Interview: Prog star Robert Berry talks about the late Keith Emerson and their new 3.2 album 'The Rules Have Changed'
Courtesy of Frontiers Music

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Robert Berry is one of those artists that you almost need a scorecard to keep track of. The much-in-demand artist was a member of GTR with Steve Howe of Yes, worked with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) in the group 3 and was for a time the lead singer for Ambrosia. Berry co-wrote all but one of the songs on Rekihndled, the latest Greg Kihn Band album, is a member of the band Alliance, and until they called it quits recently, was a member of the holiday-oriented group December People.

It takes a man of such great experience to tackle a project like the one Berry just completed. A longtime friend of Emerson, Berry was working on an album with the legendary star at the time of Emerson’s death. At first, Berry thought the song ideas and arrangements that he was working on with Keith would go to waste. But after a time Emerson’s family encouraged Berry to finish the project and the fruit of that collaboration, The Rules Have Changed, has now been released under the group name 3.2.

We were able to have an email chat with Berry and he gave us insight into how The Rules Have Changed was finished and he also shared a special memory of Emerson with us. His commentary below is given exclusively to AXS.com.

AXS: You sometimes worked with the thought “What would Keith do?” while finishing up The Rules Have Changed. Can you cite an example of a situation where those thoughts brought you an answer?

Robert Berry: It seemed to be an ongoing thing for me, to spark ideas and to get the perspective I needed. Sitting there all alone for a whole year trying to do my best work and something that was worthy of the great Keith Emerson was a weight on my shoulders. Not that I had initially planned to release the work; just that Keith and I had a plan and my challenge and my dream was to do it right. I had so much of his work already completed with the writing we did. That also gave me many sections of music that needed to be connected by verses, choruses and solo sections. As I would work on lyrics and music I would ask myself "what would Keith do here" and then I'd sort of answer myself with "if he did that how would I react to it?” And how would we work it out together to get the best result?

It was an experience that is hard to explain and hard to figure out how it actually happened. I'm not a guy that believes in pie in the sky kind of dreams or supernatural things. I'm more of a realist. But there was definitely something guiding me. It could have been the years we spent together from the first 3 albums and tour and some things we did over the years together. Some of it was definitely coming from the last three months of conversations and jamming over the phone. But however it happened, I felt him with me and I felt the music flow through me. Sounds a little odd I know. 

AXS: Does The Rules Have Changed exhaust the bits of song and song ideas that you were working on with Keith, or might more show up on a future 3.2 release?

RB: I definitely have lots more music that we didn't use and ideas that didn't fit into the final version of songs. But what I don't have are those phone calls where we talk about hopes, dreams, our families, our past, our future, and what we were going to try and achieve. I could do another one using those past conversations but it wouldn't be the same. I believe this is where it ends. Our last efforts together.

AXS: You must have a wealth of fond memories of Keith, but could you share a favorite moment spent with him?

RB: When we were on tour we were playing in Canada, and I went into the bathroom at the border with the US, just to get off the tour bus. When I came out the bus was gone. Cell phones were the size of a suitcase then so we didn't all have one. The internet wasn't around. I had no way to contact a moving bus. So I waited. After an hour they returned and there was Keith hanging out the front of the bus with one of those huge ’80s-era video cameras on his shoulder. He was laughing up a storm and I can still see his joy over my misfortune. He loved a good joke and that was actually quite funny. Maybe not to me at the time but now, good memories.

AXS: Are you already working on your next project? Can you tell us what you have cooking for the upcoming year?

RB: My biggest project right now is getting my tour ready for next year. It will be my history in prog music and include every album and every partnership along the way. From my work in GTR with Steve Howe, to 3, to my Magna Carta tribute series, and up through 3.2. It will be quite a show of music that most prog fans will know. It will be called something like "30 years of Prog: A Tribute to 3, Yes, ELP, Genesis and 3.2.” I haven't quite got the tag fully created yet. 

Follow Robert Berry here.