Obituary: John Berry
Founder member of the Beastie Boys, the first white hip-hop group in the US
Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30
John Berry, who has died aged 52, was a guitarist and one of the members of the original Beastie Boys, the first white hip-hop group which played a key role in popularising rap with a wider audience, opening the doors for artists such as Eminem, and selling more than 40 million records.
The group began in 1978 as a punk band called the Young Aborigines, featuring Berry, his schoolfriend Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "MCA" Yauch and Kate Schellenbach, which supported groups like the Dead Kennedys and Reagan Youth. Berry was credited with coming up with the band's name (Yauch later claimed beastie was an acronym for "Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Internal Excellence") while the band practised at his father's house, a large ramshackle wooden structure on 100th Street and Broadway, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where, as Yauch recalled, rehearsals were often interrupted by Berry's father bursting in and screaming: "Will you turn that f***ing sh** off already!"
Berry left the band in 1982, shortly after the release of their first EP, Polly Wog Stew, to be replaced by Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz of the band the Young and the Useless. After his death his father suggested that he had not been up for the "rigour" of life as a professional musician.
It may be, too, that Berry did not feel comfortable with the scowling punk image. The Upper West Side house was later pictured on the cover of the Hell House album of Big Fat Love, one of the lesser bands Berry joined after the Beasties. The New York writer Thomas Beller recalled paying a visit and having a drink with "a guy with lanky blonde hair". After a while, he recalled, "I recognised the man from the picture on the back of the Beastie Boy's first record, Polly Wog Stew. He was John Berry. But the face was different from the one on the jacket photo. In the photograph he had an obsessive and slightly homicidal expression. Now he looked much more laid back. He wore a plaid shirt and jeans."
After Berry left the Beastie Boys, the band moved from punk into hip-hop, the genre in which they made their name, becoming a huge hit in underground dance clubs in New York, releasing eight studio albums and winning three Grammys.
Yauch, Diamond and Horowitz remained the band's line-up until 2012, when Yauch died of cancer aged 47.
John Berry was born on August 29 1963 in New York.
After the Beastie Boys, he was a member of several other bands including Even Worse, Highway Stars and Bourbon Deluxe, a group described, mysteriously, by one music critic as a San Francisco "booze rock" band.
John Berry had been suffering from frontal lobe dementia and had been in declining health for several years.