"When my first album, Pieces Of The Sky came out in 1975, it
received critical acclaim..."Boulder to Birmingham" could never have been
written without the involvement of Bill Danoff, an incredibly creative and
thoroughly professional songwriter - and also a good friend.
"Emmylou Harris, Performer/songwriter
"Like the best of songwriters, Danoff puts his words together
with remarkable economy, unraveling short stories in the space of three or four
Dallas Times Herald
"...one of the finest shows in the acoustic revival that's been going on around
"What pushes this sound over the top ... is the outstanding writing talent of
St. Petersburg Independent
"I have great respect for Bill as a songwriter,
He has written some of my favorite songs and one of my most successful songs,
"Take Me Home Country Roads."
CHARLESTON, W.Va. —
It’s likely the only song which every resident of the state
knows the words. It’s played in honky tonks and hip hop bars with equal
appreciation. The song “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver has
long been considered the unofficial anthem of West Virginia. Friday, it
became official. Lawmakers passed House Resolution 40 which declares
Country Roads the fourth official state song of West Virginia.
The idea was first
suggested by Dreama Denver who lives in Mercer County. Dreama is the
wife of the late actor Bob Denver who was the star of Gilligan’s Island.
Speaking on the MetroNews Morning News Friday, Dreama said the idea
started when she played the song on her morning radio show and a caller
asked if it was the official state song.
“I told them I didn’t
think so, so I Googled it and of course it was not,” she said. “The idea
was born then. It should be. Let’s make it so.”
Dreama, who incidentally
is no relation to singer John Denver, called on her local Del. Marty
Gearheart for assistance. He agreed to sponsor the resolution, which
they hoped pass last year during the state’s Sesquicentennial. It passed
the House of Delegates but didn’t’ pass the Senate.
“I told them, fine I’ll be
back every year until it does pass.” Dreama said.
A year later, Dreama joined
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in celebrating “Take Me Home Country Roads” as the
fourth official state song. The others are “The West Virginia Hills,”
“West Virginia My Home Sweet Home,” and “This is My West Virginia.”
“Take Me Home Country
Roads” was written as a collaboration by John Denver, Taffy Nivert, and
Bill Danoff. The tune is recognized worldwide.
Bill Danoff Sings "Country
Roads" at Huggins Fish Fry
Feb 01, 2014 10:24 PM EST
Posted by Geoff Coyle
hosted his third annual Fish Fry at Mylan Park Friday night before his
West Virginia basketball team took on – and defeated – Kansas State.
The guest of
honor at the event was a man whose name and face many may not recognize,
but his words are etched into the heads and the hearts of West Virginians
and people around the world who have heard them.
wrote the lyrics to "Take Me Home, Country Roads," the song made famous by
John Denver before it became an icon in the Mountain State. Danoff and
Denver came to Morgantown to perform the song before the first game at the
new Mountaineer Field back in 1980.
helicoptered us each out onto the field and we met and we went into some
side room where the concrete was still wet," Danoff said Friday night. "We
tuned our guitars and came onto the field and they did the Star-Spangled
Banner and we played Country Roads."
recalls WVU getting the 41-27 victory over Cincinnati that day in front of
more than 50,000 Mountaineer fans. Now that he has the chance to return to
Morgantown, he sees firsthand the impact his words had on the fan base
that has so embraced them.
"I must have
met half of the 50,000 people that were at the stadium that day," Danoff
said with a laugh. "Anybody I've run into says, ‘I was there that day.' I
say, ‘I was, too.'"
memorable moment for WVU fans that Danoff didn't attend, but was well
aware of, was the Mountaineers' Big East Tournament Championship back in
2010. West Virginia defeated Danoff's alma mater, Georgetown, in the title
game and as the team and its fans celebrated, Country Roads played over
the speaker system.
watching from home, caught some heat from his fellow Hoyas who recognized
Madison Square Garden stood up and the Hoyas had to wait until the song
was over to leave," Danoff recalled. "I said, look, if someone gives you a
hard time, just tell them that the guy who wrote that song is a Hoya."
