In Bill's Own Words - the Whole Story:
I Guess He'd
Rather Be in Colorado Liner Notes
I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado
was the first song Taffy Nivert and I wrote that was recorded by someone
other than ourselves. We did it as a 20-minute exercise in songwriting, just
to see if we could. The inspiration for the lyrics was Dick Weissman, a
friend and producer of Reincarnation, our first album as Fat City,
the name of our duo.
Dick was a renowned banjo player with
the folk group, The Journeymen.
time I was a Georgetown University student working nights as the lights and
soundman at the Cellar Door, a funky little nightclub on M Street in the
Georgetown section of Washington, DC. But the Cellar Door was big on the
national circuit, along with the Bitter End in New York and San Francisco's
Hungry i, for an eclectic lineup of performers including Joni Mitchell,
Odetta, comedian Mort Sahl and Thelonius Monk.
In 1966, The Mitchell Trio played at the
Cellar Door. Chad Mitchell had just left the Trio and was replaced by a
skinny, blond-haired Air Force brat named John Denver. While John did not
have Chad's outstanding vocal range, he more than made up for it with an
upbeat personality that one day would charm millions of fans from kids to
Later, The Mitchell Trio broke up and John
formed a new group with David Boyce and Michael Johnson, called Denver,
Boyce and Johnson. The group, though loaded with talent, did not last long.
But during that time John often was in Washington and we became friends. He
knew I wrote and sang, but for whatever reason we just did not sit down and
try to do something together.
summer of 1970, Taffy and I as Fat City were playing at another club on M
Street called JAMF. One night John rode up to JAMF on a motorcycle. He
visited us between sets, and said he wanted to hear a song we had written
that Alan Cowell, Cellar Door manager, told him he would like.
After the club closed that night, Taffy and
I sat at a table with John between us and sang Colorado - in real
life stereo. He was impressed and wanted to record it. A few weeks later
John called from New York to say that not only had he just recorded
Colorado, but Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, the popular folk
trio, was going to use it on Mary, her first solo album. Just like
that we achieved legitimate credentials as songwriters!
Sam L'Hommedieu, who co-owned the Cellar
Door with Jack Boyle, took a chance on booking John, now a solo act, with
Fat City opening for him the week during the Christmas holidays in 1970-71.
It worked, with John drawing from the old Mitchell Trio fans and Fat City
with its local following.
After the show on Wednesday night of that
week, John came over to our Georgetown basement apartment to play some music
together. He actually didn't show up until 3 a.m. because of a car accident,
had one thumb in a cast and couldn't play his guitar.
With John were Kris O'Connor, another Cellar
Door alum who later would spend 20 years as a Denver road manager, producer
and confidante, his wife Bonnie and Annie Denver.
Taffy and I had a half-finished song we
thought might be right for someone like Johnny Cash. The song had no title
or lyrics for the bridge, but two verses and, we thought, a good chorus.
Taffy suggested we play it for John. I didn't think he'd like it, but John,
thank God, said, "We gotta start someplace."
At this point I must say my original
inspiration for the song came one day while driving down a little country
road in Maryland, and it was totally written in our basement apartment.
So, we sang the two verses and chorus.
John was ecstatic. "That's a hit," he said.
"Let's finish it!" So Take Me Home, Country Roads was finished about
six that morning.
Later that day John, who had a recording
contract with RCA, called Milt Okun, his producer, in New York and told him
he had a new song to be recorded as a single. That night Taffy and I
performed it with John as an encore at the end of his last set. The result
was a five-minute ovation, one of the longest in Cellar Door history.
Thursday, New Year's Eve, was John's
birthday. Over a champagne lunch with friends in Georgetown he told them
about the song and the reaction from the Cellar Door crowd the night before.
"This is it," he said. "I am on my way." And was he ever, ruling over the
pop and country/western charts for years.
The following week we recorded the song in
New York. It was to become the first chart record for John Denver as a
performer and in 1999, received one of ten "Country Song of the Century"
ASCAP awards for the most performed songs.
Country Roads was climbing up the charts, Fat City frequently traveled
with John as his opening act. On the road or at our house, every time John
heard me playing something new he would ask, "What's that song?" Over the
years the answer to that question ended up as one of twelve Danoff/Nivert or
Danoff songs John recorded in his career.
