Born David Holgate Grundy in Beighton near Sheffield in 1941, Berry started out singing in Yorkshire clubs as half of an Everly Brothers-type duo.
In 1961 he assumed his stage surname when invited to front The Cruisers, who had risen from the ashes of another local combo, The Chuck Fowler R ‘n’ B Band.
In parochial venues such as the Esquire and Mojo clubs, Dave Berry and The Cruisers flogged a predominantly Chicago blues repertoire, from Muddy Waters to Dave’s idol (and namesake), Chuck Berry. Other influences were John Lee Hooker, Billy Boy Arnold and Champion Jack Dupree – who, incidentally, took up permanent residence in nearby Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1962.
Berry’s big break came when Mickie Most – then a freelance talent scout – saw him perform in a Doncaster club and supervised a demo recording session for submission to Decca recording manager, Mike Smith.
Smith signed Berry and The Cruisers and occupied the producer’s chair himself to record a cover version of Memphis Tennessee with the anxious Yorkshire boys (and a session drummer replacing Cruiser Pete Thornton). The session took over eight hours, much to Smith’s disgust. It had, after all, only taken The Beatles 14 hours to record their entire debut LP!
Despite the fact that Memphis Tennessee reached #19 in the charts, all future recordings featured session musicians, with the Cruisers left to learn the songs from the records for their live work.
Amongst the session musicians favoured for Berry singles were future Led Zep alumni, Jimmy Page on guitar and harmonica and John Paul Jones on bass, along with backing vocalists The Breakaways.
By 1964, a trio led by former Sheffield City Hall employee (and owner of a twin-necked Gibson), Frank White, had supplanted the original Cruisers, bar one (Alan Taylor).
The follow-up single (a grisly re-working of Arthur Crudup‘s My Baby Left Me) stalled at #37, while his version of the Burt Bacharach weepie, Baby It’s You, fared slightly better and made it to #24.
The next two singles – The Crying Game and its twin, One Heart Between Two, were tailor-made for Dave’s cartoon spookiness. His stage presence was almost unclassifiable, and it was not enough for him to simply stand and sing a song.
He made a point of appearing from behind pillars (it may take a full five minutes for him to emerge completely) and staring straight ahead while making strange beckoning arm-movements. These abstract hand-ballets would have seemed sinister were it not for the subtle merriment in his oriental eyes. Berry also maintained he would be reincarnated as a snake!
The Crying Game took Berry into the Top Five in September 1964, while One Heart Between Two battled to #41 three months later.
A cover of Bobby Goldsboro’s Little Things restored Dave to the UK Top 10, but – apart from a disinclined 1966 recording of the sentimental Mama – this was his last bite of that particular cherry.
Berry continued to enjoy considerable success in Holland, where his single This Strange Effect (written by Ray Davies of The Kinks) was Holland’ s biggest selling disc ever. It was also in Holland that Dave met his future wife, Marti, with whom he settled down in Chesterfield in the Peak district in 1968.
Dave switched from Decca to CBS in 1970 but henceforth derived his living primarily from the cabaret and nostalgia circuit.
Berry’s work was embraced by the new punks in the late 70s and early 80s – The Sex Pistols even did one of his B-sides, Don’t Give Me No Lip Child, and Dave made a guest appearance at an Adam & The Ants show at the Strand Lyceum.