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We Remember Documentary Filmmaker Henry Hampton

Hampton is best known for his PBS series "Eyes on the Prize" about the civil rights movement. He said his intention was to tell the story in a way in which blacks were not the "victims." HIs other highly acclaimed documentaries were "America's War on Poverty" and "The Great Depression." HAMPTON had struggled since 1990 with lung cancer. He was 58. (REBROADCAST from 2/1/90)


Other segments from the episode on November 23, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 23, 1998: Interview with Larry Holmes; Commentary on Bert Berns; Obituary for Henry Hampton.


Date: NOVEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112301np.217
Head: Do What you Got to do
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Larry Holmes, was the world heavyweight champion from 1978 to '85. The only person who had held the title longer was Joe Louis. Holmes beat nine world champions, including Muhammed Ali, Ken Norton and Leon Spinks; and loss to the Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.

Larry Ho
lmes grew up poor. He was raised in a shack with a corrugated metal roof, a red clay floor, and no plumbing, in a small Georgia town where his mother picked cotton. She moved the family to Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1956, when Larry Holmes was six.

He still lives in Easton, where he owns businesses and real estate. He's proud of being won up the few boxers who was able to hold onto his money and invest it wisely. Now, he has a new memoir, written with Phil Berger (ph), who used to cover boxing for "The New York

Early in Holmes career, from 1971 to '75, he was Muhammed Ali's sparring partner. He told me how he got the job.

LARRY HOLMES, FORMER WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: Getting ready to go into the Olympics, Ali was looking for a training camp. And somebody sold him on the idea of Deer Lake. And he looked at it, liked it, and he moved to Deer Lake. And at that time Ernie Butler, who was my trainer, knew Angelo Dundee.

We went up there, and Ali happened to be putting on an exhibition that day
, and he didn't have nobody to do it with. So, therefore, I was a big guy and eager to learn, eager to get in the ring with Ali, a great fighter, a legend everybody knew of. And he took me down to Reading, Pennsylvania, beat me up a little bit. But it was a great experience, and that's how we got to become pretty good friends.

GROSS: So what was your job as Ali's sparring partner? Did you have to learn the moves of his opponents so that you could fight him like they were going to fight him?

my style was a unique kind of style. I almost fought like him, and my thing was to fight him. He wanted me to fight him, to give my, all because the guys that he was going to fight was going to do what they had to do to him. So he didn't choose me because of a certain style I had. He chose me because I can take it, and that I could fight. That's why he chose me; at least that's why I think.

GROSS: How often did you have to take it? I mean, how often...

HOLMES: Four years. I took it -- I would say I t
ook it for about two and a half years, boxing with Ali. But I was started to get mine in, so the workouts got to be almost even. And I think when I left Muhammed Ali in 1975, I think I was doing a number on him. And it was time for me to move on to further my own career.

GROSS: What are some of the moves you learned from working with Ali?

HOLMES: Well, when I was working with Ali, I was learning the way he pulled away from punches; the way he ducked from punches; the way he blocked punches. I learned th
e way he dealt with a lot of things like people, you know.

Just being around Muhammed Ali taught me a lot. It taught me a lot of pride. It taught me a lot of discipline. Because he was one of the guys that really was disciplined. He was one of those persons that took everything seriously when he had to do it.

GROSS: When Ali was fighting Frazier you had to leave Ali, and you became Frazier's sparring partner. Would you explain what happened there?

HOLMES: Well, you know what happened was, you kno
w, Ali did not want a guy like me because I boxed more similar to him than anything. And Joe Frazier knew that I boxed similar to Ali, so therefore he called me -- his people called me.

And before I went to Joe Frazier to work I asked for permission from Muhammed Ali and what did he think: would you be mad at me if I went down and worked for Joe Frazier as his sparring partner. And he says: yeah, you can go work for Joe Frazier, but you can't tell him nothing.

So I done that. And it was very interesting in
working with Joe Frazier, because it was a different kind of a pressure fight -- fighter. Joe Frazier would try to kill you every second. You know, I remember times that he cracked my ribs, and I had to continue to fight with him. But it was a different kind of experience that I welcome and I'm glad I took.

