Print Shortlink

Keyes, Burt (11th September 1930 – 21 July 1987)

Arranger, band-leader, composer, pianist and producer who started out tickling the ivories with Ruth Brown in the 1940s and collaborating with Taft Jordan in the 1950s.

In 1953, he was hired as the arranger, Artist & Repertory director and musical director of Rama Records, where he worked with the Blue Notes, the Five Buds, and the Larke Sisters.  He also recorded under his own name—which is sometimes spelled “Bert”—songs such as “Write Me Baby” and “I Was a Fool”.  After just four years, however, Rama closed its doors.

On 25th June 1958, the Crests recorded “Pretty Little Angel”, which was co-written by Burt along with Johnny Mastro and Luther Dixon.

Burt played piano on the Bear Family track “Crawfish” on 30th June 1958.  The session was led by Jesse Stone with vocals by the Stone Crushers and a rhythm section of Doles Dickens, Joe Marshall, and Walter Spriggs.  Everett Barksdale and “Wally” Richardson traded electric-guitar licks.

Also in 1958, Burt released “I Got Eyes” backed with “If You Are But a Dream” and the Crests released his song “Beside You”.  The Crests also issued a single of “Gee (But I’d Give the World” in 1960.

Burt arranged two of 1962’s biggest hits, “Any Day Now” by Chuck Jackson and “Soldier Boy” by the Shirelles.  He also arranged and conducted “If I Never Get to Love You”, a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song recorded by Lou Johnson.

In fact, the 1960s were dotted with Burt’s songs being recorded by big-time acts such as Jerry Jackson (“Always”), Peaches and Herb (“It’s True I Love You”), the Ronettes (“Good Girls”), Dionne Warwick (“Oh Lord What Are You Doing to Me”) and Jackie Wilson (“Who Am I”).

In 1968, Burt co-wrote “Love on a Two-Way Street” with Sylvia Robinson and—some say—Lezli Valentine, who recorded it.  It was The Moments’ version that became the big hit in 1970, topping the soul chart and crossing over to #3 on the pop chart.  Burt also arranged and played piano on the track.

In 1976, he composed the music for the children’s film, Hugo the Hippo.  This was followed by “I’ve Got to Dance to Keep from Cryin’”, “The Hustle” and “The Bus Stop”, and “Tear after Tear”, which was recorded by Jeanette “Baby” Washington.

Burt was active throughout the remainder of the ‘70s.  Some of the artists he worked with included LaVern Baker, Willie Bobo, Albert King, and Sylvia Robinson.

On 21st July 1987, he passed away in Central Islip, New York.

One does not have to look far to find Burt Keyes’s handiwork in CD form or on the internet.  His songs continue to turn up on albums such as Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me by Gloria Estefan, Hot Rod Gang (which features “Stop Jivin’ Start Drivin’”) and Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

His piano stylings were heard on the Grammy-winning rap song of 2011, “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, which samples “Love on a Two-Way Street”.

The Moments recordings
Love on a Two-Way Street (Burt Keyes/Sylvia Robinson) (Lezli Valentine:  Uncredited Lyrics)
(LP:  Not on the Outside, but on the Inside, Strong!)