John Denver’s career got off the ground with Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of his song Leaving On A Jet Plane (which is in our PPM pack), but once the door was opened he kept blasting out classics for almost four decades before his untimely death. His songs usually featured interesting and challenging guitar parts and continue to be favorites of students and professionals to this day.
This set of songs focuses on his early days, through 1974’s Back Home Again, which was packed with hits.
Lesson 1: Annie's Song
Annie's Song is one of John Denver's most popular and heavily requested songs. The story goes that he wrote it in about 10 minutes while on a ski lift, at a time when his marriage was getting a bit rocky. The song apparently managed to save it, for a little while. The melody and harmony are based on a theme by Tchaikovsky, which features a descending bass line similar to Bach's Air On A G String and A Whiter Shade Of Pale. This lesson stresses hitting the bass notes accurately while quickly moving through some barre chords. It includes multiple ways of playing the song, including a Campfire Version which I would call Level 4, an Arpeggio Version which would be Level 5, and a more random fingerstyle version, in the manner that John Denver played it, probably level 6.
Lesson 2: Rocky Mountain High
Rocky Mountain High might be considered John Denver's signature song, although there would have to be a couple of others in the running, and was released in 1972 on his album of the same name. It is done in Dropped D tuning with a capo at the 2nd fret and features a nice little melodic lick picked out at the beginning. This is a great example of the quintessential 'Campfire Song.'
Lesson 3: My Sweet Lady - John Denver - Guitar Lesson
My Sweet Lady is one of many beautiful, and very recognizable John Denver songs. It is played in Dropped D Tuning using 3-string triads on the top strings, along with an open D in the bass over the changes in the verse.
It is mostly an arpeggio picking pattern but in the lesson we explore adding an alternate bass pattern, as well as a few ways of embellishing the accompaniment.
There is also a section on movable chord shapes from the E, A and D families, which may require multiple viewings if this is new to you.
Lesson 4: Darcy Farrow
Darcy Farrow is a tragic ballad written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell in 1964. It was first recorded by Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia the next year, but really hit it big when John Denver recorded it for his album Rocky Mountain High in 1972. John's arrangement tightened up the chord progression a bit, and started with a great fingerpicking intro. The song is played in Dropped D Tuning and John capoed it to the 3rd fret.
This lesson goes into great detail about the intro, outro, as well as a little variation in the solo, and presents some options about picking patterns that can be used to accompany the verses.
Lesson 5: Back Home Again
Back Home Again was the title song from John Denver's 1974 album that continued his long string of hits that had been constant over the previous 5-6 years. The song is a fairly basic country progression, just using a small handful of chords in the key of E.
The lesson shows the simple alternate bass fingerpicking style that John uses, as well as strumming through the progression with a flat pick. There is also a segment that goes into adding some passing bass notes.