enry John Deutschendorf, Jr., was born in Roswell, New Mexico, but grew up all over the country. His father, an air force pilot, was constantly on the move, shifting from one military base to another. The elder Deutshendorf managed to set three world records in aviation, inspiring his son to have similar career ambitions. However, such was not to be; the air force rejected Henry Jr. as too nearsighted.
The young man then turned to music, and was given a 1910 Gibson guitar by his grandmother. He spent hours in his room, picking and singing, and imitating Elvis Presley. Later, at Texas Tech, he abandoned plans to become an architect, and moved instead toward a showbiz career.
Henry changed his name to John Denver (after his favorite city) and started playing folk clubs around the Southwest. One night, while appearing in Phoenix, he was "discovered" by a member of the Brothers Four. John was told to head to L.A., where auditions were being held to fill a spot in the Chad Mitchell Trio. On July 4, 1965, he got the job over 250 other applicants. Denver stayed with the group for more than three years, until they broke up in November 1968.
He tried making it on his own, and signed with RCA Victor. His first solo album, Rhymes and Reasons, featured his own composition, "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Peter Paul and Mary covered it, and had a number-one hit with the song in 1969. Two albums followed -- Take Me to Tomorrow and Whose Garden Was This? -- before John Denver found the tune that was to make him a star.
It happened in Washington, D.C., during an engagement at a folk club called the Cellar Door. John was sharing the bill with Bill Denoff and Taffy Nivert, who worked under the name of Fat City. After opening night, the three piled into Bill's car and headed back to his place for an impromptu jam. On the way, though, there was a crash, and John's thumb was broken. He had to be taken to the hospital, where a splint was applied to his hand. By the time they got back to the house, John was, in his words, "wired, you know."
They sang it for John, and, as he recalled, "I flipped." The three of them stayed up until 6 a.m., changing words and moving lines around. When they finished, John announced that the song had to go on his next album -- and it did.
"Take Me Home, Country Roads" appeared on the LP Poems, Prayers and Promises, and was released as a 45 in the spring of 1971. It broke nationally in mid-April, but moved up the charts, very slowly. After several weeks, RCA called John and told him that they were giving up on the single. "No!" he screamed. "Keep working on it!" They did, and on August 18 it was certified a million-seller.
"Take Me Home, Country Roads" spend nearly six months on the hit parade, establishing John Denver as a force to be reckoned with in the pop, country, and easy listening fields. Fat City later evolved into the Starland Vocal Band, winner of two 1976 Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist of the Year.
And Bill and Taffy? "Someday," they said, "we'll have to visit West Virginia."
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