But even though I was working for Joe Frazier and he was paying me, I was still rooting for Muhammed Ali. Because it seemed like he had a little bit more charisma; he took to me a lot more than Joe Frazie
r. And it was just great working for Muhammed Ali. As a matter of fact, it was great working for Joe Frazier; I learned a lot from both guys.

It was too different individuals that both had their own different attitudes and ways they did things. And I just like Muhammed Ali's way more, because I guess he had more of the world on his side than Joe did.

GROSS: One other Ali question: was Ali ever theatrical in the ring when he was just sparring with you?

HOLMES: Yeah, oh, yeah. Come on, boy. Come on,
fight. Come on, you ain't got nothing. You're eating, you're sleeping. I'm paying you, and you can't do nothing? Come on, show us. Take this, take that.

At that time when he was telling me all that stuff, I was taking it in. Because I was learning his ways, and he was beating me up a little bit, but I was determined to stay out there was him.

GROSS: My guest is Larry Holmes, former heavyweight champion. He has a new autobiography which is called "Against the Odds."

When you started fighting prof
essionally what did you think of as your best move?

HOLMES: My jab. My jab was my best thing -- my best weapon; my lateral movement, side to side, back and forth, to keep fighters off-balance. And I felt that if I could do that for a certain amount of time I would be fine, because I didn't believe in getting hit. Because I adapted, copied, or whatever you want to say, after Muhammed Ali the way he moved his head and the way he pulled away from punches, the way he blocked punches. I adapted that, and I was pr
etty good at that. So I felt that if I could continue to win, I would have a great chance at being the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

GROSS: Now, you are used to Ali; you were used to his showmanship. I mean, he was so loved for being this big flamboyant figure in boxing. And my impression is that's not in your character to have those kinds of theatrics. So how did you feel when you started boxing? Did you think that somehow you needed a kind of bigger showier personality -- you needed to bring t
hose theatrics in to really be loved by the boxing fans?

HOLMES: I thought that, and I thought that if I do it I'll be damned if I do it. Because, I tell you, when I did try to do that -- tried to rhyme or make poems or try to fight like a certain -- like Muhammed Ali a little bit, people would say: you copy Muhammed Ali; get your own thing; you can't fight like Muhammed Ali; there's only one Muhammed Ali.

And that really haunted me. You know, one of the hardest things was is to win the title. And then I
have to follow behind somebody as great as Muhammed Ali was. And Muhammed Ali was one great individual. I mean, you couldn't light a candle to him, because he was Ali. I mean, if I say: I don't make poems, my name is Holmes...


... they'll say I'm rhyming like Muhammed Ali. Oh, man, I don't want to hear that. Muhammed Ali -- you know, so everything was Muhammed Ali. People couldn't did that figure out of their imagination, that I was Larry homes and he was Muhammed Ali.

I was between a roc
k and a hard place. I didn't know which way to go, so I just done what I had to do, and that was to win fights.

GROSS: If you would remember for us the highlights for you; the most vivid parts of the first heavyweight title fight that you won.

HOLMES: Well, I tell you, the first fight I won as a heavyweight contender was when I won the heavyweight title. And that was June 9, 1978, when I fought -- stepped in the ring with Ken Norton to fight him. Because we had a lot of animosity going. And you know, I
was one of those guys -- at that time I wanted to beat him up. I wanted to win. I wanted to, you know -- I mean, I just let everything get to me.

I tell you, I came out with a record "Ain't No Stopping Me Now," that McFadden and Whitehead made, and that...

GROSS: It was kind of like your theme song.

HOLMES: My theme song. And I tell you, that record came out just in time for me. Because I felt that this was a good record and "Ain't No Stopping Me Now" is everything I ever tried to do. Somebody alwa
ys trying to hold you back. And that record had all the words that I needed in there. And I wanted to go out there and use that record. Fighters now use music, but I was the first to use music to enter the ring with.

So fighting Ken Norton for 15 rounds; he didn't like me, and I didn't like him. And the people were hollering and screaming, and everybody knows Kenny Norton and very few people know Larry Holmes. So you know, I was like the underdog, and that was one of the hardest fights that I ever fought.

GROSS: You say there was a lot of animosity between you. Was it something personal, or was it just that you want both wanted to win?

