John Denver



John Denver (December 31, 1943 – October 12, 1997), born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., was an American folk singer-songwriter and folk rock musician who was one of the biggest selling artists of the 1970s. In his lifetime, he recorded and released some 300 songs, about half of which he had written, and served as the Poet Laureate of Colorado.

Denver's songs were suffused with a deep and abiding kinship with the natural world. Songs such as "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," and "Rocky Mountain High" are popular all over the world. Often singing and writing folk songs about the western lifestyle, the human condition, and planet Earth, he was named the Poet Laureate of his home state of Colorado in 1977. Denver has been commonly referred to and nicknamed "The Poet For the Planet", "Mother Nature's Son" (based on The Beatles song he renditioned) and "A Song's Best Friend".

Denver was born in Roswell, New Mexico. His father, Henry Deutschendorf, Sr., was an Air Force officer and flight instructor, and his family moved around the American Southwest and South a lot while Denver was growing up. Denver was a life long Christian, raised Presbyterian and converted Lutheran, but often said he shared many beliefs with Zen Buddhists. In his memoirs, Denver cited that as a child he had some troubles at home, most notably with his father.

As a teenager, he received a 1910 Gibson acoustic guitar from his grandmother, and polished his skills enough to be able to perform at local clubs by the time he was in college. Adopting the surname "Denver" after his favorite city, he dropped out of Texas Tech University in 1964, and moved to Los Angeles, California. Denver sang in the smoky underground folk clubs in L.A., and in 1965 joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group later renamed "The Mitchell Trio" and then "Denver, Boise, and Johnson".

In 1969, he abandoned the band life to pursue a solo career, and released his first album for RCA Records, Rhymes and Reasons. It was not a huge hit, but it contained "Leaving On A Jet Plane", which became a number one hit for Peter, Paul and Mary two years later. He recorded two more albums in 1970, Whose Garden Was This? and Take Me to Tomorrow. Although these albums were not as successful as those that followed, they would all be certified gold by the RIAA, and later considered to be some of Denver's most revered work.

Denver's next album, Poems, Prayers and Promises, released the following year, was a breakthrough for him in America, thanks in part to the single, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," which went to number two. His career flourished from then on, and the hits came pouring in for the next four years. In 1972, Denver scored his first top ten album, with Rocky Mountain High, while its title track reached the Top Ten in 1973. In 1974, "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and "Annie's Song" both went to number one, and "Back Home Again" made it to number five. In 1975, he again had two number ones, "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" and "Calypso/I'm Sorry," and a top twenty hit, "Sweet Surrender."

Denver hosted numerous television specials including several world-televised concerts from Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver. He also made appearances on The Muppet Show. This was the beginning of a life-long friendship between Denver and Jim Henson which spawned two television specials Denver made with The Muppets. He even tried his hand at acting starring in the 1977 film, Oh, God! opposite George Burns. Denver would go on to host the Grammy Awards five times in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as guest-host The Tonight Show multiple times.

In 1975, he was recognized as the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year. By this time, many people considered him the most popular artist of the 1970s, and a legend in the making.

In 1977, he co-founded The Hunger Project, along with Werner Erhard and Robert W. Fuller. Denver served for many years, and supported the organization until his death. He was also appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the President's Commission on World Hunger. He wrote and dedicated the song "I Want to Live" as the theme song for the Hunger Project.

In 1979, he performed "Rhymes & Reasons" at the Music for UNICEF Concert, which gained him exposure to worldwide audiences; he donated the royalties from the song to UNICEF.

Denver had a distinctive and trend-setting image, his blond hair cut in a "dutch-boy" style, complemented by bell-bottom jeans and cowboy boots. He was known for the catch phrase "Far out!" that punctuated his concerts and conversation, his happy, positive image, and his western accent. As his interests began to go beyond just his music, Denver put his appeal to good use in many areas.

Denver became outspoken in politics in the mid-seventies. In 1976, he campaigned for Jimmy Carter, who became a close friend and ally. Denver was a supporter of the Democratic Party, as well as a number of charitable causes for the environment, the homeless, the poor, the African AIDS crisis, and hunger. He founded the charitable Windstar Foundation in 1976 to promote sustainable living. His dismay at the Chernobyl disaster led to precedent-setting concerts in parts of communist Asia and Europe.

During the 1980s, he was a critic of the Reagan Administration's environmental and defense spending policies. His outrage at the conservative politics of the 1980s was famously expressed in Denver's autobiographical folk rock ballad Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For). In the 1990s, Denver was critical of the Republican-dominated Congress and American Conservatism of the 1990s. He denounced the NRA as a corrupt political machine that could buy off politicians in a open letter he wrote to the media opposing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Denver had battled to expand the refuge in the 1980s, and praised President Bill Clinton for his opposition to the proposed drilling. The letter, which he wrote in the midst of the 1996 Presidential election, was one of the last Denver would ever write.

