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5 questions with Robert Berry of SIX By SIX

Former 3 frontman on new power trio, prog roots

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By Howard Whitman

What do you do when you’ve completed your life’s work? That was the question Robert Berry faced after releasing the third and final album from 3.2, a project that began as 3, a supergroup uniting Berry with ELP legends Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer and concluded with two albums Berry completed on his own. Like its predecessor, The Rules Have Changed (2018), the closing chapter, Third Impression (2021) featured music Berry wrote in collaboration with Emerson before his death in 2016.

Berry put together a touring version of 3.2 (with drummer Jimmy Keegan, keyboardist Andrew Colyer and original 3 touring guitarist Paul Keller) that released an excellent live CD/DVD set, Alive at ProgStock, in 2022, and that seemed to close the book on all things 3.

So what was next for Robert Berry? After his work with one of the all-time great keyboardists, Keith Emerson, he wanted to develop a more guitar-oriented project. The resulting band (and self-titled debut album, released in August 2022 on InsideOut Music), SIX By SIX, unites Berry with Saga guitarist Ian Crichton and Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler.

The album is a stunner, seamlessly merging Berry’s proggy tendencies (and sterling work on vocals, bass and keyboards) with Crichton’s virtuoso guitar playing and Glockler’s rock-solid drumming. To celebrate its release, Berry spoke with Goldmine from his California studios to discuss how the band came together and delve a bit into his prog past over the course of answering our five questions.

  

How did SIX By SIX come together?

After working with Keith Emerson, what was I going to do? Like I wanted to do another keyboard-based album? How am I going to do better, or have a guy who inspires me more than Keith? So I thought I’d go in more of a guitar direction. I was talking to my manager, and he said, “What do you want in terms of a guitar player?” I said, “If I could find a guy who plays like Steve Howe, but it sounds like Jeff Beck, that would be perfect.” Because Steve doesn’t play power chords and then ripping solos. He plays parts. It’s orchestrated. It’s fantastic.

So my manager called back the next day and said, “What about Ian Crichton from Saga?” “Wow,” I said. “I would have thought [of him] because he’s perfect for this—he’s one of my favorite guitar players. But he’s always been in Saga—why would he want to do something else?” And then Ian and I talked, and it was immediately a meeting of the minds about how he wanted to have a trio guitar band. For his whole career, he’s really looked forward to that because in Saga, everything’s squeaky clean. It’s based from the keyboards; it’s fairly orchestrated.

SIX By SIX

So he sent me a couple of the guitar parts that ended up in the first single, “Yearning to Fly,” and I went, “Wow.” A song just poured out of me, and after that, we were off. I had worked with Nigel in the second lineup of GTR (which split before releasing any recordings) and thought he would be perfect for this.

I think we had the album mostly written before we approached InsideOut. [Label head] Thomas Waber said, “I’m not signing anybody. We’re full.” We sent him “Yearning to Fly,” and he called and said, “I want this band.” It was a magic deal for me. I didn’t think I would find something to top what I had with Keith. How could I? And I think I’ve found something as good, and maybe more palatable to a wider audience.

  

SIX By SIX is an international band; you’re based in the U.S., Ian is in Canada, and Nigel is in England. Did you actually physically get together in the making of this album, or was it all done remotely?

It was written remotely. Just like with Emerson, Ian would send me little pieces of genius. They weren’t songs; they were maybe intros, chord progressions, and maybe a couple of times there was a solo section. It was my job to get the verses, the choruses, the lyrics, the ideas of what the songs were about. So to be in the same room would have made it a little tougher for me and Ian. It’s better that we do our thing that we do best on our own and get it to the level where we think, “Hey, this is 110% and I’m ready to go.” I had to send it back to him as a complete song, and ask myself, “What’s he going to think?” He called me and said, “My wife is dancing around the room. Man, this is really great!”

We hit it off immediately. It’s all organic; the same with Nigel. We’ve been friends since GTR, but this music needed that solid, heavy hitting. When I asked him, he said, “Wow, I’d be honored.” He came out to my studio and did all the drums here. It wasn’t some contrived band, not a case of “Let’s put these guys together.” It just worked.

  

Are you planning to take this band on the road—and if so, will you do a “Geddy” and play both bass and keyboards like you do on the album?

We want to try to be a three-piece with a couple of female background singers. Nigel sings a little bit, but not enough to hit those high notes, so that was my idea. But I don’t want to bring two singers to every country. If we’re on the east coast, I want to find two singers over there and make it a thing that we do—a couple of women from a cover band, for example. We could do that all over the world. They don’t have to be famous singers. They just need to be good. This could be fun. We’ll see if that works out or not.

I believe we’re going to tour Europe in early 2023. In certain places in the show, I’ll play bass parts with my left hand on the keyboards, with the bass guitar hanging, because it’s too complicated to do all the footwork, triggering parts with my feet.

I’m excited about it. I need to play live with these guys. It’s going to be really powerful, because I think the songs are going to come alive onstage. They just have “that thing” to them, and I can’t tell you where they came from. They just came out. Sometimes you just have the right combination.

  

What material are you most proud of in your career?

3 to the power of three v2

This is kind of funny for me to say. There’s a song on the first 3 album (To the Power of Three, released in 1988), “On My Way Home.” I gave my part of the writing credit to Keith, so he’d have 100% of that song. He wanted to do it for his manager, who had died. When Keith died, I wanted to sing that at the tribute. I wasn’t invited to do that, but I also thought, “I wish I still had my name on that song.” This song is so important to me now that he’s gone. I’m really proud of it. It’s so simple in its lyric and singing, but it’s one of my favorites.

I’ve had so many different facets of my career. When I was working with Sammy Hagar, I did an album that was released only in Germany, Takin’ It Back, and there's a few songs on there that no one's ever heard because the company went bankrupt after they released the album. It’s never been seen again.

3.2 The Rules Have Changed

Of course, the title track of the 3.2 album, “The Rules Have Changed”—that song in particular, Keith and I worked on it, and then once he was gone, the lyrics changed. When I started on the last 3.2 album, Third Impression, I looked at “The Rules Have Changed” and I thought, “Oh my God—those lyrics.” I was so right there with what happened, and it just came out of me in this way, so I’m very proud of that one. It’s one of my “embedded in my heart and soul” kind of songs, because it was such a painful time for me and the world.

If I could go back to the first song I wrote, my mom said, “I don’t care for that.” I wrote it about a sort-of girlfriend because I didn’t really have a girlfriend. And of course, my mom didn’t like that. I was 13.

  

Which prog album has been most influential to you?

Yes-close v2

When Hush—my first professional band—got together, the bass player was a big Yes fan, and he turned me on to all the Yes stuff. There’s so much Yes music, but my favorite really is Close to the Edge. I’d have to say Chris Squire and Paul McCartney are my main influences on bass.

Squire was right up there at the top, and I have a bass that he signed for me. He said it was just like his, the 1969 Rickenbacker with the split pickup, which they didn’t do until it was reissued. We had the same manager, so I brought it to him and said, “Chris, I need you to sign this.” He wanted to sign it on the pickguard, because he said it would ruin the value if he signed it on the wood. Chris Squire’s signature would ruin the value! (laughs) So yeah, Close to the Edge, it still gives me goosebumps.