By Frank Sayles Jr.
CNHI News Service
“I’m just a real man in a real life
Trying to survive;
I’m not a superman with a perfect plan,
Just an ordinary guy.”
--“Real Man,” John Berry
TIFTON, Ga. – This “ordinary guy” may look unassuming, tooling this around this south town in his jeans, work shirt and pickup truck.
But there aren’t many ordinary guys in Tifton who perform frequently on the Grand Ole Opry, sing regularly before thousands of people, have appeared on Conan O’Brien’s and Regis Philbin’s TV programs, have sung for the president of the United States, have been nominated for two Grammy awards, have had six Top 10 hit songs including a No. 1 single, as well as numerous other Top 40 hits.
But John Berry, who has long been one of country music’s most soulful singers, really is a regular guy. Recently, he moved to Tifton.
“Tifton really is a great community. It’s still a small town. It’s got that small-town feel about it. And it straddles I-75; you can be anywhere; there is access to anything,” Berry says. “There is a sense of community here; people enjoy living here. I’ve felt good about it since the day we came down here.”
His relocation has prompted him and his wife, Robin, to go through “boxes and boxes of memorabilia,” Berry says.
“It’s like Christmas. I found three handwritten notes from Buck Owens, which I forgot about.”
He is also moving from being a country music singer to a full-fledged Christian artist, releasing his 25th album, his first Christian-oriented record, “Real Man. Real Life. Real God.”
Berry, who hit No. 1 on the music charts in 1994 with “Your Love Amazes Me,” says he is committed to his future as a Christian artist: “I’m not dabbling in gospel.”
Berry co-wrote the album’s first single, “Straight Down Rain,” after singer-songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman lost his five-year-old daughter, accidentally run over in their driveway by a teenage brother.
“It just broke my heart,” Berry says. “I just shut my tractor off in the field and said a prayer for them. They turned a tragedy into His glory. I turned a prayer into a song.
“A straight down rain – a lot of people need it.”
“May your heart be strong,
Through it all, love remains;
May God’s peace cover you
Like a straight down rain.”
--“Straight Down Rain”
Berry also co-wrote the album’s title song, “Real Man.”
“I was asked to speak at a men’s conference. I can sing, but speak? I talked to the pastor and said, ‘I’m just a real man, trying to live a real life, trying to serve a real God.’ He said, ‘That’s what you should talk about.’ ”
Country stars Trisha Yearwood and husband Garth Brooks occasionally visit Yearwood’s sister in Tifton. Berry is asked if there is any chance he may get with them for some informal music-making when they’re in town.
“I don’t really know those guys,” Berry says.
During the ‘80s, Berry released six albums on his own while building a following. He came to the attention of music executives and signed with Capitol Records in 1992.
What followed in the ‘90s were a long string of hits: “Standing on the Edge of Goodbye,” “She’s Taken a Shine,” “You and Only You,” “Kiss Me in the Car,” “I Think About It All the Time,” “What’s in it for Me?,” “Change My Mind,” “I Will If You Will,” “If I had Any Pride Left,” and “Your Love Amazes Me.”
In 1994, the Country Music Association gave him the Horizon Award for best new artist.
Does he miss those heady days with songs at the top of the charts? “Sure,” Berry says, but adds that “we lived and died by it.”
For now, Berry is “working on a 10-year plan, (when) I will be 63. I want to go on singing, and don’t want it to be for financial reasons. Right now, I have kids in college, house payments. I’ll work the next 10 years with a financial plan so I’ll have the ability to go out and sing just because I want to, not that I’ll also need to make a living.”
Daywind Records released his current album, part of a two-record deal.
“I’ve got several Christian records in mind. I’ve got the next three planned. I really love singing this music – sharing the message of Christ and sharing through music.
There’s nothing better,” Berry says.
Frank Sayles is the publisher of The Tifton (Ga.) Gazette. Contact him at Frank.Sayles@gaflanews.com.