HOLMES: We both wanted to win, and I think it was personal. I didn't think Kenny liked me from the beginning, because I was one of those young cocky kids that was saying: these guys are afraid of me, and they won't fight me. And I would mention that to Kenny Norton and everybody else.

And when they came that it was a mandatory that he must fight me because I was the numbe
r one contender in the world, I don't think Kenny Norton liked that. Because he didn't want to give me that opportunity, because he thought probably my style of boxing would beat him. So he didn't like me, and I didn't like him because he didn't want to give me the opportunity to be able to say I'm fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world.

GROSS: Now, you say in the book that right before the 15th round, I guess it was your manager said to you: you know, you can go easy on this because you're win

HOLMES: I'm winning the fight.

GROSS: You're ahead, so you could just take it easy on this. And then you had to decide whether you should kind of withhold your power in that round or really give it your full force. How did you calculate in your mind what to do there?

HOLMES: Well, I'm a fighter. And I thought comfortably I was winning the fight. I thought I had won by four or five rounds more than he did, and I thought they were going to declare me as the winner. But Kenny Norton came at
me so hard trying to kill me, and I wanted to try to get him back. Every time he threw a punch and landed it, I wanted to throw two back. You hit me once, I'm going to hit you twice. You hit me once, I'm going to hit you three or four times.

And it went back and forth like that. So that's why I would say that's probably one of the great fights of all time, because for 15 rounds we fought; there was no lollipopping out there; lolligagging out there. We was actually fighting. And if I would not have done that
when my trainer said to me that: you know, you got your fight, just stay away, stay out of trouble.

If I didn't go out and fight him, I would have lost that fight. I would not have been the heavyweight champion of the world. And I think my dream would have went down from there on. I went on and held that title for seven and a half years, because I did not want to give anybody the opportunity to beat me and not fight my best fight.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is former heavyweight champio
n Larry Holmes. He has a new autobiography. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Larry Holmes is my guest, former world heavyweight champion. Now he has a new autobiography, which is called "Against the Odds."

Are you saying when you became the champ that you found there were a lot of "favors" expected of you; kickbacks, payoffs, what kinds of things?

HOLMES: Well, you know, like, when I was dealing with Don King at that time, Don K
ing would want 25 percent of the dollars. And he would want...

GROSS: He was promoting the fight?

HOLMES: He was promoted the fight. And he would want the right to promote the fight; therefore, he wanted exclusive from Larry Holmes. And I'd take what he'd give me, or don't take anything at all.

GROSS: Did you see a lot of corruption in boxing?

HOLMES: Corruption is only when they don't like you and don't give you the decisions. The corruption is never between two fighters; corruption is when t
wo managers don't see eye to eye and they're fighting over the guys who are going to judge the fight and referee the fight; (unintelligible) favored to his guy than your guy. And that's the corruption. And if they don't like you, they won't give it to you.

GROSS: Were you ever asked straight out to throw a fight?

HOLMES: No, never. Because they know the kind of person that I am. You know, I mean I go down -- I've fought with broken hands and -- and cut eyes, and stuff like that. They know that Larry Ho
lmes will go out there and give it his all.

GROSS: My guest is former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. He has a new autobiography called "Against the Odds."

You faced Ali in the ring when Ali was, I think, 38, in 1980. How did you feel about going into the ring with him for the first time not being his sparring partner but his opponent in the ring?

HOLMES: I told Ali, you know, it's a business situation. It is a business deal. Your mind is making the date, but your body can't keep, Ali.

You didn't think he was up to the fight?

HOLMES: No, I didn't think he could beat me because I knew him. I thought he was up to fight. I had worked with them as a sparring partner for four years; had been around on; he was my idol; I knew what he could do and what he couldn't do. So, therefore, I just told him that, you know, take the money.

GROSS: Did you try to go easy on him because you thought...

HOLMES: At first I didn't. At first, I wanted to hit him hard. I wanted to surrender him, you kn
ow, then make him week so he don't have no chance to hurt me. And then after about the fourth or fifth round, I started taking it easy. I was saying to him: why take anymore? You can't win.

GROSS: You said that to him in the ring?

HOLMES: Yes. And he said: shut up, boy, I'm going to knock you out. Fight, I'm knocking your ass out. You can't fight -- called me every name in the book.

