Typical Beast in the Basement
['Face and Place' 16mm film]This is a 1960's produced 16mm film from the popular 'Face and Place'series. The organ was once used to accompany silent movies at the Lake Theater in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It's complete with all the 'bells and whistles.' The beast was removed from the house some time ago. It now resides in Arizona, currently under re-construction. Hopefully we'll hear more from "the Beast"--HAIL, SATAN!
Obituary for LEON BERRY Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1996
This is from the Chicago Tribune 8/27/96. by Kenan Heise, Tribune staff writer
Leon C. Berry, 82, an organist known in the Chicago area as the dean of roller rink rock, performed for many years at such rinks as the Hub in Norridge, the Arcadia at Montrose Ave. and Broadway, and the Orbit in Palatine. In 1953 he recorded "Misirlou", a hit that ranked sixth on the Billboard Magazine popularity charts.
A resident of Park Ridge, he died at home Friday, August 26th.
"He was very talented", said Robert Zoltek, a fan. "He introduced classical music to roller rinks, performing such pieces on the organ as 'The Grand March' from the opera 'Aida'. He was the best, and people loved him".
Mr. Berry, who first learned to play the organ as a child in church in Selma, Ala, was hired at $80 a week by the rink owners. Mr. Berry next performed at the Hub from 1950 to 1967 and subsequently at The Orbit Skate Center in Palatine, Illinois. He also got work performing at the Trianon Ballroom on the South Side. He played during intermissions between such bands as Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk.
In the early 1950's he acquired a massive organ affectionately known as "The Lion". It had been used in the Lake Theater in Crystal Lake and so totally filled his basement that as it was being installed he had to eliminate the cold air return duct for the furnace.
Survivors include a daughter, Linda DeBruler; a sister; a brother; and three grandchildren.
Service for Mr. Berry were held in Park Ridge.
Bryce Carus writes...
Mr. Leon Berry was held in high regard and as I understand it he was still playing at the Orbit Skate Center in Palatine, Ill prior to his death in 1996.
As one who saw Leon spend many hours working on the Pipe Organ at the Hub, I know he had a tremendous dedication and knowledge of that musical instrument. No matter how good it sounded he always seemed to feel that it needed just a little bit more of something. Leon was a perfectionist and we were all beneficiaries of his talent.
The Hub was a Great Roller Rink, but who can think of the Hub and not remember Leon Berry and the Giant Wurlitzer.
Jim Keating's recollection of Leon Berry's Pipe Organ Recordings
The idea was to offer this record for sale to the skaters at the Hub Roller Rink. The intention was more for use as a souvenir than a retail item. Local DJ's secured copies of this record and gave Misirlou a lot of play time on the air, and the song gained a lot of popularity. Radio industry power brokers convinced Leon that the record needed the promotional push of a major label. Each Station's top personality lobbied for their Favorite label. One of the city's most popular and powerful broadcasters was so angry that Leon did not sell the record to his patron label that he had another organist produce a recording of the same songs as revenge. (Mr Keating did not mention any name but most who skated at the Hub knew it was Howard Miller and some organist from Kansas City)... No harm was done since the copycat did not go over very well. A healthy Cash advance and a New Pontiac convinced Leon to go with Dot Recording company. Dot released the record under their label and it hit number six on Billboards top 10!!
Not bad for what started out as a souvenir for skaters at the Hub. Dot released four more songs several years later on the newly developed 45 RPM extended play record..
Four 10" 33 RPM Volumes titled Glockenspiels Traps & Plenty of Pipes were recorded at the Hub. These were repackaged into three 12" volumes. Replica also released a recording of Leon Playing his Home Wurlitzer known as the "Beast in The Basement". (This is the organ Leon rescued from the Lake Theater, Crystal Lake Illinois, and set up in the basement of his home in Norridge Illinois, thus the Beast in the Basement)
ENTER.. AUDIO FIDELITY
Throughout the 1960's & 1970's Audio Fidelity distributed the original recordings, and several repackaged compilations of material recorded at the Hub, as well as some recorded on the 'Beast in the Basement'. Royalties came to Leon semi annually until they ceased operation.
Did Leon have complete control over what songs were put on the records? NO, Many were selected by the producer, and were not part of his own personal hit parade. Licensing and other legalities come into play. This is why, much to the dismay of some regular Hub patrons, some of the disks had songs on them that they never heard Leon play at the rink and some of the signature tunes he loved were never included on albums.
Leon's only lack of success in the recording market turned out to be a source of great delight for him. during the height of the Audio Fidelity success, the Muzak corporation became aware of Leon and decided they wanted him to record for them. Sessions were set up and recording masters were made. After the Muzak coporation brass reviewed the final tapes, they sent Leon a polite rejection letter, explaining their regrets that the music was just too lively and rhythmically impelling for use in an elevator, or as background music in a tea room.. Leon loved to recount that story, and always glowed when he did..
THE RIP OFF
Leon's recordings on an instrument that was made obsolete years earlier by the electric Hammond Organ did much to preserve the Theater Pipe Organ into the 21st century. Countless Organ enthusiasts and organists credit listening to Leon Berry and his recordings as their original inspiration.
The worlds of theater pipe organ music, audiophiles, and skating might have been much less phenomenal had the builders of the Hub Rink decided to us a modern Electric Organ, or worse yet, a playback system for commercially available skating records instead of purchasing the Wurlitzer from the shuttered Madison Gardens Rink... Hard to believe but Leon said they paid $500 for that organ. And in closing, thanks Leon for if it had not been for the "souvenir" record, we may not still be enjoying the sounds of that GIANT Wurlitzer, played by you...
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