Despite his many differences with Republican leaders and Presidents, Denver was a sought-after guest at state dinners hosted by Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush. His "all-American" image and soft spoken lyrics of peace and harmony made him a popular entertainer. In 1972, at a Washington, D.C. concert, Nixon and then Premier of the People's Republic of China Zhou Enlai were members of the audience. After the concert, which included Denver's infamous parodies "The Ballad of Richard Nixon" and "The Ballad of Spiro Agnew" , the Premier purchased 500 cassette tapes of the country folk ballad "Take Me Home, Country Roads" which would become the first western music legally played in China.

John Denver was a member of Werner Erhard's Erhard Seminars Training (EST):

"He was an early follower of Werner Erhard, founder of the self-improvement association known as EST (Erhard Seminars Training). Denver once asked Erhard if he might become a trainer in the EST organization, but was told he could contribute more by continuing his career as an entertainer— spreading the message, through his music, of taking personal responsibility for whatever happens in the world. Several of his subsequent songs reflected that philosophy."

Denver wrote and dedicated the song "Looking for Space" to EST. This song came from his 1975 album "Windsong". It became the theme song for the training organization.

In subsequent years, Denver had a lower-profile career. He had a few more U.S. Top 30 hits as the 1970s ended, but nothing to match the success he enjoyed earlier. As his career slowed down, Denver focused more on humanitarian and sustainability work. He worked extensively on conservation projects and helped to create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Denver made public expression of his acquaintance or friendship with ecological-design researchers like Richard Buckminster Fuller and Amory Lovins, from whom he said he learned much. He also founded his own environmental group, the Windstar Foundation. Denver had a keen interest in the causes of and solution to hunger, and visited Africa during the 1980s to witness first-hand the suffering caused by starvation and to work with African leaders towards a solution.

Denver testified alongside Frank Zappa and Dee Snider on the topic of censorship during a Parents Music Resource Center hearing in 1985. His appearance and music sharply contrasted with those of his musical counterparts and his testimony was arguably the strongest influence on Congress. Denver also toured Russia in 1985, and returned two years later to perform at a benefit concert for the victims of the Chernobyl accident. In October 1992, he undertook a multiple city tour of China. Denver also released the "Homegrown" CD of his greatest hits to raise money for charities helping the homeless.

In 1994, he published his autobiography, Take Me Home. In 1996, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and his "legend" status was ensured.

In early 1997, Denver filmed an episode for the Nature series, centering on the natural wonders that inspired many of his best-loved songs. The episode contains his last song, "Yellowstone, Coming Home," which he composed while rafting along the Colorado River with his son and young daughter.

When his career as a musical icon slowed down and his humanitarian work picked up its pace, Denver had a few incidents involving driving under the influence of alcohol. He was released on both counts, as it was cited that he had a blood metabolism problem that caused tests to indicate that he had alcohol in his blood when he actually did not.

John's first marriage was to wife Anne Martell, the mother of two of his three children, and subject of his much-beloved hit "Annie's Song." He and Anne adopted their son (Zachary) and daughter (Kate) after determining that John was infertile. His son, Zachary, was the subject of "A Baby Just Like You," a song he originally wrote for Frank Sinatra which also appeared on the Muppet Christmas special. After their divorce in 1982, he later married Australian actress and singer Cassandra Delaney, and together they had a daughter named Jesse Belle, apparently disproving the infertility theory. In 1992, the couple divorced after several tabloid rumors. In the years after his second divorce, Denver and first-wife Martell began to reconcile their friendship. At the time of his death, a tabloid rumor spread from The Enquirer magazine cited possible reconciliation of their marriage, but no evidence has subsequently arisen supporting this claim.

On October 12, 1997 Denver was killed when the Long-EZ aircraft he was piloting ran out of fuel just off the coast of California at Pacific Grove.

The Long-EZ that Denver was flying is a two-place experimental aircraft, designed in the 1970s by Burt Rutan. Featuring tandem seats, when being flown solo it was to be flown from the rear seat. Denver, like many EZ pilots, was flying solo from the front.

Denver apparently lost control of the aircraft while attempting to manipulate the fuel selector handle, which is located in the rear cockpit, after running out of fuel in one tank. Witnesses stated that the plane made a sudden pitch-down plunge into the water, leading to speculation that, in reaching around to the rear, Denver bumped or kicked the side-stick control.

Denver had recently purchased the aircraft and had only had about a half-hour orientation flight the day before the accident. The NTSB cited Denver's unfamiliarity with the aircraft and his failure to have the aircraft refueled as causal factors in the accident. Denver was the sole occupant of the aircraft. Prior to the accident, the FAA found that he did not meet the medical standards prescribed in Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations due to his ongoing drinking problem, and a determination was made that he was not qualified for any class of medical at the time. At least a third-class medical was required to exercise the privileges of his pilot certificate.

