Robert, I am a huge fan of 3 and bought “To The Power of Three” right when it came out in 1988. If I remember right, it started out with you being produced by Carl Palmer. After that, Keith Emerson came into the picture. Help me with my memory on this one. How did 3 come together?
First off Rob, I appreciate your interest in the new album and I thank you for the kind words on the first 3 album. As you know, it was an incredible time in my life. To start, Carl had received my cassette tape from John Kalodner at Geffen Records. John was grooming me for a solo deal and he felt I would be a good fit for ideas Carl had. Carl called me at my studio Soundtek. We tried to start a few bands. First off we had a meeting with Joe Lynn Turner but that didn’t work out. I flew to the UK and we tried a few rehearsals with Don Airyes (spelling?) but that didn’t work out. We were looking for the perfect combination of personality, skill, and to be honest, rockin’ enegy. Since we couldn’t find the missing link I joined Steve Howe in GTR replacing Steve Hackett. That was an amazingly good band. But internal struggles lead me to quit that and start the move home to California. The day before I left my manager at the time, Brian Lane, asked me if I wanted to meet Keith Emerson for lunch. HUH? well yeah! I was a little nervous to say the least. I thought Keith would be some mad genius that could barely speak in words I could understand. LOL. He was the exact opposite. Such a warm, sincere, and of course dedicated guy. We hit it off immediately. We had about a two hour lunch talking about the possibilities of starting a new band. HIs final question and the one that sealed the deal was “Robert if we toured this new band would you be opposed to playing a few ELP songs?’ Whew! that was an easy one. I simply said that I would never expect him to leave behind such a rich legacy in music. I would be honored. Of course I was thinking how hard could it be to sing Lucky Man lol. Nope, we did Rondo/America, Hoedown . Some tough stuff. But of course those were my roots from my early prog days with my band Hush. All indications from that first meeting were that I had met a guy that was not only one of the most famous players I had ever known, but a guy that was looking for something new and wanted to include me in that. To say I was excited, well you can imagine.
Musically, the songs came from you for the most part, but you did write with Keith. How was that for you?
It was a total group effort to be honest. Geffen had been grooming me as I said with songs like Runaway and Do or Don’t. They wanted those on the album and really we were trying to leave behind a bit of the old style prog of long songs and lengthy instrumentals. That said we knew we had to retain the musical integrity and still do some major musical pieces. We worked two ways. Keith would take my already written songs and arrange them to be suitable for his playing and ideas. That was not only a thrill for me but it was a lesson in Emersonizing I’ll call it. Truely an amazing thing to hear. Then there were pieces like the fantastic Desde La Vida that developed during rehearsals and I wrote melody and lyrics to what Keith played me. Also of course was the excellent addition of the Spanish which was Carl’s idea. We had fun writing that together. In the end that piece was divided into 3 writing sections but we really developed it together in the rehearsal room. Of course that all started with what Keith had presented. I want to make sure that everybody knows that Carl Palmer is not only a great drummer but he is never at a loss for ideas when songwriting is happening. He may not play a chord, but he can lead you to one he is thinking about. He may not be a lyricist but he can dive into the meaning and the image of what we were trying to get across. And he is so full of energy that it just makes the whole process that much better. The three of us were definitely a team. We were never at a loss for ideas.
I loved the album and still listen to it to this day. I was surprised that the band fell apart. Was it just the spectre of ELP looming that did it?
Again I have to be completely honest here. There were two things that broke us up. The first was the criticism that was pushed on 3 as a band that played “songs”. The die hard ELP fan wanted the fancier, more complicated stuff. We did some of that but in general the ELP fans also wanted Greg back and only thought of 3 as the rock songs. This was hard on Keith. Fans wrote him letters that he really took to heart. They criticized everything from him playing on songs to having female backing vocalist on our tour. He took this very hard. You have to understand that he wasn’t only the greatest keyboard player in the world, he worked everyday on what he loved which was playing piano. It defined him to us, it defined him to him. You don’t get that good by doing it part time. Carl and I could feel the pressure he was feeling when we would be waiting to go on stage. The crowd would be chanting “Keith, Keith, Keith” and Keith would say , “listen to that, they are booing us”. Carl would look at him with a smile on his face and say “Emerson, don’t you realize they are chanting Keith”? He’d smile and we’d go on to a fantastic response.
