Former R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry has returned to the kit for the first time since 1998 to record three songs for an upcoming benefit record.
"It sounds like he never left," said Rick Fowler, the Athens, Ga., musician and producer organizing the disc, Welcome Companions (June 17).
The disc also features Berry on keyboard and other percussion instruments on several songs.
It will benefit the Tourette Syndrome Association of Georgia. Tourette Syndrome is a brain dysfunction that causes victims to utter inappropriate sounds against their will.
Berry plays drums on three pop-rock songs Fowler wrote for his girlfriend, singer Sherry Joyce: "Make Me Feel at Home," "Hymn of Doubt" and "Can't Say No."
R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs said he hadn't heard the tracks but had spoken briefly with Berry about laying them down. "He was excited about doing it," Downs said.
Berry, 41, left R.E.M. in 1997 after 17 years with the college-rockers-turned-superstars. He had underwent brain surgery after suffering an aneurysm during R.E.M.'s 1995 European tour. "I'm ready to reflect, assess and move on to a different phase of my life," he said in a statement when he left the band.
"His mood was good, and he sounds great," said Fowler, who wrote the book "The Unwelcome Companion," about his own battle with Tourette Syndrome. "It's like the classic Bill, solid as a rock. He's got that classic high-hat style."
Berry recently broke his arm doing work around the house but is now healed, Fowler said. The drummer, who appeared on R.E.M. hits such as "Losing My Religion" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Man on the Moon," has been writing new music and playing other instruments during his time away from the band, Fowler said.
Berry will return to the studio during the last week of April to add percussion to several more songs on the album, Fowler said.
The two musicians met in the early 1990s, when Fowler moved to the band's hometown of Athens. They've played live together with Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, backing up local musician Ralph Rodenberry.
Welcome Companions also includes "Riviera Nap," an instrumental lullaby by Davis Causey that features Berry on keyboards.
Berry last played live at Fowler's 1998 annual benefit for the GSA. Afterward, the drum set he played was auctioned.
He may perform at the benefit disc's release party June 17 at Athens' Morton Theater, although that has not been confirmed, Fowler said.
Since Berry left, R.E.M. have played with several drummers, including Screaming Trees member Barrett Martin and Joey Waronker (Beck), but have not replaced him permanently.