Monday, October 4, 2010

Country Music Month - The Colorado Connection: Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.

I might, and rightfully so, get an argument as to whether Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. was a Country singer or a Pop singer. Since I am the final, and only, arbiter of the content of this blog, I say Country. And Country it is. HJD, Jr. was born in Roswell, New Mexico on New Year's Eve, 1943. It wasn't until he pursued a musical career that he changed his name (Deutschendorf was a little long to put on a marquee) to John Denver. He chose Denver because it was the capital of his favorite state, Colorado. Country or Pop, John Denver wrote and sang songs that Mid America could relate to. (Take Me Home) Country Roads, Rocky Mountain High and Annie's Song. A great song that Denver wrote was one that was a huge hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, many of you will recognize and say "I didn't know that!", Leavin' On a Jet Plane. One line I have memorized for well over 30 years is the opening line to Rocky Mountain High, "he was born in the summer of his 27th year coming home to a place he'd never been before". That's some serious songwriting right there. That line says in 19 words what I feel every time I find a special fishin' hole. I may have never before been there physically, but I have seen that place in my mind and felt it in my soul at least a hundred times. I'm home at place I've never been before. Good stuff. Besides being a singing star, John Denver was a good man, with his own set of flaws, but the good works he did for the less fortunate, including starving people in Africa and conservation projects.

Denver hosted the Grammys in 1983 & 1984, did a ton of TV shows and starred in a few movies, including the popular hit Oh, God with George Burns. Oh, I almost forgot he did some great Christmas songs with the Muppets. Sadly, he died doing one of the other things in life that brought him solace and joy - flying. John Denver was a very experienced pilot with over 2700 hours and several certifications. An experimental aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean on October 12, 1997. As much as I like my music with an edge to it (Hank, Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc.), there's something about the imagery in a John Denver song that "takes me home to a place I've never been before".

Country Music Month - The Texas Connection: Shotgun Willie

Here's a question for you: Can you remember a time when Willie Nelson was not a part of Country Music? I can't either. The man became a part of the Country Music scene in 1956! I was born in 1956!

The Favorite Son of Abbott, Texas was born April 30, 1933, where at age six, Willie's Dad bought some mail-order music lessons that young Willie delved into head first. Willie wrote his first song at seven years old and was in a band by the time he was nine. His father was a pool hall owner, so honky tonks were like a second home to Willie. As a young man, Willie sang in the local watering holes, while being a DJ at various radio stations. He moved to Vancouver, Washington and then to Nashville, but still had little success as a singer. However, Willie was a prolific songwriter having penned such hits as Funny How Time Slips Away for Billy Walker, Night Life for Ray Price, Crazy for Patsy Cline and Hello Walls for Faron Young. Still, a singing career was not in the cards for Willie at this time. In 1973, the critically acclaimed (which means nobody bought it) Shotgun Willie  was released followed by Phases and Stages with the hit single Bloody Mary Morning.. In 1975 after changing record labels where he got full control over his music, and moving to Austin and becoming a part of the Outlaw Music scene, Willie captured lightning in a bottle with the release of  The Red Headed Stranger. Willie Nelson was now a bona fide star. For the last thirty-five years, Willie has written and produced some of the most memorable music of any genre. From his classic duets with Waylon Jennings , Ray Price, Ray Charles and an offer to do a duet with me(!) and a host of others to that magical album of standards, Stardust, Willie has gone places with music that few, if any, others would even consider. There is so much to write about when Willie is the subject, that I'd have to write a book to cover it all. Instead, I'll leave you with  this link to Wikipedia to dive in a little deeper into the man that is Willie Nelson.

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All Original Material © Toby Shoemaker