The second thing was that we had a top 10 hit with Talkin’ Bout’ and Keith was excited about that success. Everywhere we went the radio stations would say how good that song sounded on their station surround by what was getting popular then , hard rock in a more grunge style. Then Geffen pulled the plug on releasing a second single with Lover to Lover and Keith was very disappointed. He said if they didn’t support us with a number 9 song on the charts they wouldn’t support us for a second album. At that point it all came crashing down and he was done.
You had material written for a second 3 album and some of it (or all of it?) wound up on your amazing solo album “Pilgrimage to a Point.” It also has songs from the second GTR album that you were going to be a part of as you had replaced Steve Hackett! How far did things get with the second 3 album before things ended?
Thank you for the vote for Pilgrimage. There were a lot of unrealized dreams contained in that album. As far as the second 3 album in 1989? not far Rob. I was flown to London to have a meeting with the team to end the company we had formed. My idea was to present the two songs I had written for the next album and of course – magically all would be ok. I played Last Ride into the Sun for them and Keith said “well that sounds like me”. I told him yes just think how it’s going to sound when you get ahold of it. He wasn’t impressed. Remember Keith’s dedication to music followed him in his decisions in life. He had decided this was not the right way to continue and there was no changing his mind. I actually got to know him in a different way after 3. Being in the band together we all had the same goals, the same drive, wanting the same outcome. But remaining friends over the years I was to see his dedication to what defined him. He wasn’t a business man, he wasn’t a relentless promoter, he wasn’t in it to make money. He was committed to his art on his terms. That’s why he was so great and why we loved his playing so much. That is also why criticism was hard on him.
Did you consider using any of those songs for the new 3.2 album, “The Rules Have Changed”?
No we never did. That chapter was done and to be honest we had so much unused part from 1987’s rehearsals and a bunch of new digital files from Keith and songs of mine from which we were making the updated 3.2.
I have to say I was thrilled when I heard you were reviving 3 as 3.2. How did 3.2 come about?
Over the years I knew that there was no way that Keith would want to revisit 3. He had left it behind. Then a record company released the 3 live in Boston CD in 2015. Honestly to release that record it was just a pay check for Keith. Then a copy arrived at his house in LA and he decided one night while alone at home to sit down with a glass of wine and listen to it. He immediately called me so excited. “Robert” he said, “we were really a good band. No I mean really good”. I couldn’t believe my ears. Now I’ve told you that Keith had left 3 behind but in my mind I had always wanted to do a follow up. I knew we had it in us to do one more really great album together. This was my chance. I slowly said “well, what would you think about possibly doing a follow up with me?” He simply said, “maybe”. Well there it was. The president of Frontiers Records had been asking me for years for a 3 album and I had told him there was no way. I called Serafino immediately and asked if he was still interested. He said yes, I called Keith, Keith and I laid out the parameters of what that deal should look like, I called Serafino, he said “let’s do it”. I called Keith, he was impressed that they would meet our demands and ——- well, do I still sound excited when i’m writing this? I can still remember how I felt when Carl called me in 1986, I can still remember when Keith and I decided to rekindle the flame and start 3.2. It was a 26 year old dream at that point.
I will tell you that I wasn’t going to continue after Keith left us. I felt it wasn’t the right thing to do. We had carved out a place in our musical history, we had planned the new album, we had started working together. Now he was gone. It took me almost a year to get past the grief and get an idea that set the spark afire again. I thought, what if Aaron Emerson would play on the songs. I talked to Aaron. He said he’d be interested and please send him a song. Once he received the song he said that it was a little much for him as his dad had played it and it was quite difficult. In hindsight I should have sent an easier song. LOL When I finally had to replay that piece it was a monster to master. That said, this exchange with Aaron ignited the spark that fueled the flame that started the fire burning again. I had to finish it. I originally was not planning on having it released. But as time went on I realized it was coming along with everything we had talked about and with that new 3.2 sound and energy we had wanted. It was a tough decision but I decided it was done and I was ready.
I know that Carl is quite busy with Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. Was he going to be involved?
No Carl had giving me his blessing to use the name 3 and do whatever I wanted but he did not want to be part of it. Originally his ELP legacy was doing quite well and in the end his ELP legacy is the only true bearer of the ELP music torch. I am proud of his commitment to it and I think he is doing exactly what he was born to do. He is playing better than ever. If you haven’t seen him go. His band is incredible.
What contributions did Keith make to the new album before he passed away?
