Happy Birthday: Bill Berry

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Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Happy Birthday: Bill Berry

Today marks the 56th birthday of the second most famous musician ever to emerge from Duluth, Minnesota, but while Bob Dylan may have the advantage when it comes to overall fame, when it comes to drumming, we’re sure of this much: he’s no Bill Berry.

Born in 1958, William Thomas Berry’s family bounced around a bit during his younger years, jumping from Minnesota to Wisconsin when he was three, Wisconsin to Ohio right around when he hit double digits, and – just as Bill was entering high school – finally settled in Macon, Georgia for the long haul. That’s where Berry first crossed paths with future R.E.M. bandmate Mike Mills and built a friendship which would soon take the two young men to Athens, Georgia, to fulfill their rock ‘n’ roll destiny…or something like that, anyway.

Berry spent 17 years behind the drum kit for R.E.M., seeing the band through their five-album tenure with I.R.S. Records and then sticking with ‘em for five albums on Warner Brothers as well, but in the wake of collapsing onstage from a ruptured brain aneurysm while touring behind the band’s 1994 album, Monster, he decided to call it a day on his career as a full-time musician. In a statement released at the time of his departure, Berry explained, “I've been playing the drums since age nine, (and) I'm at a point in my life where some of my priorities have shifted. I loved my 17 years with R.E.M., but I'm ready to reflect, assess and move on to a different phase of my life. The four of us will continue our close friendship, and I look forward to hearing their future efforts as the world's biggest R.E.M. fan."

In what might be best described as a “post-game wrap-up” interview for his time with the band, Berry and his newly-former bandmates discussed his departure with Addicted to Noise, and although Mills, Michael Stipe, and Peter Buck all indicated disappointment but begrudging acceptance of Berry’s decision, it’s clear that Berry was absolutely ready to go: when pressed to pick his peak experience of his time in R.E.M., he said, “Finishing the last tour felt like a real milestone event.” Spoken like a man who’s ecstatic at the thought of getting off the road…and he’s stayed off the road ever since, God love him.

To celebrate Mr. Berry’s birthday, we’ve compiled a collection of tracks from R.E.M.’s years on Warner Brothers, but we’ve bookended it with something special: a pair of tracks from the self-titled album by Hindu Love Gods, a ramshackle side project which featured Berry, Buck, and Mills backing Warren Zevon on a collection of cool covers. If hearing Berry pounding the skins while Zevon sings Prince and Terry Anderson songs doesn’t remind you how much fun that guy could have playing music, we don’t know what will.