"So kiss me and smile for me/ tell me that you'll wait for me/ hold me like you'll never let me go/ cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane/ don't know when I'll be back again/ oh baby, I hate to go." - Leaving On A Jet Plane - John Denver.

Life didn't imitate art for country folk icon and actor John Denver when he sang Paul McCartney penned Beatles hit When I'm 64 at an Adelaide concert on his 1977 Australian tour.

Denver died at 53 when his small Long EZ plane crashed at Pacific Grove on Monterrey Bay on October 12, 1997.

Two decades earlier Denver starred with singer-comedian George Burns in comedic movie Oh, God!

Ironically, Denver had a love hate relationship with his father - a hard-drinking former Air Force test pilot.

Yet they bonded later in life over flying.

He taught Denver how to fly and the singer spent millions on vintage biplanes, a Learjet, two Cessna 210s, a Christen Eagle aerobatic plane and the fatal flight plane.

It was a cruel twist of fate that the man who wrote Leaving on a Jet Plane - once a theme song for United Airlines - died in a self-piloted plane crash.

His mother Emma outlived him by 12 years - she died at 87 in Aurora in Colorado on January in 2010.

Now, the dual Grammy winner is being belatedly honored on a tribute disc featuring artists from diverse genres.

Denver, then 39, was an amusing raconteur and supporter of outlaws Willie Nelson and the late Waylon Jennings when I interviewed him for the now defunct Sydney Daily Mirror in 1984.

We enjoyed a Circular Quay high 34 floors above the water rats as he detailed his movie career and the big ones that got away.

We'll return to that at the bottom of this page.

The singer, born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr in Roswell, New Mexico, on New Year's Eve 1943, dropped out of Texas Tech University in Lubbock in 1964 and moved to L.A.

"I chose Denver," he wrote of his name change in his 1994 autobiography Take Me Home, "which I associated with the Rocky Mountains. I identified with those mountains."

He performed with the Chad Mitchell Trio in 1965 before a long career as a solo artist from 1969.

His 1967 song Leaving On A Jet Plane became a huge hit for Peter, Paul & Mary after he recorded it with the trio.

But the biggest shock on his seventies tour was reserved for Queensland reared RCA label mates Moose Malone.

The band, featuring late singer-songwriter A P Johnson as its roadie, was dumped from RCA after drunken delicacies at a Denver cocktail party in Melbourne.

Denver had four platinum and 12 gold albums in the US - his Greatest Hits album spent 175 weeks on charts.

He also hosted his own international TV series, was a regular Muppets puppet and regular on child-friendly TV specials.

But that was then and this is now.


"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy/ sunshine in my eyes can make me cry sunshine on the water looks so lovely/ sunshine almost always makes me high." - Sunshine On My Shoulders - John Denver-Mike Taylor-Dick Kniss.

Denver sidekick Bill Danoff is well qualified for the liner notes - he wrote two of the singer's hits - Take Me Home Country Roads and I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado with wife Taffy.

Denver was co-writer on the former with the Danoffs who topped charts in the Starland Vocal Band on July 4, 1976, with Afternoon Delights - a subversive song later revealed to be about swift sex in the middle of the day.

But the Danoffs were no one trick ponies - Bill, now 66, co-wrote Boulder To Birmingham with Emmylou Harris about her love affair with the late Gram Parsons.

So it's fitting one of the vocal duet highlights here is Emmylou's collaboration with Brandi Carlile on Take Me Home Country Roads.

Danoff's tune I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado is resurrected tastefully here by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

It's no surprise Danoff enthused about this disc in the Boston Globe.

"When I listened to this album, I thought it was really cool. John's '70s records don't come through to younger people. They're very dated - physically, sonically. But this new tribute record is gorgeous. To me, they're literally brand-new songs, and I think that happens all over that album. And that's the tribute."

Another dynamic duet is Josh Ritter and Barnstar on the lesser known mandolin and fiddle fuelled Steve Gillette-Tom Campbell tune Darcy Farrow.

But let's backtrack - My Morning Jacket entrée the 14 track tribute with a solemn reading of embryonic hit Leaving On A Jet Plane before Dave Matthews performs a grungy version of Take Me To Tomorrow.

Equally bleak is Canadian chanteuse Kathleen Edwards version of All Of My Memories.

Train, renowned for a delicious duet with Pistol Annies diva Ashley Monroe, kick up the tempo with Sunshine On My Shoulders that segues into an equally accessible old timey rendition of Back Home Again by Old Crow Medicine Show.

Louisiana tear jerker Lucinda Williams plucks This Old Guitar before Amos Lee shines up Some Days Are Diamonds.

Allen Stone does an esoteric cut of Rocky Mountain High that Denver later admitted had been written while high on LSD and marijuana.

Williams says "he had this wholesome image, but apparently John Denver was quite the pothead. That might explain that big smile he always had. That was kind of what maybe turned people off - you're too sunny, the clean air, this clean-cut-looking guy with his bangs. Then you realise, wow, there's all this darkness. None of John Denver's songs have an obvious edge. You sort of have to read between the lines."


"You fill up my senses/ like a night in a forest/ like the mountains in springtime
like a walk in the rain/ like a storm in the desert/ like a sleepy blue ocean/ you fill up my senses/ come fill me again." - Annie's Song - John Denver.

Denver wrote Annie's Song for first wife - Minnesota born Annie Martel - in 1974.

They adopted two children but split in 1982 after Denver destroyed the marital bed with a chainsaw in a rage.

Brett Dennen and Milow deliver Annie's Song with delicious dexterity.

Denver wed Sydney singer and actress Cassie Delaney, 18 years his junior, in 1988.

