At the start I must admit to a lesser ending…
A decorated Air Force pilot of some renown, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Deutschendorf, Sr. was an impressive man with a military bearing, who’d set five speed records in his supersonic Convair B-58 “Hustler.” But the life of a military family can be a nomadic one and for Henry Deutschendorf, Jr., this was a painful fact.
Shy, rather introverted and ever the “new kid,” Henry Jr. had a difficult time making friends. Recognizing this, his grandmother presented the (then) eleven year old with a well-worn guitar, to help him to focus his attention on something he might enjoy, and just maybe to help him to fit in.
Fortunately, musicianship ran in the family, Henry’s uncle was a member of the New Christy Minstrels. By his late teens he was playing folk songs in local clubs. And it was one of his uncle’s fellow musicians who suggested that he come up with a stage name that could actually fit a marquee. So he turned to his middle name, John, and combined it with his favorite state’s mile-high capital.
And in the years ahead John Denver’s recordings would sell in excess of 30 million copies, earning him four platinum and 12 gold albums, along with numerous Country Music, American Music and Grammy awards, an Emmy award and enshrinement n the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Throughout his busy career, John Denver owned and played dozens of highly prized, world-class guitars, most of them acoustic, including: Guilds, Yamahas, Mossmans, Ovtion/Adams, Grevens, Somogyis, Taylors, Godins and numerous others. But early (and later) on, he performed with Gibsons, always maintaining that his most prized possession was the 1910 Gibson F-Hole Jazz guitar that his grandmother had given to him.
When it “went missing” in the early ‘70s, apparently during a television appearance, he was reportedly devastated. And when it was returned to him a number of years later, he sat down and wrote today’s selection.
First included on his eighth album, (the multi-platinum) “Back Home Again” in 1974, it wasn’t a huge hit like other songs on the record. But it became one of his standards and versions of “This Old Guitar” were subsequently included on a number of his later albums. And now we arrive at that ending.
Word had it that after Denver died in a plane crash (at the age of 53 in 1997) the old guitar was cremated with him, its ashes spread with his in a favorite spot up in the Rockies; truly a touching story that I have often recounted.
But rather than leave well enough alone I had to go and double-check my facts with a quick Google search (dangerous habit) and was brought directly to The John Denver Guitar Research Site, which features a recent picture of his well-maintained and much-cherished guitar as seen on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Now I felt compelled to dash off an e-mail inquiry. They’re wonderful folks at the JDGR Site – well worth a look – and I soon received a response, noting that not only is the storied instrument still with us, but that Denver was actually mistaken in identifying it as a 1910 Gibson F-Hole Jazz Guitar…
Mistaken or not, and despite this muddled ending, the rest of the tale rings true. Regardless of its provenance, this was the old guitar that taught young Henry Deutschendorf, Jr. to sing a love song.
This Old Guitar
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
And helped me make it through some lonely nights
Oh what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night
This old guitar gave me my lovely lady
It opened up her eyes and ears to me
It brought us close together
And I guess it broke her heart
It opened up the space for us to be
What a lovely place and a lovely space to be
This old guitar gave me my life my living
All the things you know I love to do
To serenade the stars that shine
From a sunny mountainside
And most of all to sing my songs for you
I love to sing my songs for you
Yes I do, you know
I love to sing my songs for you