In the years
since he and his wife-to-be, Taffy Nivert, penned Country Roads, they have
come to recognize just how much its words stayed with those who heard
them. Danoff has heard many stories of West Virginians traveling all
across the globe and having the words to his song recited back to them
from people who may not even speak English.
for years about doing sort of a coffee table book of stories that people
have brought home to me, starting with back in the Vietnam War when the
song was a hit and it was very popular with the troops over there because
it mentioned coming home. It didn't particularly apply to West Virginia;
it applied to coming home, period. It meant a lot to a lot of people
around the world, but I've become especially aware of what it means to
West Virginians," said Danoff.
The song was
released in 1971 and all these years later, his involvement in making it
the hit it was is still a point of pride. The opportunity to perform it in
front of hundreds of Mountaineer fans Friday night was special to Danoff.
incredible feeling. It's certainly unpredictable," Danoff said of what the
song has become. "When we were working on the song, we thought we had a
pretty good song and we thought it might be a hit record, but I had no
idea it would have this sort of longevity. Frankly, if people knew it a
year or two later, I would have been happy."
Bill Danoff on how "Country Roads" became a
German Oktoberfest hit
Reliable Source, Washington Post, October 4, 2013
the good things you would expect were available in plenty at the annual
“Day of German Unity” party hosted by the embassy in Washington: Heaps of
sauerbrauten, vats of good beer, oom-pah music, and for the first time
this year, D.C. singer-songwriter Bill Danoff.
For decades, Danoff’s
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” — a 1971
hit for John Denver — has been a sing-along favorite at Munich’s
Oktoberfest, a nostalgic touchstone bound to bring Germans to their feet
whenever it’s played.
Why? “I have no idea,”
Danoff, 67, told us. “I’ve never been to Germany” — though he’d never been
to West Virginia either before he wrote his ode to the Mountain State.
Ask German natives why
they get misty-eyed over a song about the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge, what
cultural resonance they find in it, and you’ll get a quizzical stare:
It’s a really good song, don’t you think?
The scene at this
year’s Oktoberfest in Munich. (Joerg Koch/Getty Images)
Well, sure! “First of
all, it’s very singable,” Danoff told us later. “But so is ‘Call Me
Maybe.’ Maybe ‘Call Me Maybe’ will be the song 40 years from now.”
“Country Roads,” along
“Afternoon Delight” — the sexy earworm
from his brief hot stint in one-hit-wonder Starland Vocal Band —
still pull in about $200K a year in royalties.
While he never expected a geographically-specific song to be a
world-dominating hit, he and ex-wife/songwriting partner Taffy Nivert
were going for catchy. “We’re pop songwriters, and we were trying to
write hit songs. It sounded good, the structure was right, the chorus was
The scene at the
German embassy in early evening. (Zacarias Garcia / germany.info)
And 82 million Germans
can’t be wrong, huh? At German Ambassador Peter Ammon’s party Thursday
night, which drew a multilingual crowd of 2,500 to the embassy’s sprawling
park-like grounds, Danoff boldly started off with some of his newer
material before breaking into his immortal lyrics: Almost heaven, West
Virginia / Blue Ridge Mountain, Shenandoah River. . .
Reader, the crowd lost
its minds. They immediately started dancing — partnered, solo,
whatever — and pulled out their cameras to film Danoff while they danced.
And of course they sang along.
Danoff and his band had barely finished before an exuberant emcee
rushed to rejoin him on stage.
“Mr. Danoff!” he pleaded. “Could you take us one more time to West
Danoff took a second to process this. They wanted him to do the song,
again? He did. The crowd went wild, again. And as we drove away,
we heard a familiar tune wafting up from the embassy grounds: Yes, they’d
coaxed yet another “Country Roads” out of him that night.
Bill Danoff and Owen Danoff together @ Baldwin's Station
2nd starting at 7:00 PM.
