For John Berry, no doubt it really is the most wonderful time of the year. The country hitmaker has made his holiday tour an annual event. “This is my 21st season doing the tour. We have a great time. It’s a lot of fun,” Berry says.
Berry starts his tour in Macon, Georgia, every year, then treks around the country. This year he and his band will be in Traverse City at the City Opera House Sunday, November 26. Berry’s show features hits from across his career in the first set, followed by a set of holiday favorites.
The singer-songwriter rose to stardom on the country charts of the 1990s with such hits as “Your Love Amazes Me,” “Standing on the Edge of Goodbye” and “She’s Taken a Shine.” Berry placed 20 singles on the county charts, six of them in the Top 5.
In the midst of his success, however, all was not well. In 1994, while “Your Love Amazes Me” was rising on the country charts, Berry was battling severe headaches. The day it hit #1, he was in the hospital undergoing surgery for a cyst on his brain. He had a full recovery except for occasional short-term memory loss. Berry’s chart success has continued since then with country albums, holiday recordings, Christian records, even a wedding-themed album.
Asked if he gets tired of performing the same songs night after night on tour, Berry says no. “That’s the beauty of recording great music. There are very few songs where I go, ‘Do I have to do that again?’ It’s not cheeseball,” he says.
Besides great songs, Berry says he enjoys the opportunity to perform with his band. It’s much the same group year to year, providing all those on board with a family-friendly vibe. While the songs are familiar to both Berry and his audience, each of the musicians give it their own spin. This year he’s got a new keyboard player, who actually has gone back to many of the original parts for inspiration. “Things change over time. I’ve heard piano parts I’ve not heard played in a long time,” Berry says.
While Berry was still determining the set list at the time of this interview, there are some songs that will invariably be a part of the show. That includes “O Holy Night,” probably his most-requested and played song. “I love that one,” he says. “If ‘O Holy Night’ is all that anyone remembers of me, that’s fine with me. It is a truly inspired piece of music.”
Another likely candidate was a last-minute addition to last year’s John Berry Christmas, his fifth holiday recording. “One that came to be a surprise was when we recorded ‘Blue Christmas.’ It’s the most different version you’ll ever hear,” Berry says. He went on to say the hit version by Elvis Presley, with its trademark background vocals, made it difficult for people to even imagine bringing something new to the song. That included his own family.
“We needed one more song. I said we needed to do ‘Blue Christmas.’ My wife is my co-producer, and she said, ‘You’re out of your mind.’ I said (if you) listen to the lyrics, it’s sad. I think everybody missed that.” Berry says his guitarist Brett Mason picked up his guitar and they worked out a version with the same mood as James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” and it fit perfectly.
Berry takes the stage Sunday at the City Opera House at 7 p.m. For tickets, go to CityOperaHouse.org.