John also wrote some wonderful songs. While
he was struggling with his new solo career, the Peter, Paul and Mary
recording of his Leaving on A Jet Plane became their greatest
But he also loved to do other songwriters'
material, especially those different from what he wrote himself. And he
constantly surprised me. Never would I have thought he would record She
Won't Let Me Fly Away or Readjustment Blues, but he did and they
worked well by bringing variety to his sets.
Won't Let Me Fly Away is a pretty good picture of the basement apartment
at 3072 Q Street in Georgetown where we wrote most of these songs. And
Readjustment Blues reflects a personal look at one of the largest
anti-Vietnam War demonstrations ever held in our nation's capital.
Taffy nor I, both reared in urban areas, had any identity with country
music. But our songs in a way wrote themselves, and we followed our hearts
wherever they took us. As Kris Kristofferson says about his great hit, Me
and Bobby McGee, "If you think it's country, man, then
that's what it is."
Baby, You Look Good to Me Tonight
was my first attempt at something in the country-style genre of songs. I
first played it for a successful Washington, DC area county/rock band called
The Rosslyn Mountain Boys. They didn't see it as a real country song and
took a pass. With John Denver, Baby became one of those "What's that
song?" successes. His recording of Baby became a number one hit on
the country/western charts.
Night Radio came out of our touring days, driving at night to the next
gig, staying up late. It was another successful country song for John and
has done well for other recording artists such as Tom Rush.
early attempt with Taffy at writing country music was Please, Daddy,
Don't Get Drunk This Christmas. We tried to convey the reality and
sadness of a theme. John was touched by the song and put it on his next
album. More recently Alan Jackson included it on a CD of Christmas songs.
It was no
small matter that Annie Denver not only was a wonderful friend, but a big
fan of the songs Taffy and I wrote.
I remember sitting in a candle-lit living
room in front of a fire one night, and Taffy and I sang We Don't Live
Here No More for John and Annie. That song always was special to us and
when we'd finished it, Annie said, "Oh, John, you've got to do that song."
So he did.
But there is more to this story because I
frankly don't remember writing it. This deserves some
explanation. Between trying to make decent grades at Georgetown University
and my night jobs, I wrote a lot of songs in the wee, wee hours when I
should have been in bed sleeping.
Anyway, our Georgetown basement apartment
flooded on a regular basis. One day as I was pulling up a water soaked rug,
there lay in my best handwriting a copy of the We Don't lyrics.
Puzzled, I dropped the rug and picked up my guitar to see how it would sound
with accompaniment. The whole song came out at once, melody, guitar riffs
and all. Denver fans will find it on the album, Farewell Andromeda.
In 1973, we
spent two wonderful months in London with John doing an entertainment series
for BBC, taped live every Sunday. Once when we had some time off, Taffy and
I flew to Paris to celebrate my birthday and stayed at the Hotel Esmeralda
across from the Notre Dame cathedral.
started in Paris and I worked on it often in the green room for the BBC
show. John would stop in and ask, "How's that song coming?" He wanted to
record it before it was even finished.
Some of our
early songs later became choices for John's albums and live performances.
(Trust me, I remember writing all the others except We Don't Live Here No
In 1972 I wrote Nobody Can Take My
Dreams From Me. In 1981 while on a trip to Los Angeles, I ran into John
at the Beverly Hills Hotel and he invited me to his room to hear a rocking
version of that very song. He was happy it had come out so well. It was a
great surprise to me that he had chosen it for an album.
mid-eighties Taffy and I had divorced and I was now writing on my own. Kris
O'Connor, who had left Aspen to return to the DC area, heard Potter's
Wheel on a tape I made for a friend. Kris, a military brat like John,
liked the song and pressed him to record it on an album called Different
Directions. John also used it on his annual Christmas show, beautifully
done on an Indian reservation in Montana.
in the aftermath of 9/11 and events that have followed, seems especially
appropriate as the last Bill Danoff song recorded by John Denver.
John grew up the son of a career Air Force
officer, but he had a special love for songs about peace and the future of
our children - subjects reflected in the words of Potter's Wheel. But
it also is fitting that this last song is quite similar to those folk tunes
that brought us together in the first place, producing music that fulfilled
our wishes and dreams and seemed to be liked by people all over the world.
-- Bill Danoff 9/11/2002
thanks to Taffy Nivert for her many contributions to the music, and for the
assistance of her and my friend John Martin Meek with these liner notes.
Quick Links to pages about: (Fat
City, Bill & Taffy) (Starland
Vocal Band) (Bill & John