May 14, 2013
native, Berklee College of Music graduate, and 2012-13
Strathmore Artist in Residence Owen Danoff was
born with song in his blood. Son of the renounced
singer/songwriter, Bill Danoff, Owen has
developed his own musical identity. Mack Bailey
is a nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter who is gaining
an ever-larger audience with his strong, expressive
classically trained tenor voice, with an impressive range
and pure clean quality. He writes sensitive original songs
that express the deepest of human emotion, social
conscience, and lighthearted fun. In concerts, he touches
the listener’s heart and tickles their funny bone.
Mack Bailey was hailed, by no less an authority
than Glenn Yarbrough, as “the
next great singer in folk music.”
have great respect for Bill as a songwriter, He has written
some of my favorite songs and one of my most successful
songs, “Take Me Home Country Roads.”~
John Denver. Bill Danoff has been extraordinarily
successful on the international stage. He has been singing
and writing songs since the late 1960s when he performed and
co-wrote songs with John Denver. When
Bill and his then partner, Taffy
Nivert, invited Denver to help
them finish writing a song, little did anyone know that the
song would soar to the top of the charts. “Take Me
Home Country Roads” catapulted John Denver
into national prominence. Bill added
Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman
to form the Starland Vocal Band, which
quickly gained national fame with the monster hit,
For Grammy-Winning Prof, Country
Roads Led to GU (Georgetown University)
Music professor and two-time Grammy Award winner Bill Danoff (FLL ’68)
continues to excel in his career as a songwriter after six years of
teaching courses in the department of performing arts at Georgetown.
Growing up in Springfield, Mass., Danoff’s musical interests sprouted
when he started to play guitar at nine years old. He began writing his
own music at age thirteen, but his musical career was truly inspired
during his time at Georgetown in the mid-1960s, when he studied Chinese
at the Institute of Languages and Linguistics. “My years at Georgetown
were very turbulent ones,” Danoff said. “The war in Vietnam was
escalating, and demonstrations were growing. An entire counterculture,
fueled by rock and roll and a sense of self-empowerment, was taking
place among many young people here.”
Danoff discovered rock and roll at Cellar Door, a music club on M
Street that closed in 1981. Cellar Door was a premier spot on the D.C.
music scene throughout the 1960s, featuring performances from Jimmy
Buffett, Miles Davis, James Taylor, Neil Young and Danoff himself. “I
worked there first as a doorman and then as a lights and sound man. I
got to see, know and learn from some of the greatest artists of that
time,” he said of the club.
While working at the Cellar Door in 1966, Danoff met John Denver,
then the lead singer for a folk group called the Mitchell Trio. Neither
man knew that the ensuing partnership would project both into fame.
After graduation, Danoff granted himself two years to attempt to launch
a musical career, and put together an act called Fat City that played at
local clubs and various peace demonstrations. Approaching the end of his
two-year goal, Danoff’s band landed a deal with ABC Probe Records and
subsequently recorded an album. It was around this time that Denver
learned of Danoff’s songwriting talents. He heard Fat City sing “I Guess
He’d Rather Be in Colorado” at a club on M Street and asked the group if
he could record a cover of the song. Danoff obliged.
“It was the first of our songs recorded by someone else, and it led
to us being booked at the Cellar Door together, Fat City opening and
John Denver the headliner. We had mostly sold-out shows and it was
during that week that John came back to our apartment after hours and we
showed him ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’” Danoff said.
Denver immediately loved the song and rushed to New York to record
it. “Ironically, I had never even been to West Virginia when I wrote the
opening lyric,” he said. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot
100 chart in 1971.
Danoff remained part of Fat City until 1976, when the duo added Jon
Carroll and Margot Chapman to form the Starland Vocal Band, which
quickly gained national fame with its song “Afternoon Delight.” “I got
the title from a table tent in Clyde’s promoting its afternoon snacks,”
Danoff said. The song eventually garnered the band five Grammy
nominations and two awards.
Danoff also sang the song for classmate and former President Bill
Clinton at the White House for the Class of 1968’s 25th reunion in 1993.
