Robert Berry is a Grammy-nominated producer, performer and multi-instrumentalist who has worked with Hush, Alliance, Ambrosia, Sammy Hagar, The Greg Kihn Band and more. More than 30 years ago, he — playing guitar and bass and singing — formed a trio, 3, with two of the greatest progressive rock musicians of all time: keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson and the incomparable Carl Palmer on drums.
Berry related “a quick history” of how 3 came to be and spoke about his friendship with Emerson (who died in 2016) as he discussed the release of the 3.2 album, The Rules Have Changed.
“Back in 1987, Keith, Carl and I started a band called 3,” he said. “We didn’t want to be pompous so we were cautious at the time. We wanted to start a thing more like Asia, where rock meets prog, and we actually had a top 10 song come from it (‘Talkin ‘Bout,’ which rose to No. 9 on Billboard magazine’s Mainstream Rock chart).
“We were on Geffen Records. We did great, but the ELP fans and even the fans who loved Keith criticized him so badly that he broke up the band. He thought he was doing the wrong thing by playing straighter stuff. The Carl Palmer fans didn’t mind, because he was in Asia, so they had already done that. But the Keith Emerson fans did.
“Over the next 27 years, Keith and I worked together, I was even in his soul band for about a week and an ELP tribute thing. I worked on his solo albums at my studio, but we never talked about a second 3 album because in my mind he had left it behind. He didn’t want to deal with that because he thought it ruined his career.
“Twenty-seven years later, some company put out a 3 Live Boston ’88 album and when Keith got his copy, he heard it and loved it and he called me up and said, ‘Oh my God, I had no idea we were so good.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know, but we left it behind.’ He said, ‘No, there was fire and energy and the music …’ So I said, ‘Well let’s do a follow-up.’ And he said okay, and that’s how The Rules Have Changed was started.
“Keith was the consummate professional. He’s the best there ever was on the keyboards. … There was no way that I was going to talk him into doing an album. That had to come from him, if he even wanted to do it. So we started working on it and we knew what we had done wrong in 1987, and we knew what we had done right. We knew what we’d like to do now, and we laid out an outline form of the whole album. We had a record company that gave us total creative freedom and a great budget and then a couple of months into it Keith took his own life, which was quite a shock.
“After Keith left us, it took me six months before I even wanted to do it, and then another year to finish it. I finished it myself, because nobody else knew the parameters of what we wanted to do. I play a lot of instruments, so I was capable, and I finished it up. Then I was worried if anyone wanted me to put it out.
“I finished it because my dream was to do another album with Keith. Whether it went out or not was secondary, but I gathered opinions and everyone was behind the idea of putting it out. Then the first day it was out on Amazon, it sold out in five countries; everything that was available was gone. Then the reviews started coming in and I was stunned: People were saying how they could hear Keith in the music and saying ‘Thank you, we thought this was lost forever.’ People were embracing the whole thing of me remembering him and honoring his memory, and then a manager came along and said, ‘Hey, we need to take this on the road.’ I had never thought about it. I thought, ‘Wow I’ve never done this in my 30-year history of progressive rock, including those tributes. So I put my own band together and we’re going to be on the East Coast in September and October. I’m so excited that I can’t sleep (laughs).”
One of those tour stops will be in New Jersey, at the annual ProgStock festival being held at The Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, Oct. 11-13. Berry says we can expect more than just traditional-sounding progressive rock when he and his band take the stage.
“I put AOR and progressive together, where the songs have to have a hook and a chorus. They have to have a groove. I don’t like the lightweight, more frilly kind of stuff that rambles on and the lyrics don’t mean anything. I’m considered a little bit tougher, but even if you don’t like progressive rock, you’ll like what we do.
“I did a tribute series in the ’90s, when progressive was kind of dead, for a label called Magna Carta. We were doing Yes, Genesis, ELP, Jethro Tull, Rush, and I’ve decided to put four of those songs in my set so you’ll hear stuff you know, just re-worked. There were a bunch of guys who did this but one of my favorites was a song called ‘The Mission,’ and I did it with Eric Martin from Mr. Big. Those lyrics from Rush just knock me out.”
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