A Berkshire County musician is opening up his personal archive for a gallery show on his 45 years backing Arlo Guthrie.
Terry Hall’s long running relationship with Arlo Guthrie has been transformative in many ways – not least in how he’s best known to the world today.
“He just said that my name was way too boring at the first gig that I did with him in Chicago, and he said, No, you're more of an ‘a la Berry,’" laughed the drummer. "And that was it.”
For 45 years, beginning in 1975, a la Berry played in Guthrie’s band, touring across the United States and locales as distant as Australia.
The drummer met the singer-songwriter in the intimate world of the Berkshire music scene of the 1970s, when a la Berry was playing out with his folk rock band Shenandoah.
“In my 20s there were incredible musicians around here," he told WAMC. "And there were so many venues that you could play. That music really flourished. There were a lot of great rock bands, blues bands, folk artists and whatnot. And they got to work, and you got to play clubs for three nights in a row. You know, we'd go, with Shenandoah, we go up to Maine and we’d play four nights in a club.”
One of those venues was the legendary Music Inn in Lenox, where a la Berry and Shenandoah backed not only folk legends like Guthrie and Pete Seeger, but icons like Bo Diddley.
“It was probably my favorite outdoor venue," he said. "It was just set up well. All it was a wooden stage and a grassy hill. And the best people played there. Bonnie Raitt played there, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor. It was just a pure music venue.”
A la Berry was there for iconic moments in Berkshire rock history, like when The Who played Tanglewood in the summer of 1970.
“I live right near Tanglewood," he told WAMC. "And so, I grew up having a pretty free reign as far as walking in there and they knew I was a drummer, so I got to unpack Keith Moon's drum set that afternoon. And I couldn't believe how destroyed they were.”
The gallery show at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington includes everything from rare photos from his many years on the road with Guthrie to a beloved wooden drum kit sourced from recycled high school bleachers and the tie dyed linen suit a la Berry wore at appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Today Show and the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
“I've gotten to do Carnegie Hall about 12 times," said A la Berry. "And we did Pete Seeger's last public performance, he came and played with us at Carnegie Hall. And he was pretty ill at that time, and nobody was sure if he'd actually be able to come, let alone perform. And he came and he did the whole three hours. And he did it on crutches. And it was only a couple months before he passed away. And that was a hugely memorable thing.”
With Guthrie retired from the road, A la Berry – who has also written two autobiographies about his life both in the Berkshires and the music scene – is focusing on his other long running passion: making music for young people.
“I corralled, actually, a square dance caller that I know, and he and I are putting together a program for elementary school students that stresses folk dance and folk music," he said. "And we're hoping to go into the schools and expose kids to music and dance that they don't get in any other kind of venue that's kind of unique, and some of these traditions that really should be handed down like Pete like to hand down and Woody and Arlo has handed down over the years. And we'd like to do that with elementary school kids because that's, those are our people and those are the people that really need to hear some of this stuff.”
WAMC: You've talked about being a drummer and being a supporting member in this band with this gallery now here in the Guthrie Center – and you know, I'm one of those young people in the Berkshires who saw you perform countless times growing up – how does this sort of feel now to be Terry a la Berry the institution unto yourself?
A LA BERRY: Yikes. All I can say is yikes. I don't feel any different. You know, what I'm doing now is continuing- For the last 30 years I've been playing children's music when I haven't been with Arlo. And that's a great love. It's real different from performing with Arlo. I would go back on tour in a second. But my second best thing is playing for kids because kids are terrific. So I've been doing that. I did it this morning. I had my first show at the Lenox Library, the first live audience in a year and a half. And it was so nice to see those kids’ faces and watch them laughing and hearing them sing and coming up with animal sounds and stuff. It's just been – Well, it's been tough for everyone, but I missed that.
The 45 Years with Arlo — Terry A La Berry gallery show at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts is up through August 1st.