Singer-composer-pianist-rock bon vivant Rick Berlin, a longtime fixture in the Boston-Jamaica Plain music scene, began his musical education under the tutelage of his father, who always played jazz and classical records at home, and regularly took Rick to see stage musicals. It wasn’t till his senior year at Yale – where he sang with the a cappella group the Whiffenpoofs – that he got into Dylan, the Beatles, and the practice of dropping acid, going up into a school tower, and playing piano for hours. He hitchhiked to and settled in Boston in 1970, landed a job working with juvenile delinquents, bought a piano, and was “discovered” by entrepreneur Harry Bee, through whom Berlin put together the band Orchestra Luna (initially with his sister Lisa), and signed with Epic Records.
Berlin still refers to it as “a peculiar band.” Their first gig, by then with Randy Roos on guitar, was at the Boston drag bar The Other Side. Their first local hit was bizarre and complicated and poppy and choreographed “Doris Dreams.”
Then the changes began. Orchestra Luna morphed into Orchestra Luna 2 and, in Berlin’s words, became “more professional.” They turned down an opportunity to sign with Sire Records, changed their name to Luna, and their musical style to prog rock, concentrating more on the music than the choreography. Then there was the Suitcase Band (in which Barry Marshall actually played suitcases), then Berlin Airlift, for which Berlin wrote the kind of pop songs that WBCN regularly played at drive time.
Though Berlin wanted to call his next band Hercules the Movie, it ended up as Rick Berlin the Movie, and the choreography was back. This was followed by a brief period of solo work, with Berlin accompanying himself on piano, then a variety show series called Marlene Loses It at the Lizard, and then the Shelley Winters Project.
Berlin continues to do solo work, and he sings with the horn-driven group the Nickel & Dime Band. His newest album is Paper Airplane,and he hopes someday to stage his long-gestating musical The Kingdom.
Of his songwriting, Berlin says, “I rarely have a fallow period. I know how the ebb and flow works with me, so that I never worry about it. Then there’s another burst of songs, and then another period.”
(by Ed Symkus)