John Denver

  • Folk and soft rock singer, songwriter and musician born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in 1943 in Roswell New Mexico. Died in 1997 when he crashed his experimental aircraft into Monterey Bay in California.
  • Denver received a guitar from his grandmother when he was 11 years old, and by the time he was in college, he was playing at local venues. He changed his name to Denver because Colorado was his favorite state, and because another musician told him that Deutschendorf would not fit on the marquee of a theater. He sang with a folk group in college called The Alpine Trio, but at the age of 20, he dropped out and moved to California to pursue music professionally. In 1965, he joined the Mitchell Trio – they released 3 albums from 1965 to 1967.
  • In 1967, he made a demo tape of himself performing folk songs, including some he had written, calling the recording John Denver Sings and giving copies to friends as gifts. One of the songs was titled Babe, I Hate To Go. A producer who worked with the Mitchell Trio heard the song and convinced Denver to change the title to Leaving On A Jet Plane. The producer brought the song to folk artists Peter, Paul and Mary, who took it to the top of the Hot 100 chart. This led to Denver signing a recording contract in 1969.
  • His debut album, Rhymes and Reasons, was released in 1969. Only 3 songs on the album were penned by Denver, including Leaving On A Jet Plane. His label did not promote the album, so Denver supported it by traveling throughout the midwest, playing impromptu concerts and conducting radio interviews. This generated enough of a fan base to convince the record company to support more albums – in 1970, he released Take Me To Tomorrow and Whose Garden Was This. Nothing made an impact.
  • His breakthrough came in 1971 with the album Poems, Prayers and Promises. It was his first of 14 albums that would be certified platinum or multi-platinum (his “Greatest Hits” and live albums have sold particularly well – 6 have achieved sales of 1 million or more copies). The album contained the song Take Me Home, Country Roads – it reached #2 on the Hot 100 chart, and became a signature song for Denver.
  • Eight more studio albums were released between 1971 and 1979. Two made it to the top of the album chart – Back Home Again and Windsong. A string of hits came from these records – Sunshine On My Shoulders, Annie’s Song, Thank God I’m A Country Boy and I’m Sorry/Calypso all reached #1 on the Hot 100. Another signature song, Rocky Mountain High, peaked at #9. He also started to chart on the Country chart, with 3 songs reaching the top of that chart. During the last half of the 70s, his music did not chart as highly on the Hot 100 chart, but he still released 8 songs that were in the top 10 of the Adult Contemporary chart.
  • Realizing that the critics would never support his feel good, folksy music, his management pressed Denver to make television appearances on variety shows to increase his exposure and gain the support of the people. He was so successful on TV that soon he was hosting his own specials – his concert special An Evening With John Denver won an Emmy award for Outstanding Special, Comedy-Variety or Music. His special Rocky Mountain Christmas was watched by over 60 million people. He also was a guest on The Muppet Show which led to 2 more Christmas specials featuring Denver with the Muppets. He became such a prominent TV personality that he hosted the Grammy awards 6 times in the 70s and 80s, and twice he was the guest host on The Tonight Show.
  • His music did not sell as well in the 80s, as other musical styles started to gain popularity. 1982’s single Shanghai Breezes was his last to reach #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and a couple of songs managed to reach the top 10 of the Country chart. In the 90s, 5 studio albums of original music were released – his last album, All Aboard!, was an album of big band, folk, bluegrass and gospel songs for children, with a railroad theme. Two months after its release, Denver was killed in a plane crash with himself as pilot, at the age of 53. He won his only Grammy award for the album, in the category Best Musical Album for Children. In 1998, his song Take Me Home Country Roads was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
  • Two of Denver’s songs are official state songs – Take Me Home, Country Roads is the official song of West Virginia, and Rocky Mountain High is the official song of Colorado.
  • Denver had a tremendous appeal to me, as he sang stories about relationships, music and the joys of nature. Growing up in Maryland, I recall Thank God I’m A Country Boy played during the 7th inning stretch of Baltimore Oriole games, first done in 1975, Since 1994, the tradition has continued at every game. Watch a performance of Take Me Home, Country Roads – one of the very first 45 rpm singles that I ever bought, in 1971. You can’t help but sing along with this song.

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