Upon announcement of his death, Governor Roy Romer of Colorado ordered all Colorado flags to be lowered to half-staff to honor Denver. He was cremated along side his 1910 Gibson guitar that his grandmother had given him, and subsequently inspired much of his legacy. Denver's life was celebrated at funeral services at Faith Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Colorado on October 17, 1997. Further tributes were made at the following Grammys and Country Music Association Awards.

Denver's final album, All Aboard! consisted of old fashioned swing, big band, folk, and gospel styles of music woven into a theme of railroad songs. All Aboard! won a posthumous Best Musical Album For Children, a fitting end to Denver's career.

In 2000, the movie Take Me Home; The John Denver Story was released based on Denver's memoirs. His music remains very popular around the world and more previously unreleased and unnoticed recordings are now sought-after collectibles of both the folk and country genres.

Denver started his recording career with the Chad Mitchell Trio; his distinctive voice can be heard where he sings solo on Violets of Dawn. He recorded three albums with the Mitchell Trio, replacing Chad Mitchell himself as lead singer. His group Denver, Boise and Johnson released a single before he moved on to a solo career.

Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, co-writers of Denver's most familiar song, Take Me Home, Country Roads, were close friends of him and his family. The pair appeared as singers and songwriters on many of Denver's albums until they formed the Starland Vocal Band in 1976. The band's albums were released on Denver's Windsong Records (also known as Windstar Records) label.

Denver's early solo success is often attributed to the recording of his Leaving on a Jet Plane which was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. It became a number 1 hit for the group.

Denver recorded songs by Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, John Prine, David Mallett, and many others in the folk scene. His record company, Windstar, is still an active record label today.

Olivia Newton-John, whose across-the-board appeal to pop, MOR, and country audiences in the mid-1970s was similar to Denver's, lent her distinctive backup vocals to Denver's 1975 single "Fly Away." She also covered his "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and had a hit in the United Kingdom (#15 in 1973) and Japan (#6 in a belated 1976 release) with it.

Grammy Awards:

* Best Musical Album For Children, 1997, "All Aboard!"
* Grammy Hall of Fame Award, 1998, "Take Me Home, Country Roads"

American Music Awards:

* Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist, 1975, 1976
* Favorite Country Male Artist, 1976
* Favorite Country Album, 1976, "Back Home Again"

Singles:

* "Leaving On a Jet Plane" (1969)
* "Friends With You" (1971) #47 US
* "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (1971) #2 US
* "The Eagle and the Hawk" (1971)
* "Everyday" (1972) #81 US
* "Goodbye Again" (1972) #88 US
* "Farewell Andromeda (Welcome To My Morning)" (1973) #89 US
* "I'd Rather Be A Cowboy" (1973) #62 US
* "Please, Daddy" (1973) #69 US
* "Rocky Mountain High" (1973) #9 US
* "Sunshine on My Shoulders" (1974) #1 US
* "Annie's Song" (1974) #1 US, #1 UK
* "Back Home Again" (1974) #5 US
* "Please, Daddy" (re-release) (1974) #69 US
* "Calypso/I'm Sorry" (1975) #1 US
* "Christmas For Cowboys" (1975) #58 US
* "Sweet Surrender" (1975) #13 US
* "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (1975) #1 US
* "Fly Away" (1976) #13 US (with Olivia Newton-John)
* "It Makes Me Giggle" (1976) #60 US
* "Like a Sad Song" (1976) #36 US
* "Looking For Space" (1976) #29 US
* "Baby, You Look Good To Me Tonight" (1977) #65 US
* "How Can I Leave You Again" (1977)
* "My Sweet Lady" (1977) #32 US
* "How Can I Leave You Again" (re-release) (1978) #44 US
* "I Want To Live" (1978) #55 US
* "Downhill Stuff" (1979)
* "Sweet Melinda" (1979)
* "What's On Your Mind" (1979)
* "Autograph" (1980) #52 US
* "Dancing With The Mountains" (1980) #97 US
* "Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)" (1981) #38 US
* "The Cowboy And The Lady" (1981) #66 US
* "Perhaps Love" (with Plácido Domingo) (1982) #59 US, #42 UK
* "Seasons Of The Heart" (1982) #78 US
* "Shanghai Breezes" (1982) #31 US
* "Wild Montana Skies" (1983) (with Emmylou Harris)
* "Love Again" (1984) #85 US (with Sylvie Vartan)
* "Dreamland Express" (1985) #9 Hot Country Singles & Tracks US
* "Along for the Ride ('56 T-Bird)" (1986)
* "And So It Goes" (1989) #14 Hot Country Singles & Tracks US
* "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (re-release) (1993)

Denver published many songbooks, music instrumental teaching books and children's books:

* Alfie the Christmas Tree (1990) ISBN 0-945051-25-5
* Take Me Home: An Autobiography (1994) ISBN 0-517-59537-0
* Poems, Prayers and Promises: The Art and Soul of John Denver (2004) ISBN 1-57560-617-8Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home