Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., (John Denver) was born in Roswell, New Mexico, to Erma Louise Swope and Henry John Deutschendorf, Sr., an Air Force officer and flight instructor of German ancestry. At the age of 12, Denver received a 1910 Gibson acoustic jazz guitar from his grandmother. He learned to play well enough to perform at local clubs by the time he was in college. He adopted the surname "Denver" after the capital of his favorite state, Colorado. Attending high school in Fort Worth, Texas was a distressing experience for the alienated Denver. In his third year of high school, he took his father's car and ran away to California to visit family friends and pursue a musical career. His father flew to California to retrieve him, and Denver returned to finish high school. Denver dropped out of the School of Engineering (Architecture) at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock, Texas, in 1963, and moved to Los Angeles, California, where he sang in the smoky underground folk clubs. In 1965, Denver joined the Chad Mitchell Group, a folk group that had been renamed "The Mitchell Trio" prior to Chad Mitchell's departure and before Denver's arrival, and then "Denver, Boise, and Johnson" (John Denver, David Boise, and Michael Johnson). In 1969, Denver abandoned the band life to pursue a solo career, and released his first album for RCA Records, Rhymes and Reasons. It was not a huge hit, but it contained "Leaving On A Jet Plane," which was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary two years prior when Mitchell Trio manager Milt Okun had brought the unrecorded Denver song to the high-profile folk group. Soon after the John Denver version was released, the Peter, Paul and Mary version hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Although RCA did not actively promote the album with a tour, Denver himself embarked on an impromptu supporting tour throughout the Midwest, stopping at towns and cities as the fashion took him, offering to play free concerts at local venues. When he was successful in convincing a school, college, American Legion Hall, or local coffee-house to let him play, he would spend a day or so postering the town and could usually be counted upon to show up at the local radio station, guitar in hand, offering himself for an interview. With the foot-in-the-door of having authored "Leaving On A Jet Plane," he was often successful in gaining some valuable promotional airtime, usually featuring one or two songs performed live. Some venues would let him play for the "door"; others restricted him to selling copies of the album at intermission and after the show. After several months of this constant low-key touring schedule, however, he had sold enough albums to convince RCA to take a chance on extending his recording contract. He had also built a sizable and solid fan base, many of whom remained loyal throughout his career. His album Poems, Prayers, and Promises (released in 1971), was a breakthrough for him in the U.S., thanks in part to the single "Take Me Home Country Roads," which went to #2 on the Billboard charts despite the first pressings of the track being distorted. Its success was due in part to the efforts of his new manager, future Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, who signed Denver in 1970. Weintraub insisted on a re-issue of the track and began a radio-airplay campaign that started in Denver, Colorado. Denver's career flourished from then on, and he had a series of hits over the next four years. In 1972, Denver scored his first Top Ten album with Rocky Mountain High, with its title track reaching the Top Ten in 1973. Between 1974 and 1975, Denver experienced an impressive chart dominance, with a string of four #1 songs ("Sunshine On My Shoulders," "Annie's Song," "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," and "I'm Sorry"). Denver was also a guest star on The Muppet Show, the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Denver and Jim Henson that spawned two television specials with The Muppets.
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