One of the first Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance Rocks
shows, which feature notable university alumni, inspired Danoff to
consider a permanent return to Georgetown. “At the show I met Anna
Celenza, who was heading up the Program of Performing Arts at
Georgetown. She asked if I ever thought about doing what I do in a
classroom,” he said. After mulling the possibility, Danoff accepted a
lecture position at the university.
“He is an incredibly thoughtful and caring professor who, despite his
fame and talent as a songwriter, is incredibly humble and generous with
his time,” Celenza said. “When I was department chair, there were at
least three occasions when students dropped by my office to say ‘Thanks
for hiring Bill Danoff!’ … It was nice to know that he was connecting
with students in such a meaningful way.” Anthony DelDonna, chair of the
music program, echoed Celenza. “Student feedback has been warm and
highly enthusiastic,” he said. “Students praise his friendly and
encouraging personality and first-hand knowledge of the music business.”
Danoff will highlight the upcoming GEMA Rocks show on May 4th and 5th
and will then travel to Aspen, Colo. in October to perform at the 15th
Annual John Denver Tribute Concert.
“As for writing, I’m going over old sound files and lyrics looking
for things I like that I never got around to finishing. So there’s
probably an album in there waiting to be done,” he said.
Starland Vocal Band’s ‘Afternoon Delight’ still
being served after 35 years
The American ABBA? D.C.’s own
Starland Vocal Band back in the ’70s. From left: Taffy Danoff, Bill Danoff,
Margot Chapman, Jon Carroll. (Washington Post file photo)
Starland Vocal Band and
“Afternoon Delight”: The untold story of the DC folkies who created the
ultimate soft-rock one-hit wonder. Bill Danoff
tells our colleague J. Freedom du Lac he didn’t mean for it to sound like it
was all about sex. “I was looking for words you can sing and put your teeth
into. I wasn’t trying to be a pervert.” (FULL ARTICLE BELOW PHOTOS):
Davis/TWP) - Starland Vocal Band singing "Afternoon Delight" at Clyde's in
Georgetown, Washington, DC.
Bill O'Leary/Washington Post) - Bill Danoff at Clyde's of Georgetown.
Danoff was at Clyde's in 1974 when he got an idea for a song off a
menu. Thirty-five years later, "Afternoon Delight" is still a pop
cultural reference point.
By J. Freedom
July 8, 2011
10, 1976, as the smoke was still clearing from America’s big bicentennial
celebration, a new song slid into the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100,
riding a chorus that referenced “skyrockets in flight.”
Vocal Band wasn’t singing about bombs bursting in air
on the suddenly ubiquitous folk-pop ditty “Afternoon Delight.” The
harmonic hit was actually about post meridiem lovemaking.
The sexually suggestive soft-rock song was written by Starland’s Bill
Danoff after he’d made a teatime trip to
Clyde’s of Georgetown, where he sometimes sang with his wife, Taffy
Nivert. The D.C. duo performed as both Bill and Taffy and Fat City, and
they’d struck gold as songwriters when John Denver scored a hit with their
song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”For
“Afternoon Delight,” Bill and Taffy doubled up, adding two friends from
the D.C. scene, Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman, who would later marry (and,
like Bill and Taffy, later divorce).
was Starland Vocal Band’s first and only hit. Their
second single stalled, their subsequent albums flopped, and the band was
finished within five years.
But the incredible
success of “Afternoon Delight” was enough to garner the group five Grammy
nominations (and two awards, including for
best new artist), an ill-fated
CBS-TV variety show (featuring a young David Letterman) and a place in
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s wing of one-hit wonders.“Afternoon Delight”
also found pop-culture permanence, albeit as
one of the most maligned pop singles of its era and a
punch line.On the 35th anniversary of its ascension to No. 1, here’s the
tale of the creation, rocket ride and afterlife of “Afternoon Delight.”
Starland Vocal Band: We
didn’t have Starland yet, but Margot [Chapman] was my friend and we were at
Clyde’s in ’74. It was after lunch, and from 3 to 6 they had these table
tents out that said “afternoon delights.” It was a little menu of like four
items. I thought it would be a neat title for a song.
