John Denver recorded Country Roads in January of 1971 and within six months the song had swept the country, reaching number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.  I first heard it on my car radio. I didn’t recognize the voice and hadn’t heard the name.  It took me a while to track down the album, Poems, Prayers and Promises. I wrote down the lyrics to Country Roads and began to experiment with playing the music on my guitar. Much to my delight, a capo and the key of C was all I needed. Amazing.

 In the mid-1970s I saw John Denver play a two-and-a-half hour concert in an arena packed with 10,000 people. With just his bell-clear voice, his 6 and 12-string guitars, and a few simple guitar and amp effects, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. I was sitting in the 10th row on the floor of the arena, so I could see how he was playing his guitars. Most of the songs he performed were played in the key of C, with an A minor relative chord here and there, capoed in various positions on the fretboard.

 I had been performing folk music since the early 1960s, but my guitar skills were rudimentary—simple strums and arpeggios. Seeing John Denver taught me an important lesson. The guitar work does not have to be complicated or flashy. Impeccable timing and clarity has a beauty all its own. Don’t try to do it if you can’t do it elegantly. I began to use “John Denver style” as a practical and achievable standard for my performances. I included several John Denver songs in my performance sets in the 70s: Country Roads, Mr. Bojangles, Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado, Rocky Mountain High, Paradise, For Baby, Angel From Montgomery, and Back Home Again.

 About that same time, I began writing my own songs and I recorded several songs in 1975 that were written “John Denver style”—key of C and a capo. My first single was Lucky Man, written in that style. Since then I have branched out into a variety of keys and styles, of course, but I have stayed with John Denver’s “keep it simple” approach and it has worked well for me.

 In addition to being a superb performer, John Denver wrote many songs that were celebratory and hopeful. Those emotional tones resonated with me, and a lot of the songs I write are from that celebratory and hopeful space in my being. I also have a mildly warped sense of humor, which also works its way into my songs.

 I received many magical gifts from John Denver, and it feels good and right to acknowledge them.

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