And that was one of the things that shocked me and surprised me, because all the times that I was with Muhammed Al
i I never heard him swear like that, curse at me or anything. And when I fought him, I heard everything under the sun come out of his mouth, and that knocked me out in itself.

GROSS: Now, I think Ali didn't win a single round in that fight.

HOLMES: No, he didn't win.

GROSS: How did that affect your popularity?

HOLMES: Well, I think my popularity increased because I was now out of the shadow of Muhammed Ali. It wasn't what about Muhammed Ali anymore. It was about Larry Holmes, and the way I won
the flight without being a mercenary. You know, I didn't try to kill him. I went out there to do what I had to do to win the fight. And it was no: I'm killing you. I think people respected me for -- because they could see what I was doing.

GROSS: Did winning change your relationship with Ali?

HOLMES: No. I don't think -- as far as I'm concerned I don't think so. I don't know if it changed in his book or not, but I always respected Muhammed Ali, always talked him, and will always have a good relations
hip with him. (unintelligible) I don't really know, but he always treated me with the utmost respect.

GROSS: My guest is former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. He has a new autobiography.

You were diagnosed, you say, with a slipped disc before your fight with Leon Spinks. And you were told by your doctor...

HOLMES: No, Michael Spinks.

GROSS: Michael Spinks, I'm sorry. Leon's brother, yeah. And you were told by your doctor that if you threw a punch with your right hand you might rupture your
spinal cord and permanently paralyze yourself. You heard that, and you still went into the ring?

HOLMES: Well, because, you know, I had set myself up in a position. I had taken these guys advances. And we had a show to go on, and the show must go on. I was one of those guys that say "the show must go on." And in spite of what might happen to me, I said: let's do it.

I don't know if that was true or false, or if I did hurt myself. I know I had some pain in my shoulders here and there. And I went out th
ere and did what I had to do. I thought even though I didn't deliver like I should have, I thought I did enough to win the fight.

But my doctors said that you can go for it, but it's a chance you're taking. But he also said that there's a chance that you're always going to take even when you walk across the street. And he said those are the risks that we take in our lives. So I made the decision to go ahead with it.

But it didn't bother me in my mind, because I was not able to deliver the punches that I t
hought I should because being paralyzed kept popping up in the back of my mind. And I thought that was the wrong thing for them to do to me, especially a week before the fight.

GROSS: You mean, to tell you that?

HOLMES: To tell me that.

GROSS: Would you rather that they didn't tell you that?

HOLMES: Yes. If they didn't tell me that I would have still been heavyweight champion of the world, because I lost the decision.

GROSS: Yeah, but you might have been paralyzed, right?

hen I would have been paralyzed. But I wasn't paralyzed and I did fight. So if I'd have fought without thinking about what was going -- the problem with me, I probably would have done much better than what I did.

GROSS: I don't know. If I were you, I think I would have preferred to know and...

HOLMES: You prefer to know afterwards.

GROSS: Yeah, OK. Right.

HOLMES: If you're going to do it, you're going to do it. You know, you don't need to know about what's wrong with you. I mean, if you're g
oing to die, you know, you say: well, I'm going to do this or I ain't going to do this. I'm going to live my life. I'm going to say: I'm going to have fun first.

GROSS: This is your choice.


GROSS: You decided to take that risk, as opposed to taking it, you know, in ignorance and then finding out after the fact that you were really hurt that is something you could have avoided; suing the doctor and the whole bit.

HOLMES: No, I wouldn't do that, because, you know, it would be my choi
ce, my choice of how I feel, and if I think I should do this or not.

GROSS: You lost that fight with Michael Spinks.

HOLMES: I lost that fight. It was a split decision, very close. And as I said, I was the champion. I should have won. Even with the second fight, I thought I won. But they said I had lost it.

But those are the choices, those of the games that people play in boxing. As I was saying to you earlier, people, if they don't like you, they don't want you in here anymore, they want to get
you out of there; and that's the way they do it.

GROSS: You know, I'm thinking that people do a lot of different things for money, and often those things aren't easy things. But the things that you had to require not only, you know, like, risking your health and everything, but taking a lot of pain.

