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'Country Roads,' take 1

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Andy Ridenour, co-creator and former executive producer of "Mountain Stage," remembers well the first time he ever heard John Denver sing "Country Roads." It was the first time the song was played in public.

He and some school friends from Concord College had gone to see Denver perform at the famous Cellar Door club in Washington, D.C.

"It was in between semesters, the holiday break," Ridenour said. "Three or four of my friends from Concord came to my home in D.C., where I grew up, and we hooked up with a couple of my D.C. friends."

Ridenour said the show at the Cellar Door was the second time he'd seen Denver perform. A few months before, Denver had played Concord.

"That was in October or November of 1970," he said. "At the time, John Denver's biggest claim to fame was he wrote 'Leaving on a Jet Plane.'"

The song was a No. 1 hit for folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

But Ridenour and company were impressed with Denver so they made plans to see him again.

"We saw him on his last night at the Cellar Door," he said.

Ridenour added that he and his seven friends came early and they got a table close to the stage.

"At the time, he was playing three shows a night and we sat through all three." He laughed. "We were having a good time."

Denver's opening act during these shows was a husband/wife duo called Fat City with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert. Danoff also was doing double duty, playing guitar for Denver, who'd hurt his hand the night before.

Toward the end of the night, after the last set, Denver and his band came back out to do an encore. He said, "We're going to do a song Bill and Taffy brought me this week, that we've been working on all week and I'm going to record it on my new album. We hope it's something you like."

"And then they went into 'Country Roads,'" Ridenour said. "It was the first time the song had been performed publicly."

Ridenour said the crowd went wild.

The song launched Denver toward eventual superstardom, but Danoff and Nivert had some success of their own after they formed the Starland Vocal Band, best known for the pop hit "Afternoon Delight."

Danoff also continued to write songs for Denver and other artists.

Years later, Ridenour booked Danoff on "Mountain Stage." Backstage, Ridenour asked him when he knew "Country Roads" was going to be a hit.

Danoff told him, "You know, that first night we did it. We performed live in this little club in D.C. and the place went nuts."

Ridenour told him it probably helped that the front table had a couple of West Virginians sitting there.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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