‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ Was Almost About Massachusetts
John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," perhaps one of America's most iconic and identifiable songs, was released by RCA Records on Denver's Poems, Prayers & Promises album on April 6, 1971. The song would launch Denver's career to unimaginable heights.
Denver, born Henry John Deutshendorf, Jr. in New Mexico in 1943, had already released four albums, three for RCA before Poems, Prayers & Promises. Among the albums was Rhymes and Reasons in 1969, which contained the classic Denver song "Leaving on a Jet Plane," which helped propel Peter, Paul, and Mary to stardom.
But "Take Me Home, Country Roads" became John Denver's signature song, and like with most traditions and institutions, there is an inside story. Here is what I have learned.
In December of 1970, Denver, with a couple of albums to his credit, was a still struggling folk musician looking for the big break. He was performing at The Cellar Door in Georgetown.
WTOP reporter Neal Augenstein spoke with the late musician Len Jaffe about how "Take Me Home, Country Roads" came to be. According to Jaffe, one night when the show was over, he went to the apartment of Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, two struggling singer-songwriters who asked Denver to help them complete a song they were writing but couldn't get just right. That song was "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, known professionally as Fat City, found inspiration for the song while traveling the back roads of Maryland – not West Virginia. Danoff, a native of West Springfield, Massachusetts, toyed briefly with the idea of making the song a tribute to his home state, but according to multiple reports and interviews, didn't think it was a good fit. West Virginia got the nod instead.
Danoff had never visited West Virginia before writing what would become one of the state's four anthems that, since 2017, has been used to market the state to tourists worldwide.
Denver died in a plane crash in 1997. He was one of the most successful musical acts of the 1970s and appeared on television and in films.
Danoff and Nivert were two of the four members that made up the 1970s band Starland Vocal Band which had a big hit with "Afternoon Delight." As Fat City, Danoff and Nivert sang backup on the original recording of "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
Danoff and Nivert originally had Johnny Cash in mind while writing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and hoped to sell the song to Cash.
The John Denver Sanctuary is in his beloved adopted home Aspen, Colorado.
As Paul Harvey used to say, "And now you know the rest of the story."