Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

10/20/2015

Paying tribute to the late Brian Berg

Berg's death last weekend has saddened the whole community. A few of his friends put their feelings into words.

Sometimes, life becomes unbearable. The Oregon music scene lost one of its own with the passing last weekend of multi-intrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer Brian Berg. Berg rose to distinction with his band 44 Long, a quartet that included drummer Cory Burden, guitarist (and eventual restaurateur) Andy Ricker, and bassist Eric Furlong. He earned international praise and recognition for two strong recordings, 1997’s “Collect Them All” and 1999’s “Inside the Horses Head,” which showcased his crisp, taut, and genre-melding songwriting. Berg long battled depression and addiction. We all wish we could hear him play just one more song. Don Campbell

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Brian had biggest heart of anyone I knew and when he hit the stage he was bigger than life. He was such a prolific songwriter and recorded songs that you’d play over and over again for months at a time and never tire of.  He taught me to revere Ringo Starr fills on the drums and to play just for the song….. He made me such a better player.   Cory Burden , 44 Long Drummer

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 I was a fan of Brian's music before he was my friend.  I would go to his shows, he was a solo performer at the time, and tape them with my Walkman.  We would talk after the shows about how he should have a band to really Rock these songs out.  He promised that if he ever put together a band I would be the first person he called to be in it.  About a year went by before I got the call.  He was such an amazing teacher and always knew exactly what the song should sound like before we even played a note.  I learned so much about songwriting and arrangement from Brian and I am eternally grateful to have spent so many years with him making and recording Rock and Roll.  He was not just a great teacher, he was a buddy. Eric Furlong, 44 Long Bass Player

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 Brian Berg was a unique and talented individual. I’ve known him for at least 25 years. He had a gift to write songs and he wrote a lot of them. His biggest obstacle was trying to figure out what songs to use, whether it was playing live or making an album. I went through a few album planning sessions with him. He would present me with a possible album he had in the works and then a week later, after writing another 1/2 dozen songs, have a different album altogether.

He was passionate about the music he wrote and the music he played. It was an extension of his inner self. I remember when David Frick from Rolling Stone wrote about his first 44 Long album. It was like receiving the Good Housekeeping Approval for what he loved to do…music. I always believed in Brian’s music and always hoped he would get an opportunity to take it to a larger audience but it never really happened. For us in Oregon, it just meant we got to see him play more often.

Then was Brian the person. I loved the guy. I had some insanely great conversations with him over the years. Sometimes the demons loved him. I always worried about the demons that surrounded him and hoped he could wrestle the better half of them. Getting an e-mail tonight that Brian is no longer with us was not what I ever wanted to see.

I hope where ever he ends up, there are some of his old friends like Kal Tanner and they play music, write songs and have a great time.  Terry Currier, Music Millennium

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I met Brian Berg during the glory days of the late 90's alternative country scene. At the time, I was managing roots rockers Thrillbilly and working as a publicist for acts/organizations like Haymaker, The Baseboard Heaters, Schizophonic Records and Music Millennium (Burnside Distribution/Records).

It was June 21st at a musician-centric summer solstice party. Brian wasn't well known at that juncture and had arrived with an advance copy of his debut project 44 Long that he asked if he could play. What happened next was remarkable. It was as if someone had switched off all the lights and lit a candle. Like moths to a flame, the most respected musicians of that scene, crowded around the stereo, mesmerized by his incandescent songwriting. That night Brian became a sort of beacon for our tribe.

Berg was the quintessential quirky Northwest rocker - bred in the Willamette Valley, and as feral as they come. He wore colorful short sleeved nerd shirts and coke bottle Buddy Holly glasses that made his eyes seem perpetually like those of some wise, unhinged, owl. Yet always, his kindness, humor and sheer intellect won over each and every one of us....

Though his singing and his lead guitar work was distinctive - spare, sometimes spastic but always brilliant and surprising - it was always about the songs. We all believed that Berg would soon be famous. When John Doe of X declared him his favorite songwriter; when Billboard Magazine named him their "Dark Horse Pick of 1999;" and especially when Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone Magazine named his album to the "Top Ten Real Life Rock Albums of the Year;" we thought it was just a matter of time.

