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Five questions with John Berry
Country music singer/songwriter performs in concert honoring John Jarrard
John Berry performs tonight as part of a concert honoring late songwriter John Jarrard.

If you were a country music fan in the 1990s, chances are you might recognize the lyrics to "What's In It for Me?," a top-five hit for singer John Berry and written by the late John Jarrard.

What's in it for me?/I've got to ask/If it's only more tears/ Then I'll have to pass

If you'll open up/ Then I can see/Deep in your heart/What's in it for me?

Berry will perform with a slate of other singer-songwriters at the annual concert that honors Jarrard set for 6 p.m. tonight on the lawn at Brenau University in Gainesville.

Berry's 30-year career has been peppered with hits, including "She's Taken a Shine," "Kiss Me in the Car" and the ballad, "Your Love Amazes Me."

His 2006 CD, "Those Were the Days," was filled with straight-up traditional country tunes, but Berry plans to talk politics on his next one, a yet-to-be-named album that will include "Give Me Back My America," a song he said was inspired by this year's "tea party" protests.

We spoke by phone with Berry, who lives in Watkinsville, about his songwriting process, performing close to home and his connections to Jarrard.

Question: How did you get involved with the John Jarrard Concert?

Answer: Well, Bruce Burch, who one of the organizers, is a friend of mine. But even more so than that is I recorded a song of John's, a song called "What's In It For Me?" that he was co-writer on. And it was a top-five hit for me a few years back. And so, to be able to come and pay tribute to him as a person and writer and to support this fundraiser, it's a great opportunity.

Q: Why did you decide to record "Give Me Back My America"?

A: Well, I wrote it, actually, after watching the tea parties on April 15. I was like, "Well, I've got to do something." I just felt really inspired to do something, and what I do is sing. I decided I would try to write something. I'm not a real prolific writer like Kerry Kurt Phillips or like John Jarrard was. Those guys could sit down before breakfast and write a hit, and for me it takes weeks and weeks and months to get the thoughts put down. I'm just not that good at it. But this particular song ... I had looked at my clock when I walked into my office and it had just clicked onto 12:06, and at 12:37, I was done. I've never written (another) song that was like, just, "blam," there it was, right there on the paper.

Q: Who are your influences - singers or songwriters?

A: I would say that probably John Denver was probably my biggest musical influence. I learned so much of John's music when I was young, and when I started playing guitar he was the most well-known entertainer in the world, and I had tons of his records. The very first concert I ever went to was John's. I would have to say musically he was a big influence, but also Kenny Loggins and Jackson Brown and the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers ... as far as country music - Vern Gosdin and George Jones, Charlie Daniels Band. Some of those folks, you know, I really enjoyed their music. I learned some of their songs as I was growing up.

Q: What's the difference for a songwriter and a singer to live in Watkinsville versus Nashville, Tenn.?

A: If you've got people in Nashville that can represent you and can take care of your business and you trust them, you don't need to live there, if you're doing the Nashville business thing. If you're a songwriter, if you write country music, you know, Nashville's where you need to do your business. And if you've got a publishing company and you're able to get up there and have songwriting appointments, you don't have to necessarily live there, but it doesn't hurt. I did move up there for about 11 months, but it just wasn't the right time.

Q: Since you do live so close to Gainesville, are you going to change your set or the way you perform versus how you would normally, if you were far away from home?

A: No, I'm usually pretty consistent. ... Sometimes, whenever I'm close to home, people that have heard me play over the years, there may be some song or two they may request that they might want to hear that maybe people around the other parts of the country have never heard me do, just because (there's) a lot of old friends and stuff around this area. But basically I just do my thing.