Born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., in the mid ‘70s John Denver was one of the world’s most popular entertainers. His 1973 Greatest Hits album was on the Billboard magazine chart of best sellers for about three years.
Of the 24 albums he released on the RCA label during his lifetime, 14 went gold (that is sales of half a million) and eight sold over a million copies each. Apparently his Greatest Hits album has sold more than 9 million copies in the US alone. Throughout his life Denver recorded and released approximately 300 songs, about 200 of which he composed. His signature numbers included “Take Me Home, Country Roads“, “Rocky Mountain High“, “Annie’s Song” “Calypso“, “Sunshine on My Shoulders and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy”. The one that started it all for Denver was “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, a song that was inspired by his father’s tour of duty to Vietnam. Until that point Denver was unheard of. He’d been knocked back by umpteen record companies.
Denver was a man of contradictions – twice married, he was passionate about the environment and the planet, while at the same time succumbing to bouts of infidelity, alcoholism and aberrant behaviour. He loved flying planes and unfortunately that is how he died, when his new experimental aircraft plunged into the ocean on October 12th, 1997.
Now Australian singer Rick Price has returned from his current home in Nashville, Tennessee to sing 20 John Denver numbers and tell us a little bit about the life that the star lived (he did the same show here nearly four years ago). In the early ‘80s Price was a session artist and backing vocalist for the likes of Marcia Hines, Jon English and Dragon. He drew national attention when he performed Australia’s bicentennial anthem “Celebration of a Nation” as one half of a duet with Keren Minshull.
Price has a voice that ranges far and wide and does justice to the great talent that Denver was. Backed by a four-piece band known as The Colorado Quartet, he quickly wins over the audience with his laid-back manner and his larrikin humour. Only, and I accept I am being a wee bit churlish in saying so, I wish he didn’t use the expression “you know” so often. It happened dozens of times and punctuated many of his sentences when he wasn’t singing. I felt like yelling out, “no, we don’t know –that’s why you’re up there and we are down here”.
The story was written by Jim McPherson, who has spent many years in the entertainment industry as a marketer, writer, producer and literary advisor. He had eight years at the Victorian Arts Centre and has written several narrative concerts such as The John Denver Story. They have included The Cat Stevens Story, The Man in Black with Tex Perkins and Dudley Moore: The Man and His Music. He has penned another winner here because the audience was warm and enthusiastic in their praise of Price and the foursome backing him. The memories of Denver and his music came flooding back at the Athenaeum Theatre in Collins Street, where the tribute show is on until 13th June.
It will move to Perth’s Regal Theatre on July 2nd, where it will play until July 5th.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television