Gardner Berry, (keyboards/vocals) has been active in the New England music scene for over 38 years. Gardner got his first taste of show biz at the tender age of eighteen months, singing songs for the customers in his mother's doughnut shop in Kingston, NH.
"My first big hit was 'On Top Of Old Smokey.' I honestly can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't singing. My mother sang all the time, never professionally, but always sang around the house and in local shows. She also played the organ and was of course pleased when she saw that I had the ability to pick out tunes on the piano. She also turned out a pretty damned good doughnut." At the age of four, he won first place in a Hampton Beach talent competition and then saw it all came crashing down when he was rejected by the televised Boston talent search, Community Auditions. (Those bastards!)
Gardner Berry learning the piano and how to pose for the camera.
"This was the pre-Dave Maynard Community Auditions. The host in those days was a guy named Gene Jones. And the words to the theme song were different: 'Star of the day. Who will it be. For today, you will see. Talent rare. To compare. Who'll be star of the day.' During the Dave Maynard days the lyrics were changed to: 'Star of the day. Who will it be. Your vote may hold the key. It's up to you. Tell us who. Will be star of the day.' I like to think that in addition to changing the theme song they also relaxed their standards a little, made it easier to get on the show. (Are you listening, Lisa?) When I auditioned for the show, I got beat out by a baton twirler that was simply unbelievable. Very intimidating for a four year old child. Many years later, my band played a Dave Maynard record hop at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH. I got a chance to talk to him and told him how pissed off I was at Gene Jones and the extent of the emotional scars I bore for all those years. He said, 'Who's Gene Jones?' Oh well."
Gardner's REVENGE! Gardner and his band
The Telestars once again with Community Audition's Dave Maynard...
Not to be thwarted by failure, and accepting his parents opinion that he was, "too good for that show anyway," he continued to perform at local functions, learning to play piano and guitar along the way. "I played the lead in Mommie Larson's Kindergarten production of 'Pinocchio.' Not my proudest moment, but I also performed in blackface in a minstrel show. The song I sang was 'Darktown Strutter's Ball.' You just can't find entertainment like that anymore, thank God." "My mother had me taking piano, organ and voice lessons when I was eight years old. I was a music lesson fag while all my friends were sharpening their athletic skills on the ball field. I can't complain though, I'm still playing music and not one of my friends made it into professional sports. So there……." "My brother-in-law showed me some chords on his guitar when I was twelve. I was hooked at that point. Today I really suck as a guitar player, but back then I could lead a hell of a hootenanny."
"When I started out with the Telstars, I played bass. Not because I could play bass, just because I owned an electric guitar, thanks to my Aunt Mary. We originally called ourselves The Tidle Waves, but the drummer showed up at our first gig with The Telstars on his kick drum, so we went with it. Those guys were my best friends all through high school. We learned all kinds of bad habits together. Our heroes during that time were The Beatles, The Rascals and Paul Revere & The Raiders. We choreographed dance steps for our songs. Seems kinda dorkish now, but we won a lot of Battles of the Bands. We used to play on a float in the Derry, NH Labor Day parade. More than one working musician has told me that seeing us in that parade was what got them started playing music. That's pretty cool. We got together for a reunion show about ten years ago. What a good time we had, although it was just as much fun getting together to rehearse and rehashing old times. I don't spend enough time doing that."
In 1964 Gardner began his long professional career as organist for a great group of youngsters known as THE TELSTARS. The band produced one single, "LOVE FOR A LADY IN GREY" before going their separate ways in 1969.
Gardner doing his best "Can you find Waldo?" with the Telstars and some special guests in 1965.
Listen to the song, "Love For A Lady In Grey " from the Telstars.
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"I was with STONECROSS for 13 amazing years. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but in retrospect, that band ruled. We had four strong vocalists and always had the best sound system we could afford. At one point we went out with a 'quadraphonic' system. Our sound console had four joysticks with which the soundman could pan anything or everything all around the room. Awesome concept if you're sitting right in the middle of the room ……and stoned to the be-jesus. My memories of that band are almost all good….fuzzy but good. It was the seventies after all. Back then you could go out and play music that you liked, and people would like it right along with you as long as you played it well. Not like today where your audience will only accept what they've already heard a thousand times." "We worked incessantly. Most every club ran entertainment 5 or 6 nights a week back then, and we hardly ever missed an opportunity to perform. (One night we played in Lowell and the band that opened for us was Robert Ellis Orrall….with little David Stefanelli on drums.) We used to work our collective ass off at the big ski areas and then head to Florida for the end of the winter. We had soooo much fun. I still keep in touch with Bill Blaine, who was the guitar player and sound system madman (he owns Rainbow Sound these days) and whenever we get together we have a wealth of stories to relive. Good times…..Damn good times."
