berry stayed in touch, with Emerson also living in Southern California for many years and guesting on various Berry-produced projects. From time to time, Berry encouraged Emerson to revisit 3 but with limited expectations. The band seemed destined to be a footnote in ELP history.
“Keith had totally forgotten 3 from his mind. He didn’t try to minimize it so much as just ignore it.
But Emerson’s interest in 3 was rekindled a few years ago after the release of Living in Boston ’88recorded during the band’s tour that year.
“Keith called me after he came out saying he couldn’t believe how good we were,” Berry recalled. “He heard all the jamming where he could go wild. And he had forgotten that of life And On the way back were great songs.
Berry revealed to Emerson that the Italian label Frontiers, through which Berry had released solo work, had coaxed him into making another 3 album. Sparking Emerson’s interest, Berry struck a deal with Frontiers, including a significant lead, the magnitude of which surprised Emerson.
“He told me he couldn’t get that kind of money usually, that nobody cared anymore. It broke my heart, because to me Keith is one of a kind, a Jimi Hendrix. There is no one doing what he does.
Frontiers wanted Emerson and Berry to perform live to promote the proposed album. Emerson was less enamored with the idea of taking 3 on tour.
“I thought later on we could sort that out and maybe just play a big showcase. But that didn’t really matter – the point of least resistance was that we would do the album. We had a good budget and artistic mastery Keith was happy.
Emerson and Berry then discussed the style of the proposed album. “We were sending files back and forth. It was rewarding and Keith was very involved. My idea for the album was to get these great fiery parts of Emerson and stick them in the songs that I wrote, instead of me giving him songs and he put his parts in the songs. I wanted to build from his connecting pieces. It was really fun.”
They spent three months working at this base, with Berry also visiting Emerson when he was in Los Angeles. “The last picture I took of Keith was at NAAM [instrument trade] to show. He was a little quiet and didn’t have any of his usual bad jokes, but he seemed fine otherwise.
Afterwards, Berry called Emerson and found the keyboard player considerably less pleased. Emerson was nervous about upcoming solo exhibitions in Japan while suffering from dystonia and a sore arm from surgery.
“Keith loves Japan and the Japanese people, and they love him. More than any other fan base, they are his biggest fans. He was really upset about it.
Berry suggested that Emerson cancel the Japanese broadcasts. According to Berry, Emerson balked, intending to honor his live commitments before traveling to the UK to see his grandchildren, then returning to California to continue working on the 3 album. However, on March 11, 2016, Emerson committed suicide at his home in Santa Monica. Berry was amazed.
“The day Keith died I lost a friendship with a lovely guy who was so warm and unguarded despite being a genius, and the best player I’ve ever seen in my life. And I lost my dream – I thought I could never do the album without him.
In reaction to Emerson’s death, Berry wrote Our link and posted it on YouTube the following month.
“Our link slipped out of me, not so much as my own personal response, but rather what I thought was a global response. Keith was my friend and my musical partner, but the whole world felt a certain way.
Nine months later, Berry was in contact with Emerson’s keyboardist son, Aaron. “I thought it would be a tribute and fun if I did the album with Aaron.”
Aaron’s initial reaction was positive, but upon hearing a proposed song, he backed out on the grounds that he was a different type of player to his father.
Undeterred, Berry forged ahead on a purely solitary basis, having established that Carl Palmer wanted to focus on his ELP Legacy endeavors.
“I decided that a lot of the sound and the songs of 3 was me. The only guy who cared initially about doing a second 3 album was me. I had an idea of what I thought we should do – and not pop songs Keith and I had long conversations about what the sound and style was going to be.
Berry estimates that 20 percent of the material on The rules have changed stems from the three months he and Emerson worked together. Indeed, five of the eight tracks on the album (there is an additional instrumental track for Japan) are Emerson/Berry co-writes. But the music on The rules have changed is all played by Berry.
“I was in front of my keyboard and I was always like, ‘What would Keith do?’ With certain chord structures, I knew what Keith would do. But solo, I don’t play like him at all – he has this reckless abandon. But since I was doing solos, they came out of me in one take.
The result is a much more satisfying album than …to the power of three. “It took me a year to get the songs to feel cohesive and sound like what Keith and I would have done if we had finished them in the same room. I decided to make an album with Keith that was more adventurous than anything what he had done since Desde La Vida.
Berry has been deliberately very explicit about playing alone on the album but realizes that 3.2 may still have detractors. “I don’t want people to think I’m trading Keith’s name. He meant a lot more to me than using him for commercial success. That’s why I say it’s just me. There’s going to be some negative stuff and I’m ready for that. But the love the music has received so far has brought tears to my eyes.
This article originally appeared in issue 90 of Program Magazine.