GOLDMINE: Ceasar, let’s go back to the beginning and the first time you heard your doo-wop song “So Much in Love” on the radio in Philadelphia, in 1963, on its way to becoming No. 1 nationally.
ALBERT “CAESAR” BERRY: It was a thrill! Norman Burnett, George Hilliard, Donald Banks and I were singing songs in my basement. We had harmonies but didn’t have a lead singer. Norman ran into George Williams at his job, where he was a tow truck driver, and asked George if he wanted to join the group. George said yes to Norman and came in with a song called “As We Stroll Along,” at the time. We rehearsed it and sang it many ways until it became the way people know it from its hit version, with the title change to “So Much in Love.” When I heard it on the radio it was like a dream come true. We were discovered at The Tip-Top Talent Hunt in Philadelphia, sponsored by Tip-Top Bread. People would cut the label off the bread package and mail it in with whatever group they wanted to vote for. The votes came in. We didn’t win the contest but what happened is that the talent show producer, Leroy Lovett, sent us down to Cameo-Parkway Records and that is where we ran into Billy Jackson, who became our producer. The song we auditioned with for the record company was “Danny Boy.” At that time, I was working at Philadelphia General Hospital in the kitchen. I took a big radio in there at lunchtime and said, “They are going to play our group’s audition song on the radio soon.” After the song aired, I snuck out because it was the worst thing I had heard in my life. Later, when “So Much in Love” was released, I didn’t tell anybody at work. They didn’t know it was me and asked me, “Did you hear that new song by The Tymes?” I said, “Not quite,” ha ha ha. I never let them know it was me because I didn’t think they would believe it.
GM: When did you leave your hospital job to become a full-time singer?
AB: Shortly afterward. We were doing little record hops around the city and then the song broke through. A Philadelphia disc jockey named Jocko Henderson had a show at The Apollo Theater in Harlem. We went straight to The Apollo Theater and you talk about a scary situation. We got booed off the stage, ha ha ha. The show was us, Ruby and The Romantics, Brook Benton and Moms Mabley. We didn’t know anything about show business. We thought we did. We tried opening with The Drifters’ “On Broadway.” We saw one mic on the stage and thought that was it. We didn’t prepare. We knew nothing. The audience was clapping and booing. I was standing on a disc and the guy at the side of the stage told me to stand back. All of a sudden, a microphone came popping up out of the floor and we jumped back. We still hadn’t sung a word yet. That is when we got booed off the stage. That was our first day, first show. We learned quickly and got much better on stage.
GM: You mentioned Ruby and The Romantics, who are from the part of the country where my wife Donna and I grew up, Northeast Ohio. When I listen to your song “The Magic of Our Summer Love,” I am reminded of their hit “Our Day Will Come.”
AB: Ruby Nash is still a good friend. I call her every year on her birthday. When I heard their song “Our Day Will Come” on the radio, I thought it was the greatest record. I couldn’t get enough of it. The next thing I know is that we were on a Dick Clark tour with them and they were very nice people.
GM: The flip side of “The Magic of Our Summer Love,” in 1964, was “With All My Heart,” with a bossa nova beat, which was so popular at the time.
AB: It was fun making that record, with Billy Jackson producing it. He used to sing with The Revels, who had a hit with “Midnight Stroll,” that he wrote, which was first known as “Dead Man’s Stroll.” He produced everything we recorded and was a good man.
GM: “Here She Comes,” from the same year, is another favorite of mine, where you sing, “I like the way she walks.”
AB: That was another fun one. We were in the studio stomping a bit of foot percussion, which you can hear in the background, and it charted.
GM: Yes. That is a case where the song was intended as the flip side, then received airplay, pushing “Malibu” to the flip side, which I think is an overlooked treasure. “Malibu” is so smooth, and I am planning on radio airplay for that song.
AB: Oh, thank you. “Malibu” was also later used as a CD bonus track. It is certainly a good tune and I want to get more of those songs, which people may not have heard, together on a compilation to share with our audiences.
Flip side: Malibu
A side: Here She Comes
Top 100 debut:
Peak position: No. 92
GM: After the Parkway years in the 1960s, I remember you being in the Top 40 with your version of “People,” from Funny Girl, near the end of the decade on Columbia, and then in the 1970s, you moved to RCA.
AB: Yes, and before that we tried to have our own label called Winchester, but it wasn’t successful. Then we had a hit with “You Little Trustmaker,” on RCA Victor, and our success fortunately returned.
GM: I heard that hit on the radio recently. A Canadian DJ put together his all-time favorite Top 10 singles for a special and it was in his Top 10. What a fun dance song.
AB: We were in the studio recording, laying the track down and Billy told George that he was singing it too pretty and that he needed it sung another way. So, George came out of the studio and Billy said, “Let me try it.” Our producer went in and put the lead vocal down, then we came in behind it and added the background vocals, and it became a hit.
GM: It sure was, and the flip side is one that you co-wrote called “The North Hills,” which is so nice.
AB: North Hills is a suburb of Philadelphia. A friend of mine, Jim Grant, used to be the musical director for Chuck Jackson and he came to my house one day with a song he thought we could work on together. The song wasn’t a hit, but it did receive some airplay.
GM: In Virginia, DJ Sandi Conner often plays her favorite Tymes song on her oldies and beach music shows, “Ms. Grace.” She asks, “What do you think about its UK success where it reached No. 1 versus No. 91 in the U.S.?”
AB: In the UK they are more accepting of music, to a degree. Nothing seems to go out of style. We did several UK tours because of “Ms. Grace” going to No. 1 and we received a gold record there. It is still a good beach music record here, even though it wasn’t a big U.S. hit. It is now accepted. It is a good shag song, so they say.
GM: You will be on The Malt Shop Memories Cruise, postponed from last year to late October through early November this year, sailing a few hours south of me, here in Florida. The cruise is filled with musical acts and starts in Ft. Lauderdale and goes to Cozumel and Costa Maya.
AB: My wife Roberta and I cruised most recently in January of last year, before the pandemic hit. I enjoy cruises. The crowds are very accepting. You walk down hallways with them and sit and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them. I really appreciate the crowds and their stories on how our songs have touched a lot of people. It really surprised me when I first began to hear their stories.
GM: I have Norm N. Nite’s 1974 Rock On book next to me and in it you are listed as the group’s drummer.
AB: At first, I really didn’t think that I could sing. I wanted to be a drummer, but I really didn’t take the time to put that craft together. I felt it was a lot of work being a drummer, but on “So Much in Love,” that is me doing the finger snapping.
GM: You and your wife Roberta have been “so much in love” for decades. Happy Valentine’s Day to you both.
AB: Thank you. Yes, we are going on fifty years now. She is the backbone of the group. She handles all our arrangements and contacts many agents. When we got married, we wondered how we could push ourselves further. She has a very good business head and I told her she had a precious commodity, the group, ha ha, and she started promoting us and that was it. Now, with the pandemic, Roberta and I are staying at home with our cat Midnight, who is our baby, and look forward to getting back out with the audiences. Our daughter Tiana just graduated from college and works with the board of education and is doing very well, here in the Philadelphia area. We all stay close together. This virus is hurting a lot of people and artists, with everything postponed. For us, in addition to our concerts being on hold, our induction into the East Coast Music Hall of Fame has been postponed from last year to this year, too. We are very honored by this recognition. It is very pleasing to know that our songs touch a lot of people. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this with me. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Donna and the Goldmine readers.