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Berry Tough

A motorcycle crash, throat problems and a brain tumor haven't silenced John Berry.

October 08, 1998|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Country music singer John Berry, performing Saturday at the Palmdale Fall Festival, has had his share of health problems. So many, in fact, his life story sounds a bit like a country song.

In the 1980s, his legs were nearly crushed in a severe motorcycle accident.

A few years later, doctors discovered a tumor and Berry underwent life-threatening brain surgery. "I don't recommend brain surgery unless you really need it," he said.

And finally, two years ago, Berry had to go under the surgeon's knife once again to correct some throat problems that threatened his career. "I'm starting to feel most comfortable when I'm wearing a hospital gown," Berry said. "But it keeps things in perspective--it makes you not take things for granted."

Berry, 39, was born and raised in rural Georgia about 65 miles north of Atlanta.

"I started playing acoustic guitar in 1972," he said. People who originally influenced him were Cat Stevens, John Denver, Harry Chapin, Kenny Loggins and Neil Young--not a traditional country artist in sight.

"I didn't grow up listening to country music," Berry admits. "But my music lent itself to that marketplace."

Berry's sweet-sounding tenor makes the most of his country-flavored pop material with all its well-rounded edges.

Berry self-released his first album, "Humble Beginnings," in 1979. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Berry worked the Atlanta club circuit and released five more independent albums.

His breakthrough came in 1993, when his first album on a major label, Capitol, went platinum with sales of more than 1 million copies. He followed that with a second Capitol album, "Standing on the Edge," which included the hit song "Your Love Amazes Me."

"Your Love Amazes Me" went to No. 1 on the country music charts, earning Berry a Grammy Award nomination and other honors. Another cut from that CD, "Standing on the Edge of Goodbye," was also nominated for a Grammy.

Those hits allowed Berry to step up from clubs to major concert stages, where he shared the spotlight with the likes of Reba McEntire, Clint Black, Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill. In 1995, Berry recorded a traditional Christmas album, "O Holy Night." "Amazing Grace: A Country Salute to Gospel," a compilation album that features Berry and other country artists, won a Grammy in 1996.

But with all his success, Berry was not satisfied with the exposure and distribution his record label was getting him. His current CD, "Faces," was released in 1996 and is his last album for Capitol. He said the split between him and the record company was amicable.

Berry said he's negotiating with a new label and has already booked studio time early in the new year. "I'd like to put out the best album I can," Berry said. "And have more people enjoy my music. I want my music to be completely available."

Today, Berry lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife and two children, but he still spends a good deal of time touring. And despite his previous near-disastrous mishap, Berry still rides a motorcycle.

John Berry performs at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Palmdale Fall Festival at McAdams Park, 38115 30th St. E. Country music act Blackhawk performs at 4 p.m. Sunday. (805) 267-5611. $2-$4.

*

Around: B. B. King's has a super lineup this Saturday when the one and only Gashouse Dave opens for Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers. Also, B.B. King's Thursday Salsa Night seems to have gone the way of the tree-ripened orange--it's nowhere to be seen on the October calendar. The blues are back on Thursdays at the big place on the hill. Meanwhile, Cozy's, in the Oaks of Sherman, features Cafe R&B on Friday night and "Guitar" Roy Gaines on Saturday.

And those are just a few reasons not to stay home.

B. B. King's Blues Club, Universal CityWalk, 1000 Universal Center Drive, (818) 622-5464.

Cozy's Bar & Grill, 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 986-6000.

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