Starland Vocal Band: I was
at the hospital having an operation for cervical cancer. Bill came and said,
“I’m starting another song.”
It took me a couple of months to get the song right. I was watching a
Redskins game on TV and I came up with the lick on my 12-string guitar. That
triggered it. I started putting the lyrics together: “Gonna find my baby/Gonna
hold her tight/Gonna grab some afternoon delight.” Not a bad idea! I worked
and worked on it, and lines and metaphors just started coming. It became the
the Starland album.
Starland Vocal Band: My
friend Mike Cotter backed up Bill and Taffy when we were in high school.
When they got the idea to start the group, we got together informally. Bill
played that song; he wanted to see how it would sound with four voices.
former WASH-FM program director:
They had a harmonic blend that was pretty amazing.
producer: They were very,
very good singers. . . . But this song was a particularly hard one to do. It
was more complex and musically difficult than most folk arrangements. It was
the closest thing to Bach that I’d ever done.
Musically, it’s very similar to an excellent Cajun tune.
When we went up to New York to record at RCA in ’75, the song just didn’t do
it. It sounded predictable and straight. Phil Ramone came in and lightened
it up. He had bass player Russell George and the drummer Jimmy Young give it
session musician: These
guys were folkies trying to come up with a groove that just doesn’t happen
in folk music. I’d done a James Brown album. I’d done LaBelle. I said to
Bill, “Do you mind if I kick it off?” My count-off — a one, a two, a one two
three four — set up the whole groove.
engineer: When something
becomes good ear candy, it’s because two things are working: melody, lyric
and groove. That’s three things. I lied. They all worked on this record.
We didn’t know what tune we were playing. We were just reading chord symbols
off the page. The first time I heard “Afternoon Delight” in its complete
form was when I got the record at home. I . . . near [wet] myself. I played
it five times. I didn’t know it was going to be a hit, but I loved it.
former WASH-FM music director:
Folks would read whatever they wanted to into the lyrics. I very rarely went
too deep on the meaning. It was just a well-produced, well-harmonized song
that sounded good on our station. We started playing it in the spring of
’76. At the height of its appeal, we were probably playing every three or
It was a huge record that summer. A year later, I ran into a schoolmate from
high school in Georgetown. He said: “Hey, I’m really happy for you, but I
feel like I should apologize. I was painting houses at the beach for a
summer job, and by the time late August came around, they were playing
‘Afternoon Delight’ for the 300th time and I threw my paint brush at the
Morrow, legendary radio jock:
There was a disco explosion in ’76, and “Afternoon Delight” really stood
out. I was at WNBC [in New York], and we were playing Donna Summer, KC and
the Sunshine Band, the Andrea True Connection. In the midst of all this
comes this song that sounds so happy and bright, with a folksy sweetness to
it. It was so different than anything else I was playing.
When it came out, I was getting my car fixed, and the guy said: “I heard
your record. It’s about a nooner!” I didn’t know there was a term for that.
I was just thinking the guy goes to see his girlfriend in the afternoon.
. . . There’s a line in the song, “Gonna grab some afternoon delight.” The
right word was probably “have.” But “have” is a lame word when you’re
writing a lyric. You want action words. I changed it to “grab,” like you
grab a bite. I was looking for words you can sing and put your teeth into. I
wasn’t trying to be a pervert.
Since I had been a schoolteacher, I liked to take my arrangements of hit
songs and do chorales for schools. This one, obviously, I couldn’t do
because of the meaning, which sort of irritated me.
It was a fun, positive song we could whistle along to — and it had sexual
overtones that made everybody giggle. We needed that. Gerald Ford was
president and Jimmy Carter was running; how much more boring can it get than
a peanut farmer and a guy who hits his head coming into the White House?
It should be out of the generation by now. Twenty years is plenty for a
long-term record. But you can go into any place and play that record, and
somebody sings it. Somewhere along the line, a few scriptwriters got
“Afternoon Delight” into their psyche, and I don’t know why.
