By Sarah Wibell
A new member has been added to the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. Golf professional at The Creek Golf Course at Hard Labor Creek State Park David M. Berry was inducted on November 24 after a musical career playing the drums for Del Reeves, performing at the Grand Ole Opry, and backing up artists such as Tanya Tucker, Billie Jo Spears, Johnny Carver, Freddy Fender, Ray Price, and Crystal Gayle among others.
The Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame was established in 1982 by Phyllis Annell Cole and John L. (Johnny) Carson to honor individuals and organizations that have greatly contributed to the hillbilly-country-western-gospel music industry. Friends of Berry’s encouraged him earlier this year to look into the requirements for the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. In the process of learning about the application and selection procedure, he discovered that he had been nominated several times in the past, but the people nominating him did not know how to contact him for his musical resume. Upon sending it in, Berry was more than happy to find himself among the newest inductees.
“It’s really exciting. It won’t make me any money, but it’s nice. I sit in with a lot of bands when they say, ‘Come up and play two or three songs with us,’ and they can say, ‘Not only has he been a drummer with Del Reeves, he’s also in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.’
“Now the bad news about that is a lot of people don’t hear ‘Atlanta’; they just hear ‘Country Music Hall of Fame’ and think I’m in the big one in Nashville,” he said with a smile.
The Covington resident began playing drums in the seventh grade and later received a scholarship to the University of Southern Mississippi. After graduating from college, Berry moved to Atlanta and played Glenn Miller inspired music in dance bands on the weekends.
“In 1965, Uncle Sam came knocking at the door,” Berry recalled. “I knew I was going to get the draft notice, so I went ahead and enlisted and auditioned for the third army band.
“The army band played traditional military music. Someone called the band one night and said they needed a drummer for a country music band in Alpharetta at the American Legion Club. So I was picked and got paid for it, and that’s when I really started playing country music. After a while, I started thinking, ‘I like this music,’ and I made pretty good money. Through a guy named Jimmy Garman, whose brother Howard had a pretty good country band, I heard about a job in downtown Atlanta.”
Eventually Berry found out about an opening for a drummer in Del Reeves’s band; he made a few calls and managed to get the position. He remained with Reeves for eight years and eventually became the band leader, hiring musicians to play with Reeves.
Berry noted, “The interesting thing about being in the military band is that I went nowhere. I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic training, and then I went to Fort McPherson in Atlanta and stayed there three years. Yet with Del’s band, I’ve been to Nashville; every state in the union including Hawaii and Alaska; every providence in Canada; and also played in Greenland, England, Germany, and Italy. So, I got to see a good bit of the world with Del Reeves; he was an outstanding entertainer.”
During his musical career, Berry performed with Reeves at the Grand Ole Opry House, which is a concert hall for country music with weekly performances in Nashville, Tennessee. Members had to be exceptionally good musicians or singers and be able to commit to 20 Saturday nights a year.
“A favorite performance of mine, and it was probably the scariest, was the first time I played at the Grand Ole Opry. I’m thinking that every drummer who is there is checking me out. Back then on the Opry, you had one drum – a snare drum, and you had a cymbal and that’s it. You didn’t have a set of drums like they have now, and you just do the best you can do with what you have. It was something I’ll never forget, and it may be the highlight.”
In March of 1974, the Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium, which had been its home for 31 years, to a new theatre facility named the Grand Ole Opry House.
“I played the last night in the old Opry house and the first night in the new one, and the new one had an actual set of drums on stage. A large circle had been cut from the old Opry stage and positioned on the new Opry stage where members stand and sing.”
On that opening night, Berry watched as President Nixon arrived with his wife, Pat (www.opry.com). It was her birthday and the president played “Happy Birthday” and “God Bless America” on the piano.
After getting married in 1977, Berry made the decision to leave music as a full-time career and pursue golf. He became a member of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) in 1981 after attending two business schools for golf management programs, receiving high marks, and successfully completing the Playing Ability Test. Berry later became Director of the PGA in Alabama from 1986-2006. In that capacity, he ran golf tournaments for club professionals and worked with the PGA tour as a tournament official, held seminars on rules, helped golf professionals find employment, et cetera.
Currently a Golf Professional at The Creek in Rutledge, Berry continues to sit in with various bands, some at American Legion events around Georgia.
“Music is fun,” Berry asserted. “I want to get into a good band and would really like to play two nights a week. I’m hoping some good band will come along and ask me to be their drummer. I think I’m good for another five years.”