“I may not be rich and famous, but a life well-lived is the best revenge.” -Pete Berwick
Bob Dylan meets David Allan Coe down at the old crossroads and beat the hell out of the devil himself. That is what you will find when you fire up Pete Berwick’s new CD. Do you want me to prove it? Well, I don’t have to, the proof is in the whiskey and if that ain’t Outlaw Country then I’ll kiss your rebel ass.
I had the pleasure of talking by phone with the rambunctious and outspoken Pete Berwick about his new album, The Legend of Tyler Doohan and the first single release from the EP, The Proof Is in The Whiskey.
“After thirty-five years and five albums I had pretty much had it with writing songs and putting out records and touring,” Berwick confessed. “Then one day, two winters ago, I read a news story about a little kid in upstate New York who saved six family members in a trailer fire, went back in and tried to get his disabled grandfather out, but didn’t make it. This story of bravery and the courage of this brave little boy touched my heart. I figured if he didn’t quit under pressure, why should I, so I wrote a song about it, resurrected some other songs, old and new that I had yet to record, signed a record deal with Little Class Records in Kansas City, and here it is, my sixth album, and what I can honestly say, is my best writing.”
Considering Pete’s albums have all been critically acclaimed, that is saying an awful lot. His 2007 release Ain’t No Train Outta Nashville, actually recorded on Music Row in Nashville in 1992 but shelved and forgotten, peaked at #5 on Cross Country Radio (now Outlaw Radio) on XM Satellite, and at least a couple of his albums made the top ten releases of the year in several national newspapers. Over a dozen of Pete’s songs have been placed in movies and television.
Berwick’s history is long and complex. “I have also written four novels, my first one, The Bar Singer, pretty much tells it all, and though fiction, my life story is all there,” Berwick recalls. “My very first ‘band’ was around 1975 in Florida. Me and this drummer friend would go into the high school locker room shower and he would bang on the wall with his sticks and I would pound on my cheap guitar and the acoustics in the shower stall would make us sound electric. That was the official start of it all.”
After moving back to Illinois from Florida, and investing fifteen years of trying to build a name performing original songs in the culturally-challenged sports bars of Chicago, Berwick made the move to Nashville in 1990, where he wasted little time. He signed a record deal with Bitter Creek Records, and recorded his most successful album Ain’t No Train Outta Nashville, then assembled his band, The Nashville Underground and hit the road, garnering opening slots for Charlie Daniels and other Nashville legends.
“I’d say one of the greatest inspirations in my life was the advice Charlie Daniels gave me backstage after a show,” Berwick said. “He told me to just be myself and to hell with what anyone thought, and that is the life I have been living ever since,” Berwick says.
After Berwick’s album deal ran its course, he and his wife Denise purchased seven acres in Dixon County and Pete took some time to reflect on where he had been and his next move.
“That was around 1995, and after pushing this horse uphill for almost twenty years I had pretty much had it. I knew I had a lot more in me, but I was tired of the politics on Music Row, and the music I was writing wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms in most places. My music had been labeled “cowpunk,” and to this day my critics give me credit for being one of the pioneers of this style, along with Jason and the Scorchers and others, but there is so much more to my music than any one genre.”
Berwick soon moved back to Northern Illinois, where he has been based since—touring, recording and penning his novels. He is also an amateur boxer. “People ask me how I can stand getting hit in the face,” Berwick laughs, “but I actually enjoy it. It makes me feel alive. At 57years-old I am not supposed to be boxing. But this is how I have lived my life, doing the exact opposite of what others tell me I am not supposed to do. You know, you’re not supposed to do anything but have a real job, and you have to have something realistic to fall back on, and all of that crap. I may not be rich and famous, but a life well-lived is the best revenge. And I have proved my naysayers wrong time and time again. There are those who can’t deal at all with the fact that I am still standing after almost four decades in the trenches, and this pleases me very much.”
In 2009, Berwick managed to gain the attention of ABC, and appeared on the reality show Wife Swap. “They wanted to do something different after so many episodes of the clean wife versus the dirty wife, and feature a family in the entertainment business. I gave them what they wanted, but it was sort of hard, getting my gigs done with the replacement wife locking away my guitars. The money from the show helped finance my next two albums, and brought me some new fans, but it’s truly not my favorite subject. People will come up to me now and then all excited because they recognize me from the show, which to my chagrin continues to be re-run. I’ll tell them, ‘Hey, I have six albums and four novels out, you know,’ and all they will want to know is how real the show actually is. Fifteen minutes of fame is about as cheap as it sounds.”
Berwick’s newest album is a hard-hitting introspective collection of his best songwriting to date. Victory and defeat, love and hate, hope and futility, damnation and redemption, life and death—it’s all there, in all of its ragged and bloody heart-felt glory, all to the backdrop of a musical tapestry and roller coaster ride in his typical genre-defying style of country meets punk meets rock n’ roll meets rockabilly meets folk meets anthemic ballads.
“You can hear Neil Diamond as well as The Clash on this thing,” Berwick
says. “I never give much thought to how it all comes out in the end. I leave that for the reviewers and critics whose job it is to explain it all and define it. I just write them as they come. In the end, I’m just a song and dance man.”
The Proof is in the Whiskey is currently being released to radio as the single, and is fast becoming the stand-out cut on the album.
“I am really proud of that song,” says Berwick. “Hard-working songwriter, Joe Kent had been after me for a while to do some co-writing. I had only co-written about one other song on my records, and that guy went on and got himself a George Jones cut shortly after. Joe (Kent) and I wrote The Proof is in the Whiskey, and dammit if Joe didn’t land a Hank Williams Jr. cut, titled The Party’s On almost the same week. My co-writers tend to have themselves a bit of luck, and I am more than glad to spread what I can. That’s all we songwriters are, Johnny Appleseeds. We plant songs and emotions, and hope to see something grow from it all.”
And Pete has certainly planted a lot of seeds in his nearly four decades of picking out a living on his old guitar. He has his entire life’s work available at www.peteberwick.net including his latest effort with Little Class Records, The Legend Of Tyler Doohan. I became a fan of this renegade artist over a year ago and purchased a box set that includes five albums and four novels. I was thoroughly entertained for months for less than $50. So naturally I was one of the first people to order The Legend Of Tyler Doohan and received it as soon as it was released. My favorite novel by Berwick is The Bar Singer which is a literary ride down a lost highway through Hell with the devil riding shotgun. It’s a helluva ride so fasten your seat belts. When it comes to Pete’s music, I had always favored the song Only Bleeding until this new album when I heard The Proof Is InThe Whiskey. Berwick really outdid himself with that one and it is now locked and loaded into my CD player for speed queuing whenever the notion strikes me, which is quite often.
Pete Berwick is proving that his future is in another round, and the proof is in the whiskey.