It was just Tuesday night of last week that country music fans in historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., were enjoying the golden voice of John Berry.
He was part of the Grand Ole Opry’s show that also included Chris Young, The Del McCoury Band, Dailey &Vincent and Lee Roy Parnell.
But on Thursday, Dec. 21, you can see Berry in another historic building when he returns to the Imperial Theater on Broad Street as a stop on his 21st annual Christmas tour. So get yourself in gear and head downtown to hear the voice that has thrilled millions of fans.
Berry was born in Aiken, S.C., in 1959 and grew up in the Atlanta area listening to the operatic music that his father loved and the gospel music that his mother favored and all the sounds in between that the radio stations played. He is actually a distant cousin of Lady Antebellum’s guitarist-vocalist and Augusta native Dave Haywood.
Berry’s life road eventually led him to being signed to Liberty Records and having such major hit singles as Your Love Amazes Me, Standing on the Edge of Goodbye, I Think About It All The Time, If I Had Any Pride Left At All and Kiss Me in the Car.
Just about anybody who has been to one of Berry’s Christmas shows plan to go back.
He began his 21st annual Christmas Songs &Stories tour just before Thanksgiving in Marietta, Ga., before heading north to Wisconsin and Michigan for some dates. This current stretch finds him jumping from city to city spreading his own Christmas cheer doing nine shows in three states on nine consecutive nights:
From Dec. 15 to 23, his website johnberry.com lists: Chattanooga, Tenn.; Sumter, S.C.; Dothan, Ala.; Valdosta, Ga.; Gainesville, Ga.; Watkinsville, Ga.; Augusta; Macon and Breman, Ga. He takes a couple of days off before resuming his concerts on Dec. 28 at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace nightclub in Bakersfield, Calif.
In a call a few days ago, Berry said the Christmas shows began as a request from Fred Rowell, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Athens that his wife, Robin, attended. Rowell asked the Berrys, whom he had married in 1988, if they would do some sort of Christmas musical program for the church. They agreed and added Robin’s sister, Tracy, and the church pianist. It was such a hit that the next year Berry added his local touring band, and the next year he added a string section from the University of Georgia.
The locations also grew from the church to the Classic Center entertainment complex in downtown Athens, and then to locations outside of the Classic City.
Berry released two new albums last year each co-produced by him and his wife: What I Love The Most featuring 10 new songs and a holiday album simply titled Christmas commemorating 20 years of his seasonal tour.
“I ran out of song titles,” he said with a laugh of the latter one. Both will be on sale at the Imperial.
Last August, television viewers across the nation began seeing Berry’s latest project, which is a 30-minute syndicated series called Songs and Stories With John Berry already picked up by the Heartland TV and The Family Channel networks. It airs locally on the WBPI cable TV station in North Augusta.
His guest artists this initial filming have included Billy Dean, Neal McCoy, Mo Pitney, Collin Raye, Craig Morgan, Mark Wills, Delbert McClinton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jason Crabb, Clay Walker, Lee Roy Parnell and the talented lady who was just at the Imperial last week, Suzy Bogguss.
“I have been asking my guests three questions each show,” Berry said in his call. They are:
1) Is there a song that when you do it everybody knows it is you singing it? For this columnist, that would be Berry’s classic power ballad Standing On The Edge of Goodbye.
2) What song do you just love to sing that you may or may not have recorded? Berry said, for him, that is Those Were The Days, which also is the title cut of his 2008 album with the song co-authored by Billy Currington, Jason Matthews and the album’s producer Kerry Kurt Phillips.
3) Is there a song that changed your life?
Berry said that would be Joe Diffie’s hit single The Ships That Don’t Come In. The song released in 1992 from Diffie’s album Regular Joe has these lines: “So here’s to all the soldiers who have ever died in vain, the insane locked up in themselves, the homeless down on Main, to those who stand on empty shores and spit against the wind and those who wait forever for ships that don’t come in.”
Berry said of the song, which is about not taking a chance and following your dreams, “It hit me like a freight train when I heard it in Athens driving home late one night. I had become, by that time, a very big fish in the very small pond of Athens entertainment, and I had dreamed bigger than that.
“I had become stuck in a comfortable position making a comfortable living. I woke up my wife, Robin, when I got home and I told her that I had heard this song, and that we’ve got bigger dreams than this life we now have.
“I sat down late that night with Robin and we came up with the plan that every six weeks I’d go to Nashville, Tenn., and do a showcase for music people, and we would give it a year for something big to happen.”
Berry’s first showcase was in May 1993 at the well-known nightclub Douglas Corner where many Nashville music industry folks often gravitated.
Berry and his wife sent out 250 invitations to their friends and others. Only one music industry-connected person attended but it was an influential one: Steven “Herky” Williams, formerly an official at the Nashville branch of ASCAP song publishers who worked for Capitol/Liberty Records hit singles producer Jimmy Bowen.
Williams’s sister, ironically, had become a fan of Berry’s and told her brother about Berry. Williams loved Berry’s sound and told Bowen who signed Berry to the label. Finally, after many years of playing in Athens’ nightclubs, it was Berry’s turn for his ship to come in.