Monday January 2, 2012

LENOX - Ever since Arlo Guthrie hired him as a drummer for his band in 1975 and - finding his last name "boring" - instantly came up with "Terry a la Berry," that's how Terrence Hall has been known.

He has been playing professionally for nearly 50 years.

"I thought it was fine," he said during a chat Saturday at a local cafe, "because when I started doing music for children, it was a great name because it was easy to remember and it rhymes. I love it."

Hall's fourth CD, "Bad Kitty," self-produced at his home studio, was released recently on Guthrie's Rising Son label. Hall said the description "struggling musician" fits him "absolutely: It has always been the case."

Sam Flynn, 3, received the new CD for Christmas and said the title song is his favorite. " I love that!" he exclaimed, as he and his father, Dave Flynn of Lenox, greeted Hall at the coffee shop.

"My son is a big fan," Flynn said.

Although well-known locally, primarily for his performances for youngsters, Hall spends nearly half the year on tour, having reunited with Guthrie and his large family of musicians in 2007.

After only two years learning percussion, Hall was hired when he was 13 to perform in the pit band at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge for a production of Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera." He stayed for five years, performing in several musicals each summer, and along the way he met David Grover, who also became a fixture on the Berkshire music scene.

"I was always a frustrated actor," Hall acknowledged. "I love to overact and perform, so it was fun translating that into entertaining kids, because I love to see them smile."

Hall, who was married briefly a decade ago, called it "a great regret" that he has never had children of his own.

Growing up in Lenox, he found his groove as a musician after his mother, playwright and former drama teacher Frances Benn Hall, and his late father, English teacher James Hall, started taking him to Tanglewood.

"He dragged me there, semi-willingly, all the time," Hall confessed. "I grew to love it, and I always wanted to play the drums."

Hall also developed a liking for folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary through his older brother, Parnell, a mystery writer who lives in Manhattan.

As a Tanglewood regular, Hall knew the Boston Symphony's legendary timpanist, Vic Firth, as well as No. 2 timpanist Arthur Press - "a wonderful, great percussionist, very well-rounded," Hall said. "He also played Latin music, so he was a good match for me because I was more interested in different forms of drumming, as opposed to classical."

Hall took lessons from Press and attended the Boston Conservatory for a year.

"But I decided I really didn't want to play classical music," he said, "so I moved to the Berklee School. But I left there almost immediately to play in the band that became Shenandoah. I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star, like all the rest of us. Little did I know that I didn't really; when I look back now, I'm glad I didn't."

Shenandoah was formed in 1974 by Grover, Hall, David Carron and Danny Velika; after hearing the group perform in local clubs, Arlo Guthrie invited the players to tour with him.

"We thought about it for two seconds and said, yeah!" Hall remembered.

The band survived for 14 years with a rotating cast of players; only Hall remained as the "last man standing."

By the late 1980s, Grover asked Hall to join him and Kathy Jo Barrett (now Grover's wife) in the Big Bear Band, which entertained kids for many years and performed on the public TV series "Grover's Corner."

Hall formed his own band about eight years ago, "Terry a la Berry and Friends," to perform for local schools, libraries and nonprofits and at community events. He and Grover parted ways after 18 years of collaboration, and Big Bear went by the wayside.

"I miss that band. I miss it a lot," Hall said sadly.

Grover explained that his breakup with Hall was like a marriage that had outlived its prime.

"As a fortunate coincidence, four entertainment, I also try to include small messages like 'Close Up the Laptop.' " "With all the technology, I feel that kids don't get enough chance now to get to know each other face-to-face," he added. "It's too easy to just go home and text each other. Even phoning and e-mail are out of vogue."

Hall, whose child-like qualities enable him to connect directly with youngsters, describes the Woody Guthrie song on his CD, "Don't You Push Me Down," as "really the first anti-bullying song ever written," and it's more than 60 years old.

"It's just a good basic message," he said. "Years ago Arlo asked me to go back out on the road with him," Hall said, "and it's been just incredible - way more fun than it was years ago when we did it."

To reach Clarence Fanto: cfanto@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6247.