As lead guitarist for The Knack, Berton Averre co-wrote the No. 1 record of 1979, “My Sharona.” The band continued putting out solid records and performing around the world for 30-plus years until the death of lead singer Doug Fieger in 2010.
To celebrate the reissue of the band’s final three albums — “Zoom,” “Rock and Roll Fun House” and “Normal as the Next Guy” — Mr. Berton talked about how The Knack killed disco, influenced Michael Jackson and created that memorable rock tune.
Question: How did you end up in The Knack?
Answer: In the early 1970s, I was playing in pickup bands. I always had talent, but I didn’t have much ambition. There was this singer/songwriter who was actually paying a bunch of us to play in a band with him. This guy came in as the bass player, and it was Doug Fieger. Doug came up to me after the first rehearsal and said, “I really like the way you played. Would you be interested in writing with me?”
Q: The misconception was the band came out of nowhere and had overnight success, but what was the reality?
A: Paying your dues can mean anything. From the time the band The Knack started to when we got signed, it was a very quick ride. We played our first gig on June 1, 1978, and started playing the clubs around town, and by November that same year all the labels wanted to sign us. That is a really quick happening.
On the other hand, Doug and I had been writing songs for years before that point. In a sense, we did have a meteoric rise, but we had put in our 10,000 hours.
Q: Is it true that Capitol Records didn’t want to release “My Sharona” as a single?
A: It’s not true, but there is an explanation: Everybody knew “Sharona” was the song from when we wrote it in Doug’s living room to the first time we performed it at The Troubadour. It was obviously the song that people responded to. Capitol was no different. But what we were told was, when the album came out, they didn’t know that it would be the first song they pushed off the album. Because at that time, there was no rock on Top 40 radio.
What was crazy for us [was] we had grown up in the ‘60s, and to think there was no rock on Top 40 was stupid. One of the things that I’m most proud of is that, years later, we were credited as the band who killed disco. Because after us, it was OK to have a hard-rocking band on Top 40 radio.
Q: “My Sharona” was such a huge hit that it overshadowed the other music. Did that frustrate you?
A: In later years, it didn’t feel like our band was given much of a chance. With an album like our third album, “Round Trip,” I always felt like if people had listened to that, they would have liked it. It was just the bizarre reality of our band. It was like a runaway train. There was nothing we could do about it.
Q: Is it true that Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was influenced by “My Sharona?”
A: Quincy Jones told Michael Jackson he should write a song like “Sharona.” If you listen to it, you can hear the connection.
Q: Do you have a favorite Knack album?
A: I have to say the debut album, “Get the Knack,” because everything happened with it — the right moment in time with the right group of songs and the right song.
I’m lucky. When people say, “What do you do for a living?” I say, “I go to my mailbox a couple times a month.” That song has been so good to me.
Q: Since you are a musical theater composer now, would you ever consider doing a musical based around the songs of The Knack?
A: No. I would be very self-conscious that too many people would ask, “Why?” It’s the same reason I don’t write an autobiography. If I was in The Yardbirds or The Stones, then I would think maybe people want to hear about it.
Q: The last show The Knack played was in 2008. Did you know at the time that that was the end?
A: No. Doug was just unspeakably courageous in fighting his cancer. He was just hanging in there [and] being able to play gigs. New tumors would show up in his brain, and he would get the zapper, and that would work. They would go away. He just kept going. More tumors would come back, but they would be in a place where the doctors could get to [them]. It wasn’t too widespread. You just didn’t want to think about it, so we were basically riding the idea that maybe he [could] just keep going.
Q: Do you remember the last conversation you had with Doug before he died in 2010?
A: Yeah, I do. He said to me, “Berty, we did great things.”