Talks New 3.2 Album, Working With Keith Emerson And More
April 16, 2021
Robert Berry, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist perhaps best known for being a member of the '80s progressive rock band 3, along with Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson, has released a new studio album titled Third Impression under the name of 3.2.
This album contains the last song that Keith Emerson worked on before his tragic passing in 2016 and is full of the progressive rock sounds and interesting melodies that you have come to expect from Berry.
We spoke to Robert about Third Impression, his influences and his wide ranging career that includes working with Steve Howe, Sammy Hagar and Ambrosia.
As an added bonus, Greg Kihn was in the studio with Robert as they are working on a new Greg Kihn album.
Robert Berry: Hey Greg, when was the last time that we played Cleveland? I’ve got Greg Kihn in the studio with me.
Greg Kihn: Hmmm, 1985 at The Agora? Or was that Bogart’s?
RB: I don’t know about Bogart’s.
Greg Drugan: Wow, so it’s been awhile since you’ve been to Cleveland.
RB: Yeah, I’m trying to think if I played there in 2019 with my 3.2 tour, but I don’t think so. You know, 2020 wiped out all of our memories!
GD: That is true! I wanted to congratulate you on your new album. I think it has something that all progressive rock fans would enjoy.
Robert Berry: I appreciate that, and I appreciate your time in helping me promote this. This is the last in the 3.2 series, so this is it! This is all there is, it has the last song that I wrote with Keith (Emerson) so this is important to me.
GD: Did you play all of the instruments on the album yourself?
RB: I did. The last song, “Never” which is the one I wrote with Keith, I actually had his keyboards. The last album, The Rules Have Changed, his estate told me that I couldn’t use the material if I used his keyboard playing. I said “what’s that all about?” They said we want him remembered as a composer, not a player. He was the only player that stuck knives into his Hammond organ and pulled it over on top of him and wrestled with it. He was a showman! But they want to remember him as a composer. I said ok, if that’s what I have to do, then I will recreate the parts that he had played because I have all of the same instruments. I painstakingly went back and recreated exactly how he played it and the sounds he used. I don’t want you to think that I’m a Keith Emerson type player, because I’m not. But, I can copy! (laughs)
GD: Well, you got his tone down for sure.
RB: I spent so much time touring with him in ‘87 and ‘88 developing the first 3 album. Being a keyboard player myself, playing with Keith was like a piano lesson every time we played. I would watch everything that he did. I was so stunned that he could he play the stuff that he did, with both hands flying all the time. It inspired me and it became a part of my DNA, the sound and the chord formations and things.
GD: I think “Fond Farewell” is my favorite song on the album. Were you giving a nod to Keith Emerson with this one?
RB: You know it’s funny. When I wrote that song, I wrote that after the one I wrote with Keith. I listened to the whole album and I thought that I needed one with more time signatures in it. At the time, I was getting pissed off at how mean everyone was being on social media and the news. If we’re just going to be mean, and not kind, that’s going to be the way of the world fifteen years down the road. That’s what I wrote “Fond Farewell” about, if we don’t realize what we’re doing, we are saying fond farewell to kindness. I thought people would think I was also saying farewell to Keith. I was saying farewell to our style and this was the last one, but it wasn’t the main reason that I wrote it.
GD: Do you have a favorite song on the record?
RB: Of course, “Never” the one I wrote with Keith is pretty special. I didn’t plan on releasing that song. I thought it was just my little nugget. The record company told me the rules had changed. The previous album had done so well that they wanted a follow up. I thought I would write seven songs that I thought Keith would want to work on, then I’ll finish up the one we were working on. So that’s a special song to me.
GD: Looking back on your career, who were some of your influences growing up?
RB: I’m a big Jeff Beck fan, I like his guitar playing. I, of course, was a Yes fan. Chris Squire on bass. Chris Squire and Paul McCartney on bass were the guys who really influenced me. I like the melodic stuff, I still like a solid foundation. John Bonham and Simon Phillips on drums, even Ringo! It’s so simple, but so cool what he did. On keyboards it’s Keith and Rick Wakeman. My mom and dad had a big band. When I was really little, there was a big band with all the horns playing Frank Sinatra music, rehearsing in the living room. So I was sentenced to a life in music, it wasn’t a choice.
GD: You mentioned being a multi-instrumentalist, do you have a favorite instrument to play?
RB: In the studio, I play a lot of bass and drums. I really like the rhythm section. On stage, I like playing bass when I’m singing.
