"Imagine a run-down bar somewhere along the road packed
with truckers shooting pool, smoking and drinking beer.
Someone is passed out in the men's room, a couple of guys
are fighting out front while others are playing stud or dancing
with the local girls. The sound from the jukebox is more than
likely to sound something like Pete Berwick." So wrote Christopher
Davidson of Mutinyzine Magazine.
"Hard edged and whiskey infused" is how one radio DJ described
Pete Berwick's music, and music critic Rev. Keith Gordon, former
contributor to Creem Magazine wrote, "Berwick pens his own reality and,
much like Hank, Waylon, Towness Van Zandt and Steve Earle, his songs
are inhabited by heartbreak, humor, insight and emotion."
The UK's Maverick Magazine mirrored that sentiment, writing,
"Berwick's songs are dark, sad, funny, spooky, hell raising, facinating
and always interesting, and Chuck Eddy, senior editor for
Billboard magazine and former writer for Rolling Stone wrote,
"Pete Berwick, an Illinois roughneck who has somehow fallen through
the cracks, writes songs that rock right through their platitudes.
Berwick's journey began in Illinois in the mid seventies, hammering
out irreverant country, roots rock and reckless honky tonk rave ups
night after night to anyone in the midwest who cared to listen. Then after
after almost fifteen years of non stop performing he headed to Nashville with
a fistful of songs and the clothes on his back.
By the time Berwick arrived in the music city, Steve Earle was on his
way to jail and Jason & the Scorchers had broken up.
Signed by an up and coming independent record label in the heart
of music row, Berwick was heralded by many in town as the one to
run with the cowpunk gauntlet left at the roadside. After years of
belting it out in biker bars and nowhere dives, Pete now found himself
opening shows for Charlie Daniels, Doug Kershaw, and other musical
legends. He was invited to make cameo appearances in music videos
by The Kentucky Headhunters and Travis Tritt, and also appeared on a
commercial for Monday night Football.
But as fast as luck goes up in Nashville, it comes down even faster.
The promising record deal went bust, but not before the recording of the
critically acclaimed "Ain't No Train Outta Nashville." Recorded in Waylon
Jennings old studio, The album was shelved in 1991 due to contractual
disputes and economic hardships. Disgusted with the politics of the music
industry, Pete bought several acres of land fourty miles east of Nashville
and resigned to shooting his guns, writing some of the songs that would
become his third album "Just Another Day In Hell" and working at the local
Berwick later moved back to his hometown in northern Illinois, and free
from the publishing and other legal disputes tying up the album, he released
"Ain't No Train Outta Nashville" on his own label in 2007.
From there it shot to #5 on Cross Country Satellite Radio and #20 on
The Roots Music Report Charts, and the title song appeared in Paramount
Pictures "The Thing Called Love" starring River Phoenix.
Prior to releasing "Ain't No Train Outta Nashville" Berwick recorded
and released also on his own label "Only Bleeding" with Brian Wilson bassist
Bob Lizic, and as the critical acclaim started pouring in, he hit the road once more
in support of both albums.
It's been over thirty years since Pete Berwick stepped on a stage for the first time,
and thousands of shows and two albums later he has delivered his third recording,
"Just another Day In Hell". An eighteen song epic of non fictional tales which colorfully
and often brutally describes the trials and hardships left behind on the long hard trail,
"Just Another Day In Hell" is Pete Berwick's biography and heart and soul worn on
his tattered sleeve. From shattered relationships, broken dreams and drug abuse,
to prison walls and battles with angels and demons, this is as real as it gets. Pete's
rough and ready vocals spit out stark tales of heartache, pain and redemption, and
just like life, the endings aren't always pretty.
Unlike the country music hacks of Nashville today who are judged more on their poster
appeal than the merits of their music, Berwick is not afraid to take the listener
to that dark side, that desolate and heartbreaking place where dreams die hard.
