Steve Berkowitz has been an artist manager, tour manager, booking agent, concert promoter, guitar player (aka T. Blade), retail record buyer, recording studio owner (Syncro-Sound), D.J., truck driver, NCAA basketball referee, Columbia and Sony Records (Legacy) executive, roadie and soda jerk who was raised in the Brighton section of Boston, Massachusetts. “I’m proudly from Brighton, from the projects of Fidelis Way. My first apartment outside of my parents house on Allston Street was a block away from Brighton center, on Peaceable Street.” From an early age he was involved in the local music scene. “I played in and around Boston starting in the ’60’s, as early as 1963. I was a drummer first and had a folk duo with my cousin Jim Richman and then switched full time to guitar by the time I was thirteen. The scene has always been fertile. How could it not be? The greatest student city in the world, and everybody’s looking to make a world or maintain one, and many were looking for their thing, their band, their style, their thing. They had a lot to choose from. Back in that day, the sixties through the nineties, there were so many clubs, college gigs, city gigs in the park, coffee houses, mixers, parties, frat houses, college radio, The Cape and Islands. Barry & The Remains. The Ramrods. The G-Clefs. Chubby & The Turnpikes. The Mods. The Surf Nantasket bands. Blues bands. Jazz bands. Country and Bluegrass scenes. Aerosmith. Willie Alexander. The Hallucinations. J.Geils Band. The James Montgomery Band. John Lincoln Wright. The Rat scene. The Cars. Modern Lovers. Classical music. Berklee. The Conservatory. The scene was deep. I was lucky enough to attend, give or take a few, a hundred nights at The Boston Tea Party and The Psychedelic Supermarket, Club 47, The Unicorn Coffee House, The Catacombs, Lennie’s, Sandy’s, Joe’s Place, The Inn-Square Men’s Bar, Jonathan Swift’s, Jack’s, K- K- K-Katy’s, Spit, Bunratty’s, and so many more. Boston is a fortunate and vibrant place. It’s a hub in a lot of ways.” Berkowitz was a young teenager when his long music odyssey began. “I was about fourteen, around 1966 or 1967, when Luther “Georgia Boy Snake” Johnson and I met; and he was in Muddy’s band then and within an hour I was jamming with Muddy, John Lee and Chuck Berry and Luther and a Boston folkie named Leonda. It was a trip then and a trip to remember now. It was a dream. I played a solo and Muddy nodded at me with approval….SKY HIGH!!!! Listening and learning in the first person from those guys and the high level they played at and set the standards for, was beautiful. An education and unforgettable. I am a fortunate man.” Following a stint playing guitar with blues legend Howlin’ Wolf Steve became a tour manager for a bunch of bands, later becoming tour manager of The Cars with Lookout Management. The next step was working in A & R and signing acts Jeff Buckley, Henry Threadgill and Ministry. “I was an A & R guy involved in all genres of music. I was a musical guy and a responsible executive tor the company and the artists. My most cherished moment and exchange was with Jeff Buckley, a wonderful guy. My friend and a stellar musician with unlimited ability. He was gone way too soon. Working with Fishbone was smokin’. Branford Marsalis too. And I was quite fond of Jerry Vale as well. Johnny Cash. Working on the music of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan was an honor and like adjusting chapters of the bible. It is to be respected. I enjoyed Terence Trent D’Arby a lot. Henry Threadgill is brilliant and will stand the test of time. Had a strange and unmentionable exchange with Sly; and John Legend, Robert Glasper, Booker T., especially Steve Cropper, were a treat to be involved with.” Berkowitz became Captain (Head of A & R) of SONY’s Legacy label; the re- issue wing of SONY Music, and was the Executive Producer for Sony Music’s 26-CD box set Soundtrack For A Century where the material spans from the earliest recordings to the present including pop, classical, folk, gospel, blues, movie music, rock and r & b. A few years back, at Abbey Road Studios in London, he supervised the re-release and mastering of the entire Beatles catalog in mono from the absolutely original mono masters. “We made vinyl again in a completely analog process. It was an honor and a dream.” Berkowitz was also the driving force behind years of releases for the label. Steve says: “I have had the honor of seeing and meeting Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Luther “Georgia Boy Snake” Johnson, Bill Evans, Jeff Beck, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, and Bill Monroe. I went out a lot. Didn’t come home often.Went to a lot of gigs. Played a lot of gigs.” Today, Berkowitz is working independently and consulting Sony Music and other music companies as well as artists and their catalogs. This new year he will be working with Robert Glasper and a band from Ireland called The Lost Brothers. In 2018 he will also be working on producing music by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, and Paul Simon. “Man, I ain’t done yet. I think I got a couple of new and different chapters to find and write. I’m very energized and very happy and fortunate with my family: my wife Monique and our sons Nick and Ben. I’m working on a number of projects; I’m happy but I am not settled. I’m looking for great new music, people, ideas and opportunities to find and move me. I think I will find them. Can you recommend any?”
