A John Denver Homepage, Page Two


The first album, RHYMES AND REASONS, was released in October, 1969. The title song was one of the first on which he tried to state his credo, although the album still had echoes of The Mitchell Trio in songs like "The Ballad of Spiro Agnew" and "The Ballad of Richard Nixon," but, with perfect timing, there was also a new version of "Leaving, On A Jet Plane." Peter, Paul & Mary's version was becoming a hit just as John's album was released, and the positive fallout helped get his name mentioned outside folk music circles for the first time.
John then acquired agent Jerry Weintraub, who began mapping a career strategy. Weintraub saw potential for John's natural ebullience on television, and starting in the fall of 1970, John was a frequent guest, and then guest host, with Merv. Merv Griffin was an early believer. In 1973, Weintraub negotiated a deal with the BBC in England in which John would host his own six-part series that would go out live. That little baptism by fire far from home would, Weintraub thought, give John the experience he needed to cope with any type of television back in the states.
The strategy paid off when "An Evening with John Denver" on ABC-TV won an Emmy in 1975. Trying to account for his appeal on television, John said, "There was something in what I was projecting that held together. The granny glasses, the long hair, the slightly western twang, the slightly self-deprecating sense of humor." He was lovably anti-establishment, and clearly didn't want to overthrow society so much as rebuild it in his image. Television audiences have always found something compelling about the true believers.
John Built up his following from his base in the coffeehouses, and moved in imperceptible steps from folk to pop. Television introduced him to a crowd that would never have set foot inside a folk club. Unlike many singers who started in folk music, John seemed proud of the fact that he could sing. He didn't try to sound like a 70-year-old Appalachian hog farmer; he let his voice ring clear, plangent and true. It was, John soon realized, a voice better suited to songs of love, mountains and country roads than political satire or darkly obscure poetry.


"How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care, how long it's been since yesterday, what about tomorrow, what about our dreams and all the memories we share "

Poems, Prayers & Promises - John Denver 1971


The second album, TAKE ME TO TOMORROW, came out in May 1970, It included "Follow Me," the sequel to "Leaving, On A Jet Plane." John's single wasn't a hit, but Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary) got halfway up the Hot 100 with it. John had to wait another year for his breakthrough. It came with POEMS, PRAYERS AND PROMISES.
The album had been recorded during the fall of 1970, and was all but wrapped up when he opened at the Cellar Door in Washington on the day after Christmas. His opening act was Fat City, featuring Bill and Taffy Danoff. Bill played him a new song he had half-finished, "Take Me Home, Country Roads." John loved it, helped finish it, and made it a last-minute addition to the album. Released as a single, it cracked the charts in April, and got to No. 2. The LP got to No. 15. "Suddenly," John told Chet Flippo, "it's not 'John Denver, the writer of "Leaving, On A Jet Plane,"' but it's 'John Denver who sings the song you hear on the radio.'"
Talking to Rolling Stone in October, John still had clear memories of what it meant to be less then successful. "Radio stations I went into a year ago with 'Follow Me,' would go through this kind of thing. 'Hi, John. Oh, excuse me, man, I've just got to get that phone over there, hold on just a second.' I'd wait 10 or 15 minutes, and they'd come back and say, 'Uh, John, I really like your record...It really...Oh, excuse me, man.' Now they want to show me round the studio."
What was truly amazing was that John Denver had created his own niche that more of less defied traditional formatting. He certainly ran contrary to the prevailing trend in music journalism which saw rock as the only way forward. "My success went totally against the grain of what was going on in popular music," John told Playboy in 1977. "The mainstream of music was hard rock. The popularity of country music hadn't started yet, and the '60s folk music was over. Rock... was where the hype was going on, and no one pad serious attention to me." No one, that is, except the millions who didn't like having hard rock thrust down their throats, and still liked a song with a lilting melody and an affirming, unconfrontational message.
Around Christmas 1970, John and his wife, Annie, moved to Aspen, Colorado. It was here that the kid who had never really had a hometown finally found one. Listen again to "Rocky Mountain High" to understand the voyage of self-discovery that led him and Annie to Colorado; it was almost as if he had created a self-fulfilling prophecy when he had named himself "Denver" back in the Los Angeles smog five years earlier. He and Annie bought land in the as-yet-undeveloped Starwood area. The land alone took all the money they had. Building started a year later. Living there was like being born again, John said at the time. It was the happiest of times. He and Annie adopted two children, Zachary and Anna Kate. The demands on him were still far from incessant.
The singles from the AERIE album didn't do as well, but the sixth album was the clincher. ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH came out in September 1972. The first single from the album, "Goodbye Again," completed the trilogy that had begun with "Leaving, On A Jet Plane." It stalled at No. 88, but the next single, "Rocky Mountain High," got into the Top 10. John had started it on a camping trip to Williams Lake. He and some friends had gone there to witness a Perseid meteor shower, and the meteors became a metaphor that unlocked the story of his life.
The song took nine months to write. One verse that might require a little additional explanation today is the one that begins "Now his life is full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear." It was an oblique commentary on the failed attempt to bring the Winder Olympics to Denver in 1972. Part of the landscape would have had to have been rescupted, and John was desperately opposed to it ("Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more - more people, more scars upon the land"). It was an intensely personal piece, almost a Pilgrim's Progress for our times. It seemed that in giving voice to his own aspirations, John was giving a voice to a generation. "The truth is the way it is, and I'll try and put that in a song," he said once. By now almost everyone was listening.
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Copyright 1996, Colin Escott and RCA records