From 1969-1983 Gardner was keyboardist and lead vocalist for STONECROSS, one of the most popular cover bands ever to come out of New Hampshire.
Listen to STONECROSS Live.
(Click the PLAY arrow below)
After leaving that band to dabble in the horrible world of "day job," (I spent a couple of years working as a security guard…..sucked beyond redemption, but Rock & Roll & Debauchery don't make much of an impression on your resume, so I took what I could get) Gardner co-founded DOUBLE CROSS, which enjoyed moderate success into 1987, when the group disbanded. "I feel badly that DOUBLE CROSS didn't do better than they did. Talented band but the five members were all pulling in five different directions. We had no identity. That and the fact that the club business was starting to nosedive made a rough three years for us. The best thing to come out of those years was that I met Lisa Guyer."
Gardner was then hired to assemble and lead THE CLASSICS' SHOWBAND, which was a 10-15-piece house band for a nightclub called CLASSICS from 1988-1991. Both the band and the nightclub were the talk of Manchester, NH for their three-year run. This band also featured several singers including a young Lisa Guyer.
"The call came when I was at the lowest point in my life. Approaching forty…..no band…..no job….no prospects. Would I be interested in putting together a band to play in the same place week after week after week? Not really, but since I'm on the verge of selling expendable body parts to survive, I'm willing to talk. CLASSICS ended up being my proudest moment."
"I had a lackluster bunch of musicians and vocalists to start with, but everybody worked hard and on March 8, 1988, CLASSICS opened its doors for the first time. I can't take all the credit for the success. The club owner, Paul Labbe was the most supportive person I've ever worked for. He wanted a great band in his club and whatever I needed, he was there for me. Fourteen years later, he's still one of my best friends." I also brought in a ringer. A couple of years previous, on a cold winter night, I had been at a club in Salem, NH and seen a band, SECTION 8, debut their new female vocalist, Lisa Guyer. Frankly I was unimpressed. I thought she was competent enough and certainly easy on the eye, but was a rock band the place for a chic singer? I didn't think so. Later that year I wandered into a bar in Salisbury Beach and there was Lisa again. She was absolutely singing her ass off. And even more impressive, using a garbage can lid as a shield against a good-natured barrage of ice cubes being tossed by the bartenders adjacent to the stage, all without missing a beat. I made a mental note and when the time came for me to hire female vocalists, she was the first call I placed. Having Lisa in your band is a guaranteed jaw drop for your audience. As good as the band at CLASSICS became, people always came to see Lisa. She was my Pedro Martinez, my Larry Bird, my Bobby Orr, my Tom Brady. We've worked together for fourteen years and she's never ever let me down."
When the club closed due to family illness, Gardner changed the band name to THE WICKED BIG BAND and moved to THE YARD, another restaurant in Manchester, where they continued to dominate the local music scene. "Our years at The Yard were pretty good, although I never got along with management and lost my mind on a regular basis….I can't talk about it right now."
The Wicked Big Band!
In the summer of 1994, after increasing differences with club management, the band was let go and subsequently disbanded which led Gardner & co-lead vocalist Lisa Guyer to form MAMA KICKS, which remains very successful to this day. "I find it hard to express how much I enjoy working with MAMA KICKS. I couldn't ask for three better band-mates and friends than Lisa, David and Chris. I look forward to playing every night, and I'm anticipating a substantially rewarding future for the four of us…..Onward and Upward I say. (I stole that quote from David)"
In addition to his work with MAMA KICKS, Gardner has a very successful solo career as a pianist/vocalist, and enjoys getting together with musical associates for impromptu gigs once or twice a month. "Good musicians pulling off spontaneous, rehearsal-free gigs is one of my favorite things to do. I'm always available for that kind of adventure."