And I'm wondering, I guess a boxer needs to really know how to take pain, no matter how good the boxer is. How do you deal with pain, before -- or while you're fighting and then after the fact? I mean, whil
e you're fighting there's probably a lot of adrenaline that masks the pain, but after that?

HOLMES: I never dealt with pain.

GROSS: You never dealt with pain?

HOLMES: I never dealt with pain during a fight. I dealt with pain after the fight.

GROSS: Is that because you don't feel it during the fight?

HOLMES: You feel it, but you don't -- you block that out, and you don't really worry about it. You do what you got to do. Because I remember me going into the ring with a broken hand and fighti
ng with a broken hand, and the pain that you have to endure. And I knew that I would be able to overcome it, you know, if I just put my mind in the right setting.

And that's what I did. But afterwards, it hurts. It takes a day or so to get the pain out of you. You take your hot bath, Jacuzzi, rub downs, and your Nuprins. And you hope that they go away, you know? And after that, you just try to live everyday normally. But it's a mental thing, too, that you have to go through after that; your mind -- how t
o fight and when to. It's kind of like relive that a couple more times. And then after you do that, you get that out of your head, and it's back to normal.

GROSS: Larry Holmes is the former world heavyweight champion. His new autobiography is called "Against the Odds." We'll talk more in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. He held the title from 1978
to '85. He has a new autobiography called "Against the Odds."

You're planning to go into the ring with George Foreman. When is the fight scheduled?

HOLMES: The fight is January the 23rd in Houston, Texas. They call it the George Foreman Birthday Bash, so you know what that means. I am not the favorite. I am not the one who is supposed to win the fight. And I'm the one who's supposed to be given a bashing.

GROSS: How old is Foreman?

HOLMES: George will be 50, and I just turned 49 yesterday.

GROSS: OK, you can explain this to me. You're two middle-aged guys going into the ring; two, I think, very likable personalities in the world of boxing. I'll be honest, you know, it might just be me, but it really makes me want to flinch, you know, to think of you to guys at your age...

HOLMES: That still can fight.

GROSS: ... the age of 50 or approaching it.

HOLMES: And still can fight, you know, that's the mind boggling type of thing. We still can fight, and the reason why we still can fight is
because we have taken care of ourselves. George Foreman has taken care of himself by retiring for 10 years and not fighting anyone.

I've taking care of myself by not getting beat up by these guys while I was fighting, and by staying in good condition, by not abusing my body and mind. And that's how -- the reason why we still can do it. And I think another reason why did we can do it because the money that they are paying.

GROSS: Isn't there maybe a voice in your head saying: listen, you've made it this f
ar. You're almost 50, you've made it in really good shape and really good health through, you know, a really successful boxing career. Why press your luck?

HOLMES: Well, because my other voice in my head keeps saying: it ain't going to happen to you. You're going to be OK. And we have to think that way, and I work that way; I train that way; I make sure that I feel that when I go into the ring.

I don't take the negative, I take the positive. If anything happens it's going to happen to George.

Now, even what the doctor told you awhile back that if you fought -- you had a ruptured disk in your spine -- if you fought you might be paralyzed. Is that still a risk, or is that all healed up?

HOLMES: No, that's no risk, and I don't think it ever was a risk. But you know, one of the things that came into my favor, and not came into my favor, that I'm not afraid of anyone, pretty much of nothing. I'm not afraid of death. I'm not afraid -- I'm afraid of being handicapped and somebody having to take care m
e. And I don't want that to happen.

But as far as me checking out of here, I'm not afraid of that. Because I've lost people in my family; my father, 52; my brother, 55; my one brother, five. So, no, I just take every day as it comes, because tomorrow will not be promised to me. So I just hope that I keep right on going, and hope and pray that nothing happens to me so that I can just continue to take care of my family.

GROSS: Larry Holmes is my guest, former world heavyweight champion. And he has a new a
utobiography called "Against the Odds."

Now, I think it was only pretty recently that you learned how to read?

HOLMES: I am still not the best reader, because, as I said, I dropped out in the seventh grade. I read better to myself like everybody else, but I don't read out loud real well. But I can read enough to get by -- my contracts and things like that, I go over, I read them. And if I have questions, I'm never too ashamed to ask somebody to help me, because it was one of my (unintelligible) that I had
when I was in school.