GD: You said your parents were musicians, but do you remember the first artist you saw in concert and how did that impact you?
RB: It’s funny, after the big band, my dad opened a music store. Lawrence Welk used a Thomas organ on his show and my dad sold Thomas organ’s. We had to watch Lawrence Welk to see what he was going to do with the Thomas organ. Then Thomas bought Vox guitars and amps, which was what The Beatles used. Then all a sudden, my dad had all of these rock musicians coming into the store. His friend managed the stage at the auditorium down the street. All the bands that came in, like the Dave Clark Five, The Animals, they would always need a spare amp, because they wouldn’t travel with one. He would send me down to the auditorium to guard the amplifier. Actually I think it was to inspire me about playing on stage and to get involved. So the first concert I saw was the Dave Clark Five. They were rivals to The Beatles. Then I saw The Who, I remember seeing Keith Moon when I was ten years old and he had naked ladies painted on his drums. I thought that was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.
GD: That’s an awesome story! So after playing around the Bay area after some success, how did you end up working with Sammy Hagar?
RB: In ‘86 or ‘87 Sammy went to Van Halen. This guy at Geffen records, John Kalodner who was the A and R guru there, started developing me as a Bryan Adams meets Sting kinda artist. But when Sammy Hagar went to Van Halen, he left his band behind. So we were playing a show and my guitarist said that he saw David Lauser and Jesse Harms in the audience. I had no idea that they were going to ask me to join to replace Sammy, but not be the same kinda band as Sammy. He’s just a dynamo and I can’t do that! I told then that I would love to, but I was moving to England to work with Steve Howe on GTR.
Two years later, I got a phone call and asked if I would play with them. That’s when we started Alliance. At that time, Eddie and Sammy started to fight and they didn’t want Sammy to use Michael Anthony for the solo Sammy Hagar shows. So Sammy needed a bass player and David Lauser and Jesse were playing together, so they said why don’t you fill in on bass here? So I did. I had the time of my life! It’s Sam’s show, so you are playing Sam’s music. He moved on to the Waborita’s.
GD: Very cool. You kept that friendship alive by playing with David and Alan Fitzgerald when you formed Alliance.
DB: And Gary Pihl. Not only that, but when Sammy plays with The Circle on stage, I’m the guy playing the keyboards even though I’m not there. I digitally recorded them and they use them in the playback system. So I’m on “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Right Now.” So I’m still playing with him! (laughs)
GD: That’s pretty cool, I didn’t know that! As long as you got paid for that!
DB: Well, like Sam would say, “Don’t be afraid to make a small profit.”
GD: How did you end up being in Ambrosia? That group doesn’t quite fit your progressive background, how did that come about?
RB: I didn’t realize that David Pack was the guy in that band. He played great guitar, sang great and wrote great songs. He was the motivational force in that band. I remember my band opening up for Ambrosia and they were a progressive band in the beginning. They were the band with Alan Parsons on the The Raven album. They were right there with Pink Floyd and Yes a little bit. I never sang the blue-eyed soul things like “The Biggest Part of Me” and I could do it. They had a gig in the Bay Area on a Monday and they called me on a Friday and asked if I wanted a paid audition at the gig. I said ok, but I can’t rehearse if you want me to do this gig. I promise that I’ll have it. I said that I played with Keith Emerson and I can do it and they said OK. I showed up and did my first show with them and they said that was pretty good. I would have stayed in that band, but I couldn’t get them to do a new album. I’m all about what can we do next. I love playing the hits, but I enjoy doing new things.
GD: It’s hard to believe that its been over a year since COVID hit. Things are starting to settle down, do you have any plans to hit the road this summer?
RB: They said they are getting rid of all regulations here (California) in June! Greg(Kihn) and I are starting to book some things. I might put my 3.2 band together doing my history in music from GTR to 3 to Ambrosia. I’m hoping to do a few gigs with that, but probably on the west coast.
GD: So you are holding us up in Cleveland, it’s gonna take another year to see you.
DB: I’m ready to go!
GD: Robert, you have had a fascinating career and I wish you the best on your new album, I really think your prog rock fans will really enjoy it and I hope to catch you on the road sometime this year!
RB: I appreciate that! Greg, I appreciate your time.
Robert Berry's latest album under the 3.2 name is titled Third Impression and can be purchased on all music sites. If you are a fan of prog-rock in the vein of ELP and Yes, I highly recommend checking this album out.
Check out his latest single, "A Fond Farewell" below.