Jake Berry: Like A Rolling Stone
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:10 16 January 2018
Jake Berry is the man the biggest musical artists in the world call when they are planning their world tours. He has helped U2, Cher, Metallica and even Bob The Builder! He spoke with Steve Jennings
The Rolling Stones, considered by some to be the greatest rock band in the world, were Jake Berry’s musical heroes and had been since he was a teenager.
He idolised them. They were looking for a new production manager for their Steel Wheels tour and Jake had been invited to a meeting with the band’s leader, Mick Jagger. It proved to be a humbling experience for the 40-year-old country boy who grew up in Dunkeswell. “I remember going to LA to meet them,” he recalls. “And was stood in the Four Seasons waiting for Mick and my hands were rather sweaty. Suddenly I felt like a little boy from Devon again. I was stood with my back to the door and I could sense a presence. It sounds weird, but I turned around and there was Mick standing there. He is so charismatic – it is like there is an aura surrounding him. But not in an imposing way, a very friendly way. So I had my interview with him and it all went well.”
Jake had to go to a second hotel to meet the band’s guitarist, Keith Richard, and a previous experience proved crucial in getting in with the Stones. “I went to the Sunset Marquee and they took me to meet Keith,” he says. “He had a pool table and he was playing pool with John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis.
“He asked me a few questions; who had I worked for before. I said, ‘AC/DC’, and he said, ‘Stop! Angus Young and Malcolm Young are my favourite guitar heroes. If you worked with AC/DC that will do for me’.
“And that was it,” Jake says. “I got the gig with the Rolling Stones.”
So Jake Berry got to spend time with the Stones and understands why they are so successful: “They are very clever,” he says. “They know what the people want to hear and they play what the people want to hear. And on a good night they outperform any rock n’ roll band in the world.
“And, as people, they are fantastic; very pleasant,” he insists. “Well, as normal as anybody could be given their stature. But (drummer) Charlie Watts is the nicest man in rock n’ roll.”
But one very famous client did prove to be trying at times. “Madonna was really hard work,” he says.
“I went and had my interview with her and it went really well,” he remembers. “But, I have to say, I was happy to get the job but, if I didn’t get it, then it wouldn’t have been the end of the world for me.
“But you have to respect her as a professional. She wants perfection every night; not 99.99%, 100%. Her work ethic is unbelievable.
“It’s scary. You never get too close to her as she has so many people around her; it was an experience, but you never quite knew if she thought you were doing a good job.”
But Madonna did show her appreciation. “I went along to the end of tour party. She was there with everyone around her and you couldn’t get near her. But, just as I was leaving, she saw me in the corner of her eye, pushed everyone away then rushed over to me and gave me a kiss.”
A new direction in his career followed when Jake was asked to produce the Barney the Purple Dinosaur world tour. Following this came tours with Bob The Builder, The Wiggles and mega-hit Walking with Dinosaurs, where he played a key role in transporting over a dozen life-size dinosaurs around the world. It was far from child’s play: “With the bands you arrive and leave in a day or so,” he says. “Whereas with dinosaurs we were there all week. So the hardest part of that tour was boredom for me, just being stuck in a hotel for a week.”
In 2009, the music industry paid tribute to Jake’s career when he was awarded the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Orlando, Florida.
And if Jake could choose one memory to tell, what would it be? “I think it was the first time I worked with the Stones”, he recalls. “I was stood by the stage and had to instruct Mick when he could go on.
“It’s then that you realise that you are a boy from a small village in Devon telling the world’s greatest rock n’ roll singer when he can or can’t go on stage. ”
Jake has lived in Phoenix, Arizona, since 1993, but comes home to see his mum regularly, and more recently in August when he enjoyed some simple pleasures: “I went to watch Exeter City on the Saturday,” he recalls. “And on the Sunday me and my brother went to Taunton to see some T20 cricket. What a fantastic weekend.”
He never forgets the fortuitous meeting that changed his life, when his brother was thatching Rick Wakeman’s cottage and Jake ended up being asked to help out with some Wembley Arena shows.
Without that, he said: “I would probably have a seat in a pub by the fire where I would go every night, and at 64 thinking about retirement.
“It scares me a little bit. But mainly I look in the mirror and think I am the luckiest guy alive being in the right place at the right time. But once I got there I wasn’t going to let it go. I know that I work really hard and gave up a lot, but it’s all been a fantastic ride!”