Friday, July 22, 2011

The Robins - Riot In Cell Block No. 9

I used to beg dad to play this record when I was a wee lad. I loved the siren and machine gun snare and it's cops and robbers theme.
In 1952 Berry was one of the founding members of the Flairs, along with Young Jessie, Cornel Gunter and two others. The next year the group started recording for Modern Records and for the next three years Richard was the top utility man for Modern and its two subsidiaries, RPM and Flair. But perhaps his most significant contribution during this period was made for another label (Spark), as an uncredited member of the Robins. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had written a song called "Riot In Cell Block # 9". As the inspiration for this song, songwriter Jerry Leiber cites radio police dramas he had heard as a kid, particularly Gang Busters. In the book Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography, Leiber says, "Gang Busters had a dynamite opening - a siren followed by a burst of gunfire, and the announcer hyping this week's episode. I was in love with Gang Busters as a ten-year-old back in Baltimore, but now I was twenty. I couldn't remember any of the stories, but the sounds were still in my mind."
Meanwhile, fellow songwriter Mike Stoller says when asked about this song, "We can't and won't claim credit as the inventors of rap, but if you listen to our early output, you'll hear lots of black men talking poem-stories over a heavy backbeat."Early attempts to record the number with the Robins proved frustrating. The group's bass singer, Bobby Nunn, just didn't have the menacing low voice that the song required. Enter Richard Berry. Being contracted to Modern, he didn't mention his moonlighting session to the Bihari brothers, but they had no trouble recognizing Berry's voice, after "Riot" became a West Coast hit in the summer of 1954. Instead of being angry, Joe Bihari asked, "Why don't you do something like that for us?". So Berry wrote "The Big Break", another prison song, with a melody and arrangement that were almost identical to "Riot In Cell Block # 9". I will post "Break" next time. Until then.....

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