New melodic rock band All 4 1 (yes, there is a space between the 4 and the 1) was the brainchild of Italian label Frontiers Records’ founder Serafino Perugino, one of many melodic and hard rock musical conglomerations he has concocted like a mad scientist in recent years, to great critical and popular acclaim. The same has been true with advanced praise for All 4 1 and its debut album World’s Best Hope, which came out July 7.
“I had done quite a bit for Serafino including a solo album [The Dividing Line, in 2008] and a few other things. We ever started doing a new album with Keith Emerson and I to be a follow up to the first record we did with Carl Palmer nearly 30 years ago. But Keith died unfortunately [in March of 2016] and that didn’t happen. But Serafino called one day and said he had these guys that he thought I would fit in perfectly with and that he would like to give it a try and see if we could do an album. I am kind of skeptical about those kinds of things because if you don’t know somebody, you don’t know what the chemistry is going to be, you don’t know how it’s all going to glue together,” said All 4 1 bassist/vocalist Robert Berry from his home in San Jose, California, not far from the famous Silicon Valley.
“But I found out that my good buddy and long-time best friend Gary Pihl [ex Sammy Hagar, current member of Boston] was going to be the guitar player. So for me I knew it was going to be a shoe-in because between Gary and I, if the rest of it fell apart, we could make it good because we have done so many things together.”
The other two members of the group turned out to be Giant and Strangways vocalist/songwriter Terry Brock and former Ace Frehley and Mr. Big drummer Matt Starr, both battle-tested and talented music industry veterans.
“First of all, Matt Starr is as solid and as good a drummer as you can find. Personality wise, which is the real interesting thing, he’s a perfect fit. He is a lot like Gary – understated but very exact with everything he does say. And then I have been a fan of Terry’s voice for a long time. I thought it was great to bring him in because normally I am the singer in the bands I am in, but now we have a great singer, and our producer Alessandro Del Vecchio even got us to do a couple of duets, which sounded like a weird idea to me at first. I didn’t think it was going to work, but I am always open to try something because who knows? And it worked great,” said Berry.
Pihl has been in Boston since 1985 and is basically the second in command to band founder and creative spirit Tom Scholz. He’s known Berry for even longer and is held in high esteem by his friend and frequent collaborator.
“There’s quite a few pieces of Gary Pihl that people don’t know about. First of all, he’s a very giving and a very charitable guy. We have this band called December People that plays a bunch of benefit shows in November and December and when I called him and asked him to do it he didn’t blink an eye and said, ‘I’m in.’ It’s something that’s very important to him in all kinds of different ways you never hear about. He’s not a bragger; he doesn’t have an ego or that kind of thing. He just does everything he can for everyone he knows – he’s an amazing guy,” said Berry.
“He is also very, very smart. He was building his own amps and effects pedals when he was in his 20s; Tom Scholz and him share that. And Tom is a genius and I think Gary may be the only guy with a high enough IQ to hang with Tom Scholz and speak his language because they are on a different level. And as a guitar player, he is incredible. I’ve got to tell you, when he does what he does on the guitar as he did with All 4 1, his tone and the way he likes to play, he’s got a vibe to it which a lot of guys don’t do. They’re all distorted with big, open standing chords. He has that kind of medium distorted, powerful sound that sets him apart. He doesn’t play like Keith Richards but he makes up parts that are always riff worthy and have a hook to them. He’s just a great musician, but his ideas are even better.”
The songwriting was a collaborative process, with Del Vecchio doing much of the groundwork and coming up with the structure or melodies for many of the songs, augmented by material from Brock, Pihl and Berry.
“We were all asked to contribute and send our stuff to Alessandro first. There were about 20 songs in all and he picked what he thought were 12 that really fit well together and I think he did a fantastic job. He’s a great guy to work with and a good musician in all kinds of way and he has a great ear. And like Serafino, he’s really into the melodic rock thing, he really understands it,” said Berry.
“We never were together, except for the video shoot for After the Rain, Gary and I spent time together working on it and Terry did all his overdubs at his home in Florida, and then Matt and Alessandro added their parts. It was basically a really collaborative effort with all the musicians and then the tracks were sent to Terry for him to add his vocals.
“And we could work that way because we’re all professionals and know what we’re doing in a studio and know the right thing to do to make the song as good as it can be. And Gary and I especially have a good chemistry and we just know what to do, but more importantly we know what not to do. The phrases and stuff that we don’t do are the important parts – it’s the spaces in between that give it dynamics. What we do is add the right sort of colours and right textures onto this musical canvas. And when it all comes together it makes something quite special.”
Berry may not be as widely known as Pihl, but he is an incredibly accomplished and prolific musician and songwriter, working with some of the biggest names in the business. He first came to prominence working alongside prog-rock icons Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer of Emerson Lake & Palmer on a project called 3 which released one studio album in 1988. Berry stayed friends with both Palmer and Emerson after the band split, and went on to do solo albums, session work and formed a band called Alliance with Pihl, former Sammy Hagar drummer David Lauser and Alan Fitzgerald from Night Ranger.
Berry had accrued adherents from both projects, although he admitted that each project had its own distinct fan base. What has amazed him is how fans from both sides of his musical ledger have embraced the music put forth by All 4 1.
“It really is an interesting thing. My fan base started with progressive rock which I did with my friends Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer and I have all these really heavy musician fans and Facebook followers so I am thinking they’re going to hate this new project. Well damn if I didn’t get lots of comments from those people saying, ‘wow, this is one of the best things you have ever done,’” he said.
“And then a lot of my fans who like Alliance, which is straight-ahead rock music and was only released in Japan and Europe, they’re saying this is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I am thinking this is really fascinating because the two sides of my musical fan base are so different and they’re all liking this All 4 1 thing, and they like the musicians who are involved in it from their other projects as well. I can’t explain it other than to say it’s a little piece of magic that Serafino hit on and it worked.”
Getting back to the subject of his work with Keith Emerson, Berry said when he heard that the prog legend had taken his own life, he was personally devastated at the loss of a friend, but also at the loss of a creative opportunity that would have been a real statement for both he and Emerson.
“I actually got a call from Keith’s first wife Eleanor, who is a lovely person. She and Keith got along fine after their divorce. And I couldn’t believe it when she told me. We were right at the final stages, with Serafino, because Serafino really wanted a second 3 album to happen and he was pushing and pushing me to make it happen. Keith isn’t demanding, but he has a lot of parameters. He wanted complete artistic control. He wanted to do like he does and take some stuff from classical composers – he just had things he wanted. And Serafino said ‘Keith, we just want the album. We want the Keith Emerson, Robert Berry 3 album,’” he said.
“We were just getting down to all those final points and had pretty much agreed that we were going to start last May and then I got the call. For me that album was going to be my Sgt. Peppers. We were going to do something really incredibly musical and deep and lyrically important, because you can get away with that more with the progressive rock thing.
“But his passing was very hard on me more than just the friendship level. We were close. I had a great friendship with one of the best musicians in the world and my hope was to sort of bookend my progressive rock career with another 3 album. I had already written quite a few songs, Keith had sent me ideas and we all knew what we were going to do. There were six songs literally ready to record when I got that call. It was a big blow on all levels.”
Once World’s Best Hope is released, Berry said he would be thrilled if each band member’s schedule would permit some All 4 1 tour dates.
“I hope we can do three or four of those big European festivals next year. And I would love to come to Canada. I have not played in Canada since 3, alongside Keith and Carl Palmer so that was almost 30 years ago. So we’ll see,” he said.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.