Friday, June 9, 2017

John Denver (1943 – 1997)

Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., was born in 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico. His father, an Air Force officer and flight instructor, was posted to many bases around the American Southwest and South so young Henry was grew up with an appreciation of many cultures. He was raised as a Presbyterian and later converted to Lutheranism and remained spiritual throughout his life. As any teenager he was often at loggerheads with his father but his grandmother gave him his first guitar (1910 Gibson acoustic guitar) when he was eleven. He took lessons and joined a boy’s choir and by the time he was attending college, Henry has sufficient was able to pick up extra cash playing in local clubs. He moved to California after he dropped out in 1964. Friends convinced him to change his name and suggested John Sommerville but he used the surname "Denver" after his favorite city. John Denver joined a folk group called The Chad Mitchell Trio, which became “The Mitchell Trio" before “Denver, Boise, and Johnson". John left the group to pursue a solo career in 1969 and signed for RCA Records. Rhymes and Reasons, his debut album was a huge hit and "Leaving On A Jet Plane", was released as a single by Peter, Paul and Mary and went to number one.

The next two albums were less success but when he released Poems, Prayers and Promises, and "Take Me Home, Country Roads," went to number two in the US his career flourished.

Rocky Mountain High was released in 1972 and the singles "Sunshine on My Shoulders", "Annie's Song" and "Back Home Again" all charted.

His "all-American" image and soft spoken lyrics of peace and harmony made him a popular entertainer. The John Denver Band consisted of legendary fiddler/songwriter John Sommers, Guitarist Steve Weisberg, Bass player Dick Kniss, Percussionist Hal Blaine, Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff, and Mike Taylor. John’s concert tours reached millions, many of whom had never heard country music. John and the band toured the U.S. Canada throughout Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the Orient and the United Kingdom. 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."

By the mid seventies John Denver became outspoken in politics and in 1976, he campaigned for Presidential Candidate, Jimmy Carter. John was a supporter of the Democratic Party and an active member of many charitable agencies. His outrage at conservative politics was famously expressed in Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For).

In subsequent years, John Denver had a lower profile although he continued to record and perform. He switched his attentions to working for humanitarian causes and sustainability work. In 1985 John Denver toured Russia 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. The singer’s enthusiasm for the environment musically came to life with The Wildlife Concert. In 1995, he performed this multi-media event (TV special, album, home video, international tour) in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The WCS, headquartered at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, is one of the largest conservation organizations in the world. John Denver served on its Board of Advisors. John Denver was killed in October 1997 when his experimental airplane, an "EZ Long," crashed into Monterey Bay off the coast of Northern California.

Worth a listen:
Take Me Home, Country Roads (1971)
Rocky Mountain High (1973)
Sunshine on My Shoulders (1974)
Annie's Song (1974)
Back Home Again (1974)
Calypso (1975)
Sweet Surrender (1975)
Thank God I'm a Country Boy (1975)

Peter Paul and Mary
Leaving on a jet plane (1969)

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