By Blair Jackson

It was 20 years ago today that John Denver was killed when a small, experimental plane he was flying crashed off the coast of Northern California. He was 53.  A lot of folks today are probably not aware that Denver was one of the most popular acoustic singer-songwriters of the 1970s. Not only did he score 12 Gold and four platinum albums behind the success of such songs as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (loved the Toots & the Maytals and Bruddah Iz reworkings of that one!), “Annie’s Song,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” he was also a ubiquitous presence on television all through the 1970s and into the early ’80s; an amiable Oklahoma boy who successfully straddled the pop, country, and folk worlds with his always tuneful and catchy songs. He was a devoted conservationist who played many benefit concerts for a variety of causes; an all-around good-guy, an affable entertainer.


To honor this sad anniversary, here’s a clip of Denver singing his 1974 song “This Old Guitar,” preceded by his charming explanation about the actual guitar that inspired it and which he plays on it—a 1910 Gibson that his grandmother owned originally. The first verse is typical of the sort of simple sentimental Americana that Denver was so good at:

This old guitar taught me to sing a love song
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days
It helped me make it through some lonely nights
Oh, what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night