Friday, September 2, 2011

Artisan Feature: Pete Berkow of "Songbird and Scallywag" - A Musician and Producer

Ruth Sandra Sperling

I am not sure of the day or even the exact event when I first knew who Pete Berkow was sometime in the Fall of 1970, but it was at the Red Herring Coffee House in Urbana, IL on the University of Illinois campus.   ~~~~~~~   Probably some night when I was there to hear the live Acoustic Folk Music of whoever was playing on stage -- or maybe it was one of those times I was volunteering in the kitchen of the Coffee House - either selling Tea, Coffee and Pretzels - or making a vegetarian Sunday evening dinner.   ~~~~~~  
But he was there - part of the "whole Coffee House" - sometimes playing music, or laughing or discussing the world -- or trying to figure out what they were going to do for whatever .... oh, well, that was the Red Herring Coffee House, at least to me.   ~~~~~  Well - we all went our own ways -- lead our own lives -- played out our parts in the Web of Life -- so I got caught up with Pete recently -- and here is some of what he's been doing, as told by him!!


What is(are) your Craft(s)/Art(s)?
Musician and Producer

Places you sell your Craft(s)/Art(s) on the Internet 

Places you sell your Craft(s)/Art(s) off the Internet
I sell CDs at concerts, when I perform. That is a rare event, because I spend more time producing other artists than performing my own music.

What/Who has been the inspiration behind doing your Craft(s)/Art(s)?
The many great musicians I have had the honor to produce have all influenced me as a player too. I guess that starts with Dan Fogelberg, who showed me many of my first guitar licks in Urbana, around 1969. He was a good friend, and I produced his first recordings. More recently, I have produced artists such as Tommy Emmanuel, Sam Bush, and Joe Craven. Joe is especially inspiring, because he joins me on stage when possible. Mr. Craven is a force of nature!

Video he Produced of Tommy Emmanuel: (See video below)

Can you briefly explain to our readers how you do your Craft(s)/Art(s) (methods, skills, materials)?
I have been a song writer since I was a teenager. I’m 61 now, and still writing songs. I get bored playing cover songs, so I write my own. I tried to read classical music, but that seemed too routine for me. For example, I started to learn the piece MalagueƱa but it morphed into my song Ruby’s Ranchito.

How did you learn or develop your Craft(s)/Art(s)?
I learned through the oral tradition. I sat down next to great players and they either showed me their licks or I done stole ‘em!

Are you continuing to study your Craft(s)/Art(s) - and, if so, how?
I play my instruments every day. My wife, Tricia Berkow, inspires me to keep playing and writing. She’s a gifted musician – much more talented than I am.

Your personal history in your Craft(s)/Art(s).
I produced my first records in Urbana, at the Red Herring coffeehouse, right next to the University of Illinois campus. I worked with great players such as Dan Fogelberg, Peter Swinnerton, Elliott Delman, and all guys in “The Ship.” I moved to Chico, California in 1975, and have been a performer/producer ever since. Most recently, I produced a PBS television series that included concerts with Richard Thompson, Dave Brubeck, Rodney Crowell, Roy Rogers, Marcia Ball, and many others. Again: Each was an inspiration for my own music.

- As a song writer: Most recently, I have had songs performed by younger artists. For example, my close friends Scott Dugdale and Becca Neunabel released their version of my song “Liquid Smog” on the video game “Rock Band.”

Are there other interests in your life that you would like to discuss here (hobbies, charities, other careers, etc.)
I have had parallel careers to my music career as a writer and television producer. I have written four books about writing. (They are textbooks.) And: I was a newspaper journalist for nearly a dozen years. The television production was a natural, sideways move from the newspaper work. In addition to producing concerts for PBS, I have produced documentaries and instructional television. It has taken me some interesting directions. For example: I produced a 20 program series about astronomy that won two Emmy awards and has been used by hundreds of teachers and thousands of students. To me, it’s all a variation on a theme: Songwriting, journalism, writing, teaching … they’re all based on human- to-human communication. If you have a positive message, people will listen.

Newspaper Article on Pete!  "Shasta College teacher to perform with Joe Craven"

To anyone aspiring to do the Craft(s)/Art(s) you do, do have any suggestions or recommendations?
Write from the heart … whether it’s an essay, a song, a newspaper article, or a script for a television program. Don’t compromise. It’s a long distance race, not a sprint. Learn to enjoy the process of creating … it’s even more important than the end result.

.....Update from 2015 ... Pete is one of the Producers of the PBS Series, Music Gone Public - and here is a video from that series Produced by Pete and others from Music Gone Public .... Pete's friend and guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel .....

And .... Thanks, Pete!

Please Note: My Features are based on the artisan's answers to questions I give them and the photos, videos, articles they send me or choose or approve -- I give all artisans I Feature full editing rights.

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