John Denver, country boy Part II
At age 12, John Denver transferred to a school in Montgomery, Ala., when the Air Force transferred his father and family (mother, John, and Ron, his 7-year old younger brother) to Maxwell Air Force Base. 1955 was a year of political protest and social turmoil due to segregation laws in Montgomery and he was the skinny, little, new boy at school with the hard to pronounce last name of Deutschendorf.
The family’s next transfer, was to Arlington Heights, Texas. He attended high school there, enrolled in college and later dropping out. With his guitar, in 1963 he confidently drove to California, playing in small clubs before achieving success as a songwriter and musician.
His father was Henry John “Dutch” Deutschendorf, a career Air Force B-58 test pilot, who retired with wife, Erma, to Colorado as a Lt. Colonel. Still involved with flying, Dutch obtained a job with Gates Jet at Stapleton Airport. Proud of his adult son’s musical career, they both shared a lifelong passion for flying. John bought a glider, homebuilt aircraft, and various other airplanes, including a Lear jet that his father flew. John dedicated his album, “It’s About Time,” “With love and respect to the memory of my father,” and included two photographs of him. “Dutch” died in 1986.
John Denver came to Aspen “in his 27th year” and immediately felt like “he had come home.” He built a home in Starwood, overlooking Aspen, for him and his wife, Annie, whom he’d met while she was a Minnesota college student. They married in 1967, later adopting two children, Zachary and Anna Kate. Divorced in 1983, they remained friends, staying involved with their children.
In 1988, he married Australian singer Cassie Delaney. A daughter, Jesse Belle, was born. Divorced in 1993, with shared custody, Cassie and their daughter moved to California to be nearer to him.
John treasured the Colorado outdoors, “the camping under the stars with friends while Perseid meteor showers burst overhead, blazing across the dark skies.” He was in awe of the glorious solitary eagle soaring overhead while he flew his glider, the peaceful serenity of hiking the river trails, and the joyful, evening ambiance of early Aspen created by skiers, scuffing along winter’s powdery sidewalks after a day on the slopes.
He composed the song “Rocky Mountain High.” It was adopted by Colorado in 2007 as one of two official state songs. The governor named John “Colorado’s Poet Laureate.”
He sailed with Jacques Cousteau on the “Calypso,” becoming so impressed with Cousteau’s projects that he wrote the song “Calypso” for him. Verse: “To work in the service of life and the living, In search of answers to questions unknown.”
John co-founded the non-profit Windstar Foundation in Aspen with Tom Crum in 1976. It continues today. Please go to http://www.WStar.org for information on environmental workshops.
He was renting a house in Monterey. On Oct. 11, 1997, John purchased a Rutan-designed, two-seater, Long-EZE, a Kit plane built several years earlier. The new design had the auxiliary fuel tank behind the pilot’s seat, instead of up front where it could easily be reached. He flew into Monterey from Santa Maria, and planned to fly it down the coast the next day, after playing golf with his friends.
Records show he did three touch-and-go landings before the Monterey controller gave the OK to lift off. At 5:28 p.m., 500 feet above the ocean, witnesses say they heard a popping sound. They think he tried to switch over to the other fuel tank. While doing a pretzel maneuver behind his back to reach the switch, he may have stepped on the rudder causing the plane to dive into the ocean, about 150 feet offshore. He had 2,700 hours of flying experience.
His cremated remains were taken by the Parker Funeral Home to Denver, Colo. On Friday, Oct. 17, his 10 a.m. funeral service was conducted at his mother’s Aurora church, Faith Presbyterian Church. Over 2,000 people attended. A flyover was performed; an honor accorded every pilot at his funeral. The next day, another service was held in Aspen, Colo., attended by most of the town, with his ashes scattered in the Rocky Mountains that he loved so much.
For 10 years before his death, John had flowers sent to his widowed mother every week. He took Erma with him to some of his concerts. With him, she visited Australia, the White House and the Vatican. A Denver Post story reported two months before he died, he’d sent a letter for her 75th birthday. He wrote “I would not have been the man I am, nor would I sing the way I do, nor would I have written the songs without the influence and inspiration you’ve been to me. God bless the day you were born.” Erma Swope Deutschendorf Davis died in January 2010 in Aurora, Colo.
It is written “Elvis owned the ’50s, the Beatles owned the ’60s, and John Denver owned the ’70s.” Someone described him as “the Jimmy Stewart of the music world.” Critics argue his songs were “too plain and sentimental.” But his fans continue to love him for that very reason. So, when you’re toasting friends this year, lift another glass to “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” John Denver, born in Roswell, N.M. on New Year’s Eve 1943.