John Berry has released some of country music’s more soulful performances, ranging from “Standing on the Edge of Goodbye” to “Your Love Amazes Me.” The singer recalls the stories behind several of his fan favorites in the new book/CD package Songs and Stories.
The singer shared with Billboard how the collection came together. “A few years ago, my piano player John Hall, my wife Robin and I decided to go out and do a handful of shows — over a couple of week period of time. We kept adding dates and ended up doing a run of about 22 months. Along the way, we started recording some of the shows and put a two-disc set together called Songs and Stories. People kept asking if we had ever thought about putting it in book form. We thought some more about it, and Robin started taking the stories and transcribing them off of the earlier CDs. We started to expand them a little bit, and then she started collecting family pictures and concert photos that may have been either directly or loosely associated with the songs. Then, a friend of ours in Georgia owns a publishing company, and they laid it all out for us. We manufactured the CDs, and off we went.”
Berry hopes his fans will enjoy the set, which includes a peek into his family life, as well as live from the stage. “It’s a mix of things, just like the stories are. We tried to put some things in there that folks might have some kind of familiarity with. But there are some things they may not have seen, like the family photos or the John Denver photos of the T-shirt I got at one of his last concerts in Atlanta.”
Some of the stories surround the creation of his hits. Take, for instance, “Standing on the Edge of Goodbye,” a No. 2 hit in 1995 on the Billboard charts. The lyrics stemmed from a conversation with a friend who was going through some rough times in his marriage. “That’s a true-story song, inspired by a true event that happened,” Berry stated, adding that the couple is still together two decades later. “I think that the folks that know that, for them, it gives it a different impact.”
And it’s not just the hit records that are included: “Salvation,” a track from a 1999 album on Lyric Street, is part of the package. The song didn’t make the charts but definitely made an impact — particularly in the truck-driving world, as the song became a favorite on the syndicated Interstate Radio Network. “That’s a song that was written by Gary Burr, who is such a great writer. He just writes great songs, and it’s got such a great story to tell. It resonated with a whole group of guys and girls driving trucks around the country. It’s amazing sometimes how a song will just find its way.”
Some of the anecdotes are humorous, as Berry recalls the day of the 1995 CMA Awards, where he performed a riveting version of “If I Had Any Pride Left at All.” “To be standing on the stage of the Opry during rehearsal, and there’s all these nameplates and cards in the seats. To think that all those people like Reba, the Judds and Randy Travis are going to be sitting there — and they were — I had to go out just me and my guitar doing a song. It was very nerve-racking.” The humorous turn takes place when Berry was rehearsing the song in the men’s room, prompting George Jones to compliment Berry on his singing.
It’s the story of meeting another of his heroes, John Denver, that stands as one of the most poignant stories in the book. “I just loved his music and all of his songs. I started playing guitar in 1972, and that’s when ‘Country Roads’ came out. I was such a huge fan. He had a way of crafting a song and was such a great writer. I did get to meet him the last time he played Atlanta at the Fox Theater. I was more nervous than I think I had ever been in my life, and didn’t feel like taking up much of his time. I quickly met him and moved on. If I could have that moment back and speak to him, I would love to do that.”
The package ends with Berry’s recollections about “Your Love Amazes Me,” a song he says speaks to him about his wife Robin and her never-ending love and support. “Chuck Jones and Amanda Hunt Taylor wrote that, and I was just lucky to be the guy who sang it. As the song was climbing the charts, we were going through a really difficult time with my health. She has stood by me all along. She’s a remarkable woman. I don’t know where I’d be without her.”