Robert Berry Continues To Explore Music

By Ross Boissoneau

Robert Berry is many things: Multi-instrumentalist. Vocalist. Songwriter. Studio owner. Producer. Conceptualist.

He comes by all those things through a lifetime spent in music. As a youth, he was a fixture at his family’s music store, and by his high school years was gigging regularly as well as working at a local studio, both playing and in the control booth.

Now, you can be forgiven if his name doesn’t immediately ring a bell. Despite membership in two bigtime progressive rock bands alongside names such as Keith Emerson and Steve Howe (one of which produced a Top Ten record) and fronting Ambrosia for a spell, not to mention recording several solo albums and more than a dozen with bands he’s fronted, Berry is one of those musicians who seems to fly just under the radar of popular culture.

That’s too bad, because he has a lot to say musically. And in conversation as well, such as discussing the virtues of progressive rock. Whether encompassing rock, folk, jazz, classical or other forms, “The colors of music in progressive rock are a wide palette,” he said.

Robert Berry

Robert Berry

Berry’s CV is as impressive as any out there. His greatest visibility came when he basically replaced Greg Lake in ELP, teaming with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in 3. While the band’s lone studio album and tour were successful in terms of sales, those who longed for the epic majesty (some would call it pomposity) of classic ELP didn’t buy into its shorter, song-oriented music, and Emerson called a halt to it.

Just a few years later, Asia’s similar approach had more success. Soon after, Trevor Rabin-era Yes netted that band’s biggest commercial success. “Now the (progressive) fans were open,” said Berry. Eventually, so was Emerson, and he and Berry began talking about revisiting the scene of the crime.

“Because of criticism from ELP fans, Keith decided to break up the band,” Berry said. “3 was accepted by all the rock fans. He (Emerson) heard the live record 23 years later. He said, “Do you want to do another?’ Keith and I were working together. When he died, I decided to do it myself.”

The result was The Rules Have Changed, credited to 3.2, with half its eight tracks co-written by Berry and Emerson and Berry credited for the other four. He also played all the instruments, including keyboards, as he was prohibited from using the recordings Emerson had made. While he was not a virtuoso like Emerson, he was intimately familiar with Emerson’s style. Plus he was no slouch as a keyboardist. “I had six years of classical piano and two years of jazz,” Berry noted.

“The record company and Keith’s son said to put it out,” he said. Reviews were positive, and Berry finished the trilogy with Third Impression in 2021. “I had a couple songs left over, and transitioned to a more guitar-oriented album.”

In between the original 3 and its resurrection, Berry produced solo work and collaborated with other like-minded musicians. Many of his appearances were for the progressive label Magna Carta. “I did a lot of tributes,” he said, including music by Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and others.

Robert Berry Piano

Robert Berry on piano

That’s where he also released some of his own original material, including A Soundtrack For The Wheel Of Time. Which at that time was a book series (a massive book series), with the Amazon Prime streaming series years away. It has been re-released to coincide with the streamer. “I wish they’d have called me,” Berry said ruefully.

Curiously, when he wrote the music, Berry himself had not waded through the entire 10,000-plus pages of the books. “Peter Morticelli (head of Magna Carta) was a huge Wheel of Time fan. He said, ‘We should do a soundtrack to go along with the books.’ Then it was the Wheel of Time game. They asked if I would orchestrate the video game.”

Berry also fronted Ambrosia for a spell. The band neatly bridged the progressive and pop worlds with tunes like “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” with inspiration and lyrics from Kurt Vonnegut, and yacht rock hits like “How Much I Feel.” He’d known the band since early days. “Hush (his San Francisco-area band) had opened for Ambrosia.”

Along the way he’s also been a member of Sammy Hagar’s and Greg Kihn’s bands, and Boston guitarist Gary Pihl is a member of his December People project. Coincidentally, Berry himself once auditioned for Boston – as a drummer.

Maybe the criminal lack of public recognition will change with Berry’s newest project. He’s teamed up with Saga’s Ian Crichton and drummer Nigel Glockler of Saxon for Six By Six, a hard-edged progressive(ish) trio.

“I wanted to find a guitar player like Keith,” he noted. When Crichton’s name came up, Berry leaped at the opportunity. They began writing together, Crichton in Canada, Berry in Silicon Valley. “We tried it and wrote songs together. It was just like writing with Keith.

“He wanted to do a three-piece,” Berry continued, meaning they needed a drummer. Berry contacted Glockler, with whom he’d played in an aborted second version of GTR alongside Steve Howe after Steve Hackett’s departure. “Nigel came in and kicked ass. We wanted (progressive label) Inside Out, they said they were full. We sent them two songs, and they said, ‘We have to have that band.’

“It’s heavy prog. We’re looking for more of a Rush kind of audience,” he said. Today, with Six By Six, Greg Kihn Band, the December People (where he and the band perform holiday music in the style of various prog and classic rock bands), his solo work, and helming his Soundtek Studio, Berry is as busy as he’s ever been.


Berry says he has well over 100 guitars and basses. “For my Spanish guitar, I found some old strings from my dad’s music store. Now I use Fender 10 light strings,” he said.

For his primary bass, a Steinberger, he uses Rotosound and Sfarzo strings, while he prefers Pyramids for his Rickenbacker 12-string. “The silver-plated steel. They make it chime and sound perfect.”

He prefers Elixir strings for his Journey acoustic guitar, which features a removable neck. “They’re the only thing. Others don’t sound right.”

Ross Boissoneau is a regular contributor to Something Else! Reviews, Northern Express and Local Spins. He’s written for the All Music Guide, Jazziz and Progression Magazines, and is a member of the Downbeat Critics Poll.

Ross Boissoneau

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