Performing on the album are Berwick's former band mates, guitarist Rick Devries,
bassist Nick Verbic, and drummer Rob Sury. "The last thing I wanted was the
slick Nashville sound'' said Berwick."I wanted to capture what it really sounded
and smelled like on the road and in the trenches of life, and I knew no better way
then with my old band. "These guys stood behind me for years as we played dump
after dump for half a dozen drunks and an occasional dog, and this album tells
some of those stories in all their beer drenched glory."
Though well below the radar throughout most of his career, Berwick's die-hard
spirit and gritty songs have earned him due respect from critcs and fans weary
of the cookie cutter fluff churned out by the country music industry, and his albums
have earned several top ten album of the year awards, and americana artist of the
Like the country outlaws before him, Berwick lives the songs and then writes about
them, and from the titles on his new album it's obvious the living hasn't always
been easy. The only things that ever did come easy for this fifty one year old veteran
are the hard breaks, yet Pete Berwick carries on down the road less travelled regardless
of the potholes and roadblocks.
Call it roots rock, call it americana, call it alternative country or call it cowpunk.
In the end, it's "Just Another Day In Hell."
I don't rightly remember where I first met Pete Berwick…might have been at the car wash, in the rows of one of Nashville's many pawn shops, or maybe during a barfight in some back-alley Music City dive. You know what they say about the '80s…if you can remember the decade, well….
What I do remember is that Berwick was the real deal, singing the truth to a mud-crusted, foggy-thinking Music Row establishment too deaf to hear the honesty in the guy's rough-hewn vocals, too rabbit-scared to face the reality portrayed by Pete's lyrics. Hell, they all but crucified Steve Earle back in the day – there's no way that they'd embrace Berwick's heresies. The country music biz might have preached "traditionalism" back in the day, but when faced with an artist too proud and talented to genuflect at the altar of Garth, they ran like Little Bo Peep and her sheep in the opposite direction.
Fast-forward to 2009 and Just Another Day In Hell. Nashville's star-making machinery routinely crushes the souls and dashes the hopes of country music hopefuls, but in Pete Berwick's case, they couldn't stomp out the man's dreams. Here he is with a new album, his best yet, bringing blood, sweat, and balls back to a country music genre sorely lacking in all three.
In Nashville, conventional wisdom says, it "all begins with a song." Problem is, too many Music Row tunesmiths are pets kept on a short leash by the artists they hope will record their songs. Berwick pens his own reality and, much like Hank, Waylon, Townes or Steve, his songs are inhabited by heartbreak, humor, insight, and emotion.
For instance, consider the Dylanesque remembrance that is "I Fought With Angels." Fraught with regret, the song's bone-chilling weariness is reinforced by searing guitarplay and a high lonesome harp. "Cold Wind (Baby Come Home)," like John Prine's best material, provides a perfect balance between the simplicity of song and the complexity of emotion.
The ribald "Hello Hand" is scatologically funny in its embrace of Onanism, while the title cut, "Just Another Day In Hell," is a wry jail song in the mold of Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard. Berwick deftly illustrates that there's more than one kind of prison cell, and that the bars that keep us in are sometimes of our own making.
That's just a few songs from Just Another Day In Hell – the rest are every bit as good, each and every one delivered with a reckless country spirit that is equal parts juke-joint soul and honky-tonk energy. Berwick still rocks too hard for Nashville, but isn't that why God and Gram Parsons created alt-country music?
No, I don't remember where I met Pete Berwick, but I'm glad that I did. Pete and his music keep getting better with age, and Just Another Day In Hell sounds like a cold beer at the end of 500 miles of broken road…it's just that damn good!
Rev. Keith A. Gordon, ramblin' man & Pete Berwick fan….
Rev. Gordon authors the About.com Blues Guide, and is a regular contributor to Blurt Magazine. In the past, his wriitngs have appeared in
Creem, High Times and Harp Magazine, among many others.