It was one of my things that I didn't like to do in school, was to read, because the teacher would say: stand up in class and read. And when I did that, and if I made a mistake, I didn't know a word, the other kids laughed. And I didn't want to be laughed at.

So I think school was pretty hard for me, but, now, I know the difference. I know that I need to know this, and I need to know a lot of things. Because I do run a multi-million dollar business up there in Easton, with a courtho
use and the banks and everything else. And I have dollars coming in, and I want to see the dollars coming in. I want to see the dollars going out, and I don't want nobody else to handle them again.

GROSS: Was there a period of time that you covered it up that you couldn't read; when you didn't want anybody to know and you'd kind of fake it?

HOLMES: Yeah, I covered it up. People didn't know I couldn't read. I did cover it up.


HOLMES: Just let somebody else read it, you know. I alwa
ys could read somewhat -- I couldn't read a whole sentence or something, but I could read some parts of it can and go by from there.

GROSS: Did you ever get in trouble because you couldn't read well? Ever sign a contract you shouldn't have signed, or misread a sign or whatever?

HOLMES: No. I signed contracts with Don King that I knew wasn't right, that I had to sign because...

GROSS: But it had nothing to do with reading.

HOLMES: But it had nothing to do with reading.

GROSS: Right.

ES: But you know, you sign this or you're out the door. I sign it, and, hey, OK, I'll live with it later on.

GROSS: You have an autobiography now which was written with Phil Berger, who is "The New York Times" former boxing reporter, and is the author of another book about boxing. Can you read the book?

HOLMES: Yes, I read the book in spots, because I'm a slow reader. I like to take my time and read the book. And I don't like that. I'm always in a hurry. So my wife reads the book, you know; every pag
e, my wife read this book. And sometimes I could say: let's read the book. Read it to meet again.

GROSS: It must feel good to have a book.

HOLMES: I'll tell you what, it's so good to have anything in my position. Because, I tell you, so many people said I couldn't do anything. Now I got a book out. Just think if I get a movie next, you know? You never say never with a lot of the stuff because you never know what might happen for you.

God got the plan, and he's the best of planners.

I don't c
are how many people out there today that say you can't do something. That man upstairs, boy, he'll work miracles, wonders for you.

And so, therefore, I never thought that I would be heavyweight boxing champion. I didn't get into boxing to be heavyweight champion. I got into boxing to make some money, to try to better myself, and have a family, and that was it.

I got lucky. I got lucky as far as realizing what I could get if I continued to do it and if I worked hard on it. And that's how -- I guess, tha
t's the reason why this book has come to life.

GROSS: So one last question: are you training already for your Foreman fight?

HOLMES: Yes, I've been training -- I tell you, they've been having me running around the last year and a quarter, waiting for George Foreman to step into the ring with me. So I've been doing a lot of work, because I'm not the favorite. I'm not the favorite son here. I'm the underdog.

GROSS: Are you nervous about the fight with Foreman?

HOLMES: I'm not nervous as of yet.
I'm not going to say, I'm not going to get nervous. But as of yet -- I think I'm going to have a good time out there, I tell you the truth. Because George is big, strong, and he's slow. And he hits hard. And everybody says: he's big, he's strong. Well, I'm not just a little boy myself. So I think it's going to be a great night. It's going to be a great fight. And I think I'm going to be victorious.

GROSS: Larry Holmes, thank you very much.

HOLMES: Thank you.

GROSS: Larry Holmes' autobiography,
written with Phil Berger, is called "Against the Odds."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Larry Holmes
High: Former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. He's written a new autobiography, "Against the Odds," about how he came up through poverty, and his training as Muhammed Ali's sparring partner.
Spec: Media; Ent
ertainment; Sports; Larry Holmes; "Against the Odds"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Do Wha
t you Got to do

Date: NOVEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 112303NP.217
Head: Remembering Bert Berns
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Bert Berns was a songwriter, producer and record label head at the tail end of the Brill Building era; a man who strove so hard to create his own legend that it killed him in the end. His legacy includes some of the best known songs in American popular music.