STEVE’S STARDOM STATEMENTS
* “I’ve known Steve since way back when, as teenagers trying to learn how to play the blues. He was always very smart, funny and a class act. We don’t get together as much as I’d like, but whenever we do we share an instant connection.” (Ron Levy- Albert King Band, Ron Levy’s Wild Kingdom).
* “Okay, it’s true. T. Blade is omnipotent. He’s a big picture kind of guy who not only hears all the music, he hears the music it came from and the different ways it might spin He has strong opinions, and he’s usually right. He is the coolest of cats, a staunch friend and ally and he takes questions from the audience.” (Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt- Vizztone Records).
* “I have known T. Blade from the mid seventies blues scene in Boston. There were a handful of working bands making the rounds at that time and T.Blade & The Esquires was among the best. I remember nights when I was making the rounds showing up at the Tam O’Shanter in Brookline when T. Blade might have been playing there, and barging in on his gig, whether or not there already was a piano player. I would pound the keys with that I got to express my blues agenda. Steve maintained a gracious attitude (probably seething inside) toward my I got to sit in and show everyone how good I am attitude. I think his demeanor has served him well over the years and all of us are grateful that he was at Sony in charge of the blues. We saw him in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards; he presented an elegant speech regarding the induction of Robert Johnson’s song “Love In Vain” into The Blues Hall Of Fame.” (David Maxwell- Freddie King Band).
* “Steve Berkowitz was always passionate about music and a fine guitar player who still kicks ass on the bandstand as T Blade. But his career as a producer of historic recordings, for Columbia, Sony Legacy, and on his own literally enriches the world’s musical heritage. I am forever in his debt for giving me the opportunity to work on Muddy Waters’ recordings, which I played on, for his high-quality re-issues. Steve brings class, friendliness, love for music, vision and creativity to everything he does. On Thanksgiving 1978, I was touring with Muddy in England, opening shows for Eric Clapton. On that night off, the promoter invited us to a new band on Columbia Records, The Cars. Steve was their manager at that time. With the Americans at the party in mind, Steve arranged to have the party catered in traditional Thanksgiving cuisine- not easy to do in England. We Americans who were away from home for the holiday really appreciated it. Steve told me the British chef exclaimed to him, “you want me to do what with a pumpkin?” (Bob Margolin- Muddy Waters Band, The Bob Margolin Band).
STEVE’S MUSIC INFLUENCES
Little Walter, The Yardbirds, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, John Coltrane, Hank Williams, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Christian, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Prefab Sprout, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Eden’s Children, Peter Malick, Ian Whitcomb, Branford Marsalis, James Brown, Booker T. & The MG’s, Charles Mingus, Charles Lloyd, Charles Wright and Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Sly Stone, Lonnie Mack, Robert Johnson, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Nick Lowe, Dennis Brennan, Peter Goff, Herb Ellis, Luther Vandross, Luther Johnson, Joni Mitchell, Max Roach, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, The Jesters, The Drifters, The Clovers, The Nutmegs, Louise Johnson, The Roots, Raymond Scott, Cliff Edwards, Willard Robison, Jeff Buckley, Lefty Frizell, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield + Just Jack, Bruce Cockburn, MGMT, Danger Mouse, Nipsey Russell and Art Carney. And many, many more.
STEVE’S FIVE GRAMMYS AS PRODUCER
* The Complete Louis Armstrong Hot 5’s & Hot 7’s
* Bob Dylan- The Basement Tapes Bootleg Series Volume 11
* Bob Dylan- The Cutting Edge Bootleg Series Volume 13
* Miles Ahead- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
* Martin Scorsese’s History Of The Blues
STEVE’S TWO BLUES FOUNDATION AWARDS
* Best Historical Releases- Breakin’ It Up Breakin’ It Down– Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Johnny Winter
* Historical Blues Album Of The Year- Muddy Mississippi Waters LIVE
Both wins with fellow Boston native, old friend and Muddy Waters Band alumni Bob Margolin.
(by A.J. Wachtel)
Published on January 2, 2018