We had mapped out the 5 songs we wrote together. We had a cassette tape from 1987 and some new digital files Keith had sent me. But the really cool part was during our phone calls. I have a digital piano right in front of my ProTools screen that I use to correct singers or show clients different chords or whatever for their songs. Keith had a new Casio, real piano action, digital piano that he loved in his room. We would talk on the phone usually after 7 or 8 when he was alone and in a very happy, creative mood. He would play me a little something, I’d try to copy it, he’d correct me – I’d only get it close. But close enough to put our idea sessions down on the protools and use those writings to work from. So if you would have looked at the ProTools screen it looked like a Halloween pumpkin. Lots of missing teeth that I needed to fill in. But the parts Keith had done to my songs back in 1987 and the pure genius of his style and personality was already there in about 20% of what I had for writing songs. That may not seem like a song to you. But to me it was the important parts. I am never at a loss for song ideas. A verse, a chorus. Not hard for to sit and write. So you put that together with these amazing bits of Emersonizing and you get —3.2. Done together but finished by myself. It wasn’t the way I had wanted to finish it, but the structure was in place.
You and Keith were good friends, was it difficult emotionally to finish this album without him?
In one phone call I lost a great friend, my most famous friend. I lost the guy that I had a top 10 record with, my only top 10 record. And I lost the dream of a second 3 album. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I miss those phone calls the most. He was full of corny jokes and stories from the past. Still hard for me to believe he’s gone. In fact since I’ve worked so hard to complete the album and I have been preparing and doing so many interviews it almost feels to me like he is alive. That is how it felt when I was finishing up the album. I’d say, “what would Keith do here?” and in many ways that guided me. I found myself doing things I never thought I could do or never even thought of doing. Like some of the solos. Those weren’t talked about because they were to be done last when everything else was done. But there they were flowing out of my hands. And to play some of those piano parts we had talked about using. I had to revisit my 10 years of piano lessons and really work to do them justice. I could feel his presence and our history guiding me. Then last week I visited his grave site in the UK. That was a tough one. Hard to explain why 2 1/2 years later it hit me so hard.
You’ve done many albums over the years. Where does “The Rules Have Changed” sit next to all the rest?
Good question Rob. I have been very lucky. I always have ideas and always seem to have an outlet for them. But I have always known that I had one more, really good, progressive album in me. I called it my Sergeant Peppers. I knew someday it would come along. My roots are in progressive music. I had a prog band called Hush when I first started. We started as a prog cover band and eventually release an original album with a record company. That was my first major release. I feel that everything I know in music, everything I was trained for, everything I’ve learned along the way, and everything I was hoping my Sgt. Peppers would be is in this album. That’s not my ego speaking. That’s my capabilities. If you like it or if you don’t, this is what I’m capable of at this point of my life. Lyrically it speaks of how I feel, musically it challenges the very top of my skills, and production wise it is the culmination of years in the studio perfecting equipment, recording skills, and production techniques. When the album is released I hope to get into some recording magazines to talk about some of this. And some guitar and amplifier reviews too. I used the best of everything. Including getting my Memory Moog rebuilt and sounding great. Keith wanted to bring the big Moog into the studio and I told him I’d get my Moog up to snuff to start with. I’ve had that in the studio. I don’t want to lift it or have it take up all that space until it was really necessary. LOL He was fine with that.
Can we expect a 3.3 album? Or is this the final call for 3?
Hard to say. This is the only chance to do my last effort with Keith. Those phone calls sadly can never happen again. I have lots of music we didn’t use and some ideas I didn’t include from those conversations. But right now I am feeling the love for the man, the loss of the man, and the love for the music we were to finish together. I just want to honor that. The important piece that has come along now is that I am thinking of doing a tour next year and presenting this live. We’ll see if that is possible very soon.
Robert, thank you for releasing this great tribute to Keith. Thanks for all the great music through the years as well!
I appreciate your time Rob. This is so exciting for me. The fans have really given it lots of love and are listening to the album with the exact intent I had finished it for. It’s about the music. It’s about a sound we created that I think is unique to 3. And it also is honoring one foot in the past of 3 and one foot in the updated present of 3.2. I am hoping when you listen to the album as a whole you will feel the spirit of all that. It has been difficult emotionally but the challenge has been very rewarding personally.
3.2 – “The Rules Have Changed”
All Instruments: Robert Berry
Songwriting and arrangements: Keith Emerson, Robert Berry
Label: Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 10 August 2018