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May 31, 2000

Lifestyle: The Singing Minstrel

By Sanford Wexler

The trading day sometimes begins like a stirring, musical composition. There are soaring crescendos, quiet interludes and some dramatic encores. A trader with a musical background can be a major asset. He knows the score. He can intuitively gauge the market's tempo.

That's exactly what singer and musician John Berrie, 61, has been doing at Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette for the past 37 years.

The former head of the Nasdaq agency desk at DLJ in New York and currently the broker liaison, wound up on Wall Street by a chance encounter. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, and raised in Bournemouth, England, Berrie came to America in 1962 to launch his folk singing career.

Elvis and the Beach Boys

It was the early 1960s. Teenagers were twisting the night away and rocking to Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys. The New York folk music scene was also in full bloom. Bob Dylan was singing Blowing in the Wind and The Times They Are A Changing. His friends, the Clancy Brothers, would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Before he turned to singing folk songs, Berrie was making the rounds in England with a rock 'n' roll group called The Jays. While he was in the Royal Air Force, Berrie formed the four-person group that performed hit songs like Blue Suede Shoes and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On at local dances. He was the lead singer and guitar player.

Berrie and the group had developed a loyal following. It even appeared a few times on a variety show on British television, Home Grown. But a big record contract never materialized. Berrie decided to disband the group after he was discharged from the service.

The idea to come to America was suggested by his mother. After spending a few weeks in the U.S. visiting her oldest son, Murray, who had moved to New York, she told young John, then 23, that, "America is a pretty good country and you should go over and try your music over there."

Berrie packed up his bags and crossed the Atlantic on the QE2 and settled in New York. He teamed up with his brother and formed the folk singing duo called The Berries. Their repertoire included songs by the Clancy Brothers and Scottish and Irish ballads. They performed at folk clubs and bars in Greenwich Village.

Newspaper Critic

The Berries caught the attention of a music critic at New York's Daily News. "The Berries would bring pleasure to the ears of Robert Burns," the reviewer wrote.

The two brothers supplemented their income by playing at private parties. That's how Berrie was introduced to Wall Street. He was a roving minstrel at the birthday party for the 16-year-old daughter of Lou Froelich, a partner at Pershing & Co. (now part of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette). "If you ever want a steady job," Froelich told Berrie, "why don't you come down and work on Wall Street."

About five months after he first met Froelich, in May 1963, Berrie decided to give the Street a try. "Singing is tough. You are sometimes working and sometimes you are not," Berrie said. "I decided to go down and get a job."

Wall Street was a totally new experience for the then 25-year-old Berrie. "I knew nothing about Wall Street," he recalled. "I had no idea what I was going to do."

Berrie started as a quote boy. Back then stock quotes were obtained by calling up on the telephone.

Still Peforming Live

Berrie did not completely give up his musical career. On Friday and Saturday nights he performed at an Irish bar called The Crock of Gold on the Upper East Side. He played at the popular folk music spot for about two years.

Today, regular attendees of Security Traders Association conventions are familiar with the graceful singing voice of John Berrie. Since 1991, he has opened the annual STANY dinner by singing the Star Spangled Banner and his favorite Irish ballad, Danny Boy.

Berrie has no regrets about putting aside his professional singing career.

"The people in this industry are fantastic," he said. "It's been a wonderful life and a lot of fun."

On a busy trading desk like DLJ's, having a musical legend like Berrie in the trenches makes the trading experience so much richer.