The Story Behind John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy”

John Denver
John Denver

Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. is hardly the kind of name a disc jockey wants to see on the label of a record. That was pretty obvious from the start of John Denver’s career, but it wasn’t something he relinquished easily. John didn’t like giving up his real name, but on the other hand, he wasn’t going to let it stand in the way of doing what he really wanted to do with his life. He received all kinds of name-change suggestions, but the only one that ever rang true to him was “Denver.”

That name was familiar enough by 1975 that ABC-TV made him the centerpiece of an Emmy-winning special, “An Evening With John Denver.” The title of the program coincided with his two-record live album, recorded at the Universal Ampitheater in Los Angeles. The bulk of the material was credited to Denver, the classic singer/songwriter, but ironically, the lone single was written by a member of the band, John M. Sommers.

“Thank God I’m A Country Boy” was edited for radio airplay and even though the album earned gold status in February of 1975, the single performed with even greater success. Certified gold on May 26th, it reached the summit of Billboard’s country chart five days later and then landed at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart the following week. The record is one of five singles to top both charts in 1975.

With its lyrics surrounding farm life, country cooking and the mountain fiddle, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” is certainly a celebration of country lifestyles. In fact, with reference to the song “Sally Gooden,” the song provides an interesting link of country’s past with its present. “Sally Gooden” is one of two songs recorded by Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland in 1922. Along with its flip side, “Arkansaw Traveler” (Arkansas being mis-spelled on the label, perhaps intentionally), the Victor recording is recognized as the very first country record and was a charter inductee into the Library of Congress’ “National Recording Registry” in 2002.

In spite of “Thank God I’m A Country Boy’s” obvious country flavor, Denver swirled in controversy less than five months later when the Country Music Association named him “Entertainer of the Year.” A provincial segment of Nashville expressed its displeasure with the fact that a “crossover” performer could take the CMA’s most prestigious award.

Denver, however, had grown up under the tutelage of his father, an avowed country music fan. The influence was rather distinct and eventually, Denver achieved a lifetime dream when he performed at the Grand Ole Opry for the very first time on November 12, 1976.

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