Way before Facebook's cheapening of friendship, Brian's deep appreciation of his friends and colleagues led him to launch a series dubbed Brian Berg's 44 Friends. It was my joy to promote this weekly "jam" at the Buffalo Gap - then an epicenter for unplugged rock. Each week Brian hauled a full back line up to the second story venue to lead a merry band of guests on a roots rock romp. Recovering this list of guests from an old Word Perfect doc reveals an audacity of talent (see the inventory below) - including some of the very best acts to ever come out Portland. And, for many of us, those shows number among the very best musical experiences of our lives.

There is a collective shiver that has crept through our community as the news of Brian's passage has reached us. We sense, and feel, that a great light has gone out. Yet, to pull out his albums, or to discover him anew online, is to know that the songs live on. The great treasure of his life in music was his friends. And Brian would be the first to assure you that those kind of friendships are never extinguished. -Lisa Lepine, ProMotion Queen

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It was Alicia Rose who introduced me to Brian Berg. I was looking for music for one of my films. Brian and I became instant friends. His music made my films better, and our friendship made my life better. I’m going to miss picking up the phone and hearing, “Hey Baker, it’s Berg!” Brian’s music could break your heart and make you laugh, all in the same verse. He wrote about the things he knew and the things he felt. He is already missed but his music and his spirit is still with us. I miss you “ya big love monkey.” – Kelley Baker – Angry Filmmaker

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Comments

Carl Hanni

It's been difficult to know what to say about Brian, someone who was big part of my life for several decades, right up until the last few weeks of his life. Brian was a leader, a catalyst, a pal, an inspiration and probably the most naturally gifted musician I've ever known. He fought with all he had right up until the end. He was a true Oregon original. Hopefully his restless soul has achieved the peace he so richly deserves. Much love to you, brother Brian. Carl Hanni

Vaughn Berger

we ran
straight in to the sun
and we laughed.

Chrissie

Brian taught me how to listen to music 'properly' at a very early age, before I could read & write in fact. You invite all your high school friends over at night, lay on the floor, and in total silence and reverence, put on Dark Side of the Moon. There was the light scent of a joint being passed around. Heaven.

Then there was falling asleep as a child every night to the sound of Brian practicing piano in the next adjoining bedroom. The next day hanging out in the garage during a band practice.

His nick name was Barney and mine was Madge. Goodbye uncle. I am so sad.

- Chrissie aka Christine Frederica, Portland , OR and cousin of Brian

Tom Suing

I met Brian back in 1974. He asked me the following year to play drums in his band, ECLIPSE. Brian was VERY into KISS at the time (yes he was!) and determined it would be a good idea for us to wear makeup with an Outer Space theme. We did. It was fun for awhile, then we ditched it, because he and I wanted our music to be the gimmick. It was. In 1975, Brian was writing rock music far ahead of its time. I continued playing with Brian for years to come as ECLIPSE evolved into The Dryers, with all new personnel except fro Brian and me. After co-writing about 6 songs and resurrecting four others, we decided to record. ( co-writing was 80% Brian and 20% me. What's that tell ya?). I remember recording at a studio on the Oregon Coast. The day before we were to record...actually...LATE in the day before...we figured three of the songs still needing lyrics should probably have some. after 95% Brian and 5% me, the songs had typically fantastic "Brianized" lyrics. As always, even under pressure, they were meaningful...in one way or another. One with a theme of young teens who write to advice columnists, and another about reinstitution of the draft, and another about calling into the request line at the radio station. Somehow, they still meant something and had a message...whether legitimately or satirically. Again...Brian ahead of the game. you hear about not being able to "catch up..." but Brian would never be able to "catch down" or NOT be ahead of the game. That was how his brain was wired. Rest in peace, Blue Martian. I'm sorry you couldn't win this final battle.

Eric Lovre

Brian was one of my best buddies for over 3 decades. He was without question the best songwriter to ever come from Oregon.
Hands down. No one can touch him. His songs will live on forever. Rest in peace sweet brother. I will always love you.

Don Smith

I literally just discovered 44 Long, and have been passing the news to all my buddies about an amazing band I had "discovered". I was just trying to find out if the band did any touring when I found this article. Devastating. Condolences to Brian's family and friends.

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