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Despite a couple of British Top Ten hits in 1964-1965, the Rockin' Berries made no dent in the U.S. market at the height of the British Invasion. Much of the Berries' output reflected the lighter pop/rock face of the British beat boom, emphasizing catchy, carefully constructed tunes supplied by British and American songwriters, with high harmonies indebted to the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys. The Berries wrote little of their own material, and this, combined with the wimpiness of some of their recordings, doomed them to little recognition, and little critical respect, even among British Invasion aficionados. For what they were, however, their best pop/rock outings were pretty respectable. A career strategy that put an eye on the "all-around entertainer" niche, however, led them to record many comedy numbers that have dated excruciatingly badly, and also ensured that they were denied artistic credibility and would fall out of the British charts after the mid-'60s.
The Rockin' Berries were formed in the early '60s when guitarist Brian "Chuck" Botfield was performing with the Bobcats, a Birmingham band, at the Star Club in Hamburg. Several Bobcats (including singer Jimmy Powell, who went on to record with the Five Dimensions in the '60s) broke off to form their own band, and Botfield brought in some Birmingham friends to regroup as the Rockin' Berries. Vocal arrangements were the Berries' forte, with Clive Lea taking the harder-rocking stuff and falsetto-voiced Geoff Turton pacing their most famous, Four Seasons-influenced material.
After a couple of flop singles for Decca in 1963, the Rockin' Berries signed with the Pye subsidiary Piccadilly. After a mild hit with a cover of the Shirelles' "I Didn't Mean to Hurt You," their cover of the Tokens' "He's in Town," penned by star songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King, took them to number three in the British charts in late 1964. "He's in Town" was a gentle harmony number, like a less shrill Four Seasons, and the group turned to another cover of an American record, the Reflections' "Poor Man's Son," for their follow-up. More somber than "He's in Town," this made number five in the U.K.. At around the same time, the Berries' debut LP, In Town, with a manic variety of material encompassing operatic ballads, R&B, harmony pop/rock, comedy, and the German "Ich Liebe Dich," was a fair success in Britain, making number 15.
The Rockin' Berries' versatility, though a boon to their live work in enabling them to play more mainstream theaters and cabarets than some British Invasion acts, worked against them on record. They would frequently insert comic routines into their live shows, and their second album, Life Is Just a Bowl of Berries, was half-occupied by terrible novelty/comedy numbers. They continued to record pop/rock by professional tunesmiths on their singles, including Goffin-King's "You're My Girl," material by British hitmakers John Carter, Ken Lewis, and Perry Ford (who were also writing and recording hits as the Ivy League at the time), and even a little-known tune co-written by a pre-Blues Project Al Kooper, "The Water Is Over My Head." Goffin-King's "You're My Girl" (which, like their "He's in Town," was first given to the Tokens) and "The Water Is Over My Head" were minor British hits in 1965, but after that there was no chart success for the band. They continued to get work on the cabaret circuit and record singles for Piccadilly and Pye through 1968, when Turton left for a solo career, getting a Top 30 hit in the U.S. in early 1970 under the name of "Jefferson" (with "Baby Take Me in Your Arms"). Turton eventually rejoined the still-active Rockin' Berries, who continued to play cabaret for the rest of the century and make some more recordings.
The Rockin' Berries are a pop group from Birmingham, England, who had several hit records in the UK in the 1960s. A version of the group, emphasising comedy routines as well as music, continues to perform to the present day.
The Rockin' Berries were originally formed as a beat group at Turves Green School in Birmingham in the late 1950s by guitarist Brian "Chuck" Botfield, and were so named because they played several Chuck Berry songs in their set. An early keyboard player with the group was Christine Perfect, later Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. When another band was formed locally, by singer Paul Hewitt, guitarist Doug Thompson and drummer Terry Bond, Botfield agreed to join on condition that it used the "Rockin' Berries" name. By mid 1961, the group comprised Botfield (lead guitar), Doug Thompson (rhythm guitar), Tim Munns (bass), Dennis Ryland (saxophone), Terry Bond (drums), and singers Paul Hewitt and Jimmy Powell. Later that year, the group went to Germany to play a series of club engagements, with Hewitt being replaced by singer and Elvis Presley impressionist Clive Lea. On their return, the group auditioned for promoter Jack Good, who wanted to sign Powell but not the rest of the group. After a few months, Powell left for a solo career, later leading the Five Dimensions who for a while included Rod Stewart. Thompson, Ryland and shortly afterwards Munns also left, and were replaced by singer and guitarist Geoff Turton - an old friend of Botfield's - and bassist Roy Austin.
When the group returned to England, they won a contract with Decca Records, who released their first two singles, "Wah Wah Woo" and "Itty Bitty Pieces" in 1963. Although the group appeared on TV show Ready Steady Go!, the records were not hits, and the group, now managed by John Schroeder, signed a deal with Pye Records subsidiary Piccadilly. Their first record for the new label, "I Didn't Mean To Hurt You", reached # 43 on the UK singles chart, and the band appeared at the Marquee Club in London where they were seen by American record producer Kim Fowley. He suggested they record a version of "He's In Town", a Goffin and King song that had been a US hit for The Tokens. The Rockin' Berries' version reached # 3 in the UK in late 1964, and the follow-up records, "What In The World’s Come Over You" (# 23) and "Poor Man’s Son" (# 5) were also hits. They also released a successful album, In Town. At this point, Roy Austin left the group and was replaced by Bobby Thompson, previously of Rory Storm & The Hurricanes.
According to Richie Unterberger at Allmusic:
"Much of the Berries' output reflected the lighter pop/rock face of the British beat boom, emphasizing catchy, carefully constructed tunes supplied by British and American songwriters, with high harmonies indebted to the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys.... A career strategy that put an eye on the "all-around entertainer" niche, however, led them to record many comedy numbers that have dated excruciatingly badly, and also ensured that they were denied artistic credibility."
The commercial fortunes of the group declined thereafter, although "You're My Girl" (1965) and "The Water Is Over My Head" (1966) were minor chart hits. They regularly featured Clive Lea's impersonations and group comedy routines, remained a popular live act on the cabaret circuit, and appeared at the 1967 Royal Variety Performance. Geoff Turton left the group in 1968, and had a briefly successful solo career as Jefferson, with two Hot 100 hits in the US in 1969-70. Clive Lea left in 1970, and was replaced by Terry Webster. The Rockin' Berries continued to perform as a music and comedy act in cabaret, with numerous later personnel changes. Turton returned to the group in the 1970s, and, with Botfield, has remained with the group to the present day.