Rock historian Ed Ward has a retrospective of the career of Bert


A little bit of soul
Will wash away the whiskey from my face
A little bit of soul will never
Never, never, ever erase
The pain in my heart and my eyes
As I go through the lonely years
A little bit of soul will never wash away my tears

ED WARD, ROCK HISTORIAN: Bert Berns isn't exactly a household name. But without him, the sound of the '60s would have been a lot different. He's one of those people who have fallen through the cracks when the story of American pop
music is told, while those he worked with, like Lieber and Stoller and Phil Spector, have gained fame.

Born the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant in the Bronx in 1929, Berns studied classical piano and then went straight into showbiz, following his passion for Latin music to Cuba, where he played in very nightclub combos. Tossed out of the country when Castro took over, he made his way back to New York, signed on with a publishing company as a contract songwriter, and began working closely with their young soul
discovery Solomon Burke.


When your baby leaves you all alone
And nobody calls you on the phone
Don't you fell like crying
Don't you feel like crying
Well, here I am honey
Come on, call me when you're all alone

WARD: In 1962, he placed a song with a former gospel act from New Jersey.


Shake it up, baby
Twist and shout
Come on, baby, now
Come on and work it on out

Well, work it on out, honey
Yeah, you look so good
Child, you know you g
ot me going now
Just like I knew you would
Shake it up, baby

WARD: "Twist and Shout" is such a piece of the landscape today that it's hard to concede that someone actually wrote it. But it established not only the Isley Brothers, who recorded it, but Berns himself.

Besides Solomon Burke, his main relationship was with Garnette Mims (ph), an almost forgotten soul singer for whom he wrote "A Little Bit of Soap," and this classic, later recorded by Janis Joplin.


Baby, oh, baby,
oh, baby
Welcome back home
Now he told you
That he loved you much more than I
But he left you
And you don't, you just don't know why
And when you don't know what to do
You come running back, baby

WARD: None of this is lost on the brass at Atlantic Records, New York's leading soul label, and the one for which Burke recorded. And when Lieber and Stoller left to form their own label, Atlantic hired Berns to take over as house producer and songwriter. There he gained another great interpreter of h
is songs, Ben E. King.


I run to the river
Turn on the faucet
I let the water run
I don't think they'll that you hear me
When I'm trying to see what he has done
Let it flow

WARD: He also produced King's former group, the Drifters, on their last major hit, "Under the Boardwalk." In 1965, Berns had gotten so prolific that he needed his own record label to release productions and songs that weren't appropriate for Atlantic. And so Bang Records was started.

Besides being a c
ool name, it was an acronym for Bert, Ahmet, Neshui, and Gerald; in other words, the owners of Atlantic plus himself. Recycling some well used chords, Berns had a smash almost immediately.


Hang on sloopy
Sloopy hang on
Hang on sloopy
Sloopy hang on

WARD: Maybe because he'd made so much off of the Beatles recording of "Twist and Shout," he was one of the first American producers to realize the potential of the British Invasion; and with his soul experience, was soon
entranced with a band from Belfast.


Well, here it comes
Here comes the night
Here comes the night
Whoa, yeah

I can see right out my window
Looking down the street my girl
With another guy
His arm around...

WARD: Them may have been just another rock band, but their lead singer, Van Morrison, was clearly something else. Berns bought him a one-way ticket to New York, and then locked Morrison in his apartment for three days until he wrote a hit. The titanic clash of ego
s between 21 year old genius and the 38 year old veteran has become the stuff of legend.

Morrison had some ideas for visionary songs that would become the "Astral Weeks" album, and Berns wanted a hit. He got one.


Hey, where did we go
Days when the rains came
Down in the hollow
Playing a new game
Laughing and running
Skipping and jumping
In the misty morning fog
Our heart (unintelligible) you
My brown eyed girl
You, my brown eyed girl

WARD: It was Berns' last. On December 30, 1967, he collapsed and died, and with him died an era.

GROSS: Ed Ward currently lives in Berlin. Our thanks to Clay Pasternak.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Ed Ward
High: Rock historian Ed Ward remembers Bert Berns, songwriter, producer and record label head, who
was part of the Brill Building era.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Ed Ward

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written
End-Story: Remembering Bert Berns
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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