< Cassandra Delaney

He later complained "she managed to make a fool of me from one end of the valley to the other".

But they renewed their friendship post-divorce and she confessed after Denver's death that: "John was never violent with me."

The Lemonheads' Evan Dando turns Looking for Space into an indie rocker and Dinosaur Jr.'s Jay Mascis adds a jarring guitar solo to Prisoners.

There's no irony in Blind Pilot - being the purveyors of The Eagle And The Hawk.

Denver was a fervent campaigner for social causes and the environment during the eighties when his musical career was diminishing.

By the mid-1990s he was twice arrested on drunk-driving charges in a time he called his "dark night of the soul".

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes finish with a rollicking rendition of Wooden Indian - not to be mistaken for Hank Williams song Kawliga - the tale of a wooden Indian.

One of Denver's unfulfilled ambitions was to become an astronaut and to beam his music down to Earth - he also named his cat Andromeda.

A year before he died, Denver said: "Some of my songs are about very simple things in life.

But those simple things are meaningful to me and have obviously meant something to people all over the world, even if it's only in a karaoke bar."

1984 Interview - Sydney Daily Mirror


"And somewhere in between/ her Harvey's Bristol Cream/ and the beer I drank and the easy company/ we somehow came together/ for a night of stormy weather/ now there's a little bit of class in this old cowboy/ there's a little bit of cowboy in the lady." - The Cowboy And The Lady - John Denver.

When John Denver toured here in 1984 he told candid stories about his movie hits and his ex-missus.

The singer, then 39, was flying high 34 floors above the Circular Quay at the harbor side luxury hotel The Intercontinental.

Sprawled comfortably on a couch with his hand-tooled tanned cowboy boots kicking up newspapers on a coffee table he was a riveting raconteur.

He revealed his next acting role was in the telemovie The Cowboy And The Lady but he didn't plan a sex change.

"My acting is not so great that I could play the lady, yet," Denver told me in an exclusive interview, "I'm no Dustin Hoffman."

The much maligned multi-millionaire confessed he knocked back a major role in 1982 movie An Officer And A Gentleman.

For the singer, who starred with George Burns in Oh God that was a major blunder.

To make the pain more protracted his old sparring mates Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warne had a No 1 hit with movie tune Up Where We Belong.

"As far as I know I had the first chance but I read the script and turned it down," Denver recalled.

"I was offered Richard Gere's role. The movie was very successful and did wonders for Richard's career."

So how did Denver come to reject such a lucrative and acclaimed movie?

"The script read to me like a B grade sex movie," he quipped.

"That was what turned me off about it. I don't recall any specific scenes. There was not anything in the script beyond the relationship with these two people - the man and woman and the time they spend together. I was sure this man didn't become an officer and a gentleman by going to bed with this woman. And I think more than anything it was my own lack of experience in not being able to perceive beyond the words on the paper, to see all the background and possibilities of making a film like that. I just didn't see that."

Denver confessed he hadn't seen the movie before the tour.

"I haven't seen the finished film," Denver revealed.

"But apparently there's a great scene where Richard Gere is down doing sit-ups and Lou Gossett is yelling at him. I didn't see or read that in the script. That's my fault - inexperience at translating scripts into films.

Denver's regrets were compounded, not only the success, but the nature of the movie.

"It was a wonderful romantic movie which took me back to the beautiful movies of quite a few years ago. From the reviews it seems to be so different to most of what's out there now. They had really done something with that script. It was like Clark Gable in It Happened One Night and a few Jimmy Stewart movies.


"There's a full moon over India and Ghandi lives again/ whose to say you have to lose for someone else to win." - It's About Time - John Denver.

Denver's third Australian tour was hefty solace - financially at least - for the lonely country boy who bared his heart publically after splitting with Annie, his wife of 15 years.

"My home is still in Aspen but it's difficult for me to be there and not be in my home," he confided to me.

"It's good to be busy while Annie and I try to resolve our problems. I recently did a TV show there with The Muppets and it hurt me to be in Aspen and not be with my family."

Ironically, he wrote the hook for his album It's About Time while flying to India with the cast of Academy Award winning smash hit Ghandi.

Denver was flying to pay respects to his Swami and the cast, including Ben Kingsley, were flying to the world premiere.

"There was a full moon out the window so I wrote in my note book - "there's a full moon over India and Ghandi lives again/ whose to say you have to lose for someone else to win."

Denver also expressed admiration for outlaws Willie Nelson and the late Waylon Jennings.

"When I was last here in Australia I won the U.S. Country Music Entertainer of The Year award," he revealed.

"There was a whole big outcry about giving that to someone who wasn't from Nashville, didn't record in Nashville and all that kind of rubbish. I thought that was really very foolish, people hanging onto something that was negative in the first place. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings broke away and became outlaws and have truly done more for country music than has even been done and took it to do a much wider audience."

That was 1975 when legendary singer but drunk CMA presenter Charlie Rich set fire to the not-so-lucky envelope with a charred cigarette lighter as he discovered Denver was male entertainer of the year.

Denver also shot from the hip at English wild life.

He took legal action when Monty Python recorded Farewell to John Denver in 1981, a song in which Eric Idle (as Denver) was strangled by a boa constrictor.

Denver's other movie and telemovie acting credits include Savant, Walking Thunder, Higher Ground, Foxfire, The Christmas Gift, Disneyland, The Leftovers, Denver in Colorado, McCloud, The Colorado Cattle Caper, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law and The Camerons Are a Special Clan.

CLICK HERE for our membership page to win The Music Is You - A Tribute To John Denver.

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