John Denver grew up a military B.R.A.T. shadowed by his father’s military status. But as he grew up, he created his own identity that inspired his music.
Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. (later known as John Denver) was born on Dec. 31, 1943 in Roswell, N.M., U.S.A. to Captain Henry John “Dutch” Deutschendorf Sr. of the United States Army and later the U.S. Air Force. With a father in the military, Denver lived in many different countries and states.
From the time that he was a baby to about 6-years-old, Denver lived in Japan. In his autobiography, Denver mentions that he didn’t remember his time.
At age 6 his family moved back to the U.S. where they resided in Tucson, Ariz. Denver developed a very shy and introverted personality with no sense of personal identity. To the outside world, Denver was simply “Dutch’s Boy.”
But this was the time when Denver’s love for music began. He got his first guitar from his grandmother and joined a boy’s choir.
After Ariz., his family moved to Montgomery, Ala.a during the bus boycotts. The transition proved to be difficult for Denver as he hadn’t been very exposed to segregation during his years in Ariz.
Becoming His Own Person
During his time in Ala., Denver sang in front of his boy’s choir for the first time. After his performance, Denver was no longer just an Air Force kid who stayed in a town for a little while. The world no longer knew him as “Dutch’s Boy.” Denver became his own person. Although he was still a loner and individualist, he became more sensitive towards others and their emotions.
Denver spent his high school years in Fort Worth, Tex. as a shy teenager who turned to music to express his emotions in private.
His father was a stern man who had difficulty opening up and showing his emotions towards his family. So Denver says he got his emotional side from his mother, Erma Louise. It was because of his emotions that Denver was able to write some of his greatest hits.
The Inspiration Behind Some of John Denver’s Greatest Hits
Denver would write his songs from events that were happening in his life. Throughout his entire life, he was on the move, either with his family or for his music. He used his time in new places or his longing for something different as inspiration for his lyrics.
Denver wrote “Leaving On a Jet Plane” during a time in his life where he was constantly traveling as a part of the Chad Mitchell Trio. He was longing for someone to love and how his constant traveling prevented him from achieving it.
“Annie’s Song” was a homage to Denver’s first wife, Annie Martell. In his autobiography, Denver talks about how he wanted to write the song for his wife to show her how he feels in a way that he couldn’t just tell her.
He came up with some of the lyrics for “Rocky Mountain High” on a camping trip with his wife, Annie and some of their friends. Denver witnessed a meteor shower in the middle of the night that looked like it was “raining fire in the sky.”
“‘Annie’s Song,’ ‘Rocky Mountain High,’ ‘Country Roads,’ ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders,’ ‘Back Home Again,’ and ‘Leaving On a Jet Plane’ were not songs that flowed from the pin between 9 [a.m.] and 5 [p.m.]” Denver says in his autobiography. “They were my nature expressed, they were experiences musically stated. They were my emotions being brought up out of being there and seeing it and being there and seeing it. You write the song so that you are true to it.”
As Denver’s career and popularity grew, he constantly traveled from place to place to perform. He suffered from wanderlust, or a desire to keep moving and traveling around. This is something that, according to a dissertation by Edward C. Queair titled, “Children of the U.S. Military and Identity: A Narrative Inquiry into the “Brat” Experience,” is found in many military B.R.A.T.s.
In his autobiography, Denver said he didn’t really care about where he was. He cared about what he was doing there.
Denver’s music didn’t just take him around the U.S., but to the other side of the world.
In 1986, Denver performed a concert in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. According to the John Denver website, his performance was the first done by a U.S. artist since the Cold War. He returned in 1987 to perform a benefit concert for the victims of Chernobyl.
In October 1992, he also performed a multi-city tour in mainland China. He became the first artist from the West to do this and it shocked him to find out how popular his songs were in China.
After Denver died on Oct. 12, 1997, his legacy lived on in his many humanitarian efforts and organizations, his family and of course his music.
“Music does bring people together. It allows us to experience the same emotions,” says Denver. “People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves we are the same.”