There are so many sidemen out there today. Most of them are quietly making their way through life supporting the headliners. They are content to back-up these outstanding musicians without their own notoriety. However, these musicians…the support staff, if you will…are the meat and potatoes of this industry. They give us listeners the groove and the beat that keeps us going – and coming back for more.
One of the busiest sidemen in the business these days is bassist André Berry. In recent days, André has been touring with Dave Koz, Rick Braun and Mindi Abair. In his past, he has supported the likes of Warren Hill, Peter White, Jeff Golub, Tom Scott, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson, and a host of others. André continues to be one of the most sought after bass players in the industry.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, André was destined to be a musician. His family consisted of a classical pianist, a church organist, a trumpeter and a singer. After stints with the piano, drums and guitar, he picked up the bass at 16 years old. Remembering the first time he played in front of an audience, André notes, “It was a natural experience for me. I remember thinking ‘I’m not nervous…I wonder why?’ And also the feeling hit me that I had the least experience of all the guys I was playing with, but I had the most enthusiasm. So, I knew I was going to be doing this no matter what.” Enthusiasm is an understatement. The groove is in his heart and truly comes out in every show he plays. André believes that the bass provides the foundation for the groove of the band and is more than thrilled for the chance to provide it.
Influenced in the early days by Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson, Larry Graham of Sly & The Family Stone, Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and his mentor, Sekou Bunch, André is the definition of funk. Even the backside of his bass has the word “FUNK” written on it. André is determined to always keep the funk alive, and is doing his part through his band, The Deep Fried Funk Society. “Growing up in Ohio, I was exposed to great funk bands which are now an extinct species. If you play instruments now in R&B music, it is pretty much a curse. So I decided I was going to try to keep the flame burning for the old-fashioned funk band with horns and guitars and bass and drums and vocals. It is my thing. I write all the songs and play a lot of the instruments, yet I do have some friends who lend their talents to the ‘Society.’ It is a labor of love, and if it goes nowhere, that really doesn’t matter to me. It is about expression and staying true to what I know should still be a viable music category in Black music. ‘The Band’… Now you pretty much are limited to singing or rapping…Oh, well…My mission continues. They won’t hold me down!!”
André also says that what keeps the funk and the groove going are the fans. “I love to see people’s faces light up and enjoying the music! I don’t think people realize how much musicians feed off that. When a crowd is dry with a vibe of ‘impress me’ or ‘we’re dressed too nice to dance and party,’ it makes the night long, hard and un-energetic! But when the crowd is ready to party, and you feel the energy coming back, it makes you want to play incredibly and please them.”
And please us he does. André grabs hold of the fans regardless of who the headliner is. Maybe it’s the dancing, or maybe the thumping of those strings, or maybe the electric personality. Whatever the reason, André makes his presence known at every performance with amazing talent, usually showcased at some point in a solo.
Being a sideman of this stature has served André Berry well. His talent, his groove and the funk that is electrifying crowds everywhere, is something that I personally look forward to. Whoever the headliner might be is sure to have an excited, partying crowd when André “Funk” Berry hits the stage!