Hot poet with cool style
Light and homely style of song rendition was John Denver's forte, which, besides selling his albums like hot cakes, made him Colorado's poet laureate.
JOHN DENVER was one of the most successful country-pop singer/songwriters of the 1970s, a dozen of his albums going gold, four of them platinum, in addition to several gold singles.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf Junior in a Roswell, New Mexico air force family, his grandmother's gift of a 1910 Gibson guitar in his early teens saw him develop an attachment to the instrument and music. In 1961, he enrolled at Texas Tech to major in architecture, while performing in local clubs when he had time off.
Quitting college three years later, he moved to Los Angeles and replaced Chad Mitchell in The Trio. His solo career took off in 1969, when Peter, Paul and Mary had a No. 1 hit with his Leaving on a jet plane from the album, Rhymes and Reasons.
Whose garden was this and Take me to tomorrow did not go unnoticed. In 1971, the album Poems, Prayers and Promises produced Take me home, country roads, that touched No. 3 on the U.S. charts. Across the Atlantic, Olivia Newton John scored a top 20 hit with the same track.
That light and homely style of song rendition continued after he shifted to Aspen, Colorado and into the albums Aerie and Rocky Mountain High. The latter sold over a million copies and produced the No. 1 hit, Annie's Song, written for his wife Ann Martell. Back home again and Sunshine on my shoulders made him 1974's most successful pop musician. A year before, I'd rather be a cowboy, was also a gold single.
Greatest Hits sold 10 million copies worldwide and stayed in the top 100 for two years. Colorado's Governor made him the State's poet laureate. Thank God I'm a country boy and I'm sorry reached the pinnacle of the U.S. charts in 1975, which became his most successful year.
The artist made TV and film appearances, making a screen debut with George Burns in Oh God. He also founded Windsong Records that first signed up the Starland Vocal Band that included Bill and Taffy Danoff, who had jointly written Take me home, country roads with Denver. His golden vein refused to dry as the group's Afternoon Delight became a No. 1 hit.
Music took a back seat briefly when he ventured into volunteer work for ecological causes and being a board member of the National Space Institute, for space research and against nuclear power. From 1984, he made several tours of the Soviet Union, even performing a benefit concert for those affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Thereafter, his commercial success was limited, Dreamland Express managing only a No. 90 position and The flower that shattered the stone, way behind at No. 185.
An arrest for drunken driving in Aspen made him infamous and a repeat of the incident hardly increased his popularity. A failed second marriage in 1991 saw his musical career sinking, driving him to humanitarian causes and his first love, flying. In 1994 his autobiography Take Me Home was published. His bouts of depression and insecurity that had plagued him all his life, came back to haunt him even more.
With 20 years of flying behind him, Denver took off on an experimental plane over Monterey Bay on October 12, 1997. It suddenly dove into the ocean, killing him instantly. Perhaps in accordance with his wishes, his ashes were scattered over the Rocky Mountains that he loved so dearly.
A. GEORGE ANTONY
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