John Denver Biography

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Henry John Deutschendorf Jnr., 31 December 1943, Roswell, New Mexico, USA, d. 12 October 1997, Monterey Bay, California, USA. One of America’s most popular performers during the 70s, Denver’s rise to fame began when he was ‘discovered’ in a Los Angeles nightclub. He initially joined the Back Porch Majority, a nursery group for the renowned New Christy Minstrels, but, tiring of his role there, he left for the Chad Mitchell Trio where he forged a reputation as a talented songwriter. With the departure of the last original member, the Mitchell Trio became known as Denver, Boise and Johnson, but their brief lifespan ended when Denver embarked on a solo career in 1969. One of his compositions, ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’, provided an international hit for Peter, Paul And Mary, and this evocative song was the highlight of Denver’s debut album, Rhymes And Reasons.

Subsequent releases, Take Me To Tomorrow and Whose Garden Was This, garnered some attention, but it was not until the release of Poems, Prayers And Promises that the singer enjoyed popular acclaim when one of its tracks, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, broached the US Top 3 and became a UK Top 20 hit for Olivia Newton-John in 1973. The song’s undemanding homeliness established a light, almost naïve style, consolidated on the albums Aerie and Rocky Mountain High. ‘I’d Rather Be A Cowboy’ (1973) and ‘Sunshine On My Shoulders’ (1974) were both gold singles, while a third million-seller, ‘Annie’s Song’, secured Denver’s international status when it topped the UK charts that same year and subsequently became an MOR standard, as well as earning the classical flautist James Galway a UK number 3 hit in 1978. Further US chart success came in 1975 with two number 1 hits, ‘Thank God I’m A Country Boy’ and ‘I’m Sorry’. Denver’s status as an all-round entertainer was enhanced by many television spectaculars, including Rocky Mountain Christmas, and further gold-record awards for An Evening With John Denver and Windsong, ensuring that 1975 was the artist’s most successful year to date. He continued to enjoy a high profile throughout the rest of the decade and forged a concurrent acting career with his role in the film comedy Oh, God! with George Burns.

In 1981 his songwriting talent attracted the attention of yet another classically trained artist, when opera singer Placido Domingo duetted with Denver on ‘Perhaps Love’. However, although Denver became an unofficial musical ambassador with tours to Russia and China, his recording became less prolific as increasingly he devoted time to charitable work and ecological interests. He also attempted to become a civilian astronaut, reputedly offering the Soviet space agency $10 million dollars to put him on the Mir space station. Despite the attacks by music critics, who deemed his work to be bland and saccharine, Denver’s cute, simplistic approach nonetheless achieved a mass popularity that was the envy of many artists. He died in October 1997 when the private plane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.