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” writer-director:
The song represents the ’70s perfectly, because it’s delightful, innocent
and sexually free. It definitely plays as an anachronism. It’s almost
downright strange in today’s post-AIDS, post-sexual politics world. It
represents the free love of the ’60s going mainstream in the ’70s. It plays
a very big moment in the movie, no doubt about it.
“PCU” was one of the first usages that I know of. There was another
“Car 54, Where Are You?,” that also used it. I never saw “Car 54,” but
“PCU” made me laugh out loud.
In “PCU,” these college kids lock all the trustees in the room and play
“Afternoon Delight” on an endless loop to torture them while George Clinton
plays a concert out on the lawn.
Zak Penn, “PCU”
co-writer: We were
definitely looking for the most annoying song to listen to over and over.
There was some discussion about whether it should be “We Built This City on
Rock and Roll.” But if you’re looking for the best song to torture people
with, “Afternoon Delight” was the one.
We were the perfect rube. We were the least hip thing. What are you going to
do? You just hope they don’t make fun of your children at school is all.
If people want to use it ironically and make it about being cheesy, fine.
I’m sure Bill and Taffy and Margot and Jon don’t mind the royalty checks.
Starland Vocal Band got one check in the spring of 1977. That was it. We
received a check for $66,000 that we split four ways and have never seen
another penny. . . . We signed a generic contract with Windsong Records,
John Denver’s label, and the deal was never renegotiated when everybody else
made such a big piece off it. That wasn’t kind. But you can’t take unkind to
I got my writer’s royalties, but the group never got any other royalties.
Thank God the publishing money keeps coming in. “Afternoon Delight” has
continued to be a huge hit overseas. The song was a top-10 European hit
about 10 years ago, by a group from Amsterdam that did a killer club version
of it. . . .
I teach a
songwriting seminar at Georgetown.
AOL had listed “Afternoon Delight” as the 26th-worst song ever. I went
into my class and said: “I’m really upset. There’s a list of all these bad
songs, and mine is number 26. I can’t tell you how offended I am. It was
only a few years ago that a couple of guys in California did a list of the
worst songs of all time, and ‘Afternoon Delight’ was number one. To fall to
26 is an embarrassment!” I got a big laugh out of it.
former AOL music writer: I
never had anything against “Afternoon Delight” personally. But “cheesy” is
the right word for it.
It was never meant to be “Satisfaction.” But it sold several million
records, and people still know it. I make no bones about the fact that I
always wanted to be a pop songwriter. I wanted to write hit records. When
people say, “What’s your favorite song ever written?” I tell them, “The one
that made me the most money.” I like “Afternoon Delight” best because it was
the biggest hit. It was a magical record.
to write songs. He lives in Northwest Washington, where he opened — and then
closed — a neighborhood restaurant, the Starland Cafe.
with Mary Chapin Carpenter and others. He lives in Northern Virginia and
has been voted musician of the year multiple times by the Washington Area
to write songs and occasionally collaborates with her old bandmate, Nivert.
She splits her time between West Virginia and New Mexico.
Nivert is writing
a novel and, she says, “napping, chewing, taking up space.” She lives in
Florida near Tampa.
At 40, 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'
by Jess Gitner
April 6, 2011
John Denver had trouble filling a room prior to releasing his 1971 album
Poems, Prayers, and Promises. As a solo act, he was virtually
unknown. All that changed with the the album's single, "Take Me Home,
Country Roads," which launched Denver's career and made him an international
star. But the song almost never happened.
Denver first heard "Take Me Home, Country Roads" in the Washington, D.C.,
apartment of songwriter Bill Danoff. Danoff and his girlfriend, Taffy Nivert
— also his writing partner — had met Denver years earlier, first when Danoff
was working at the famous Cellar Door nightclub, and again on later tours
Later, when Denver was passing through the city, he arranged to meet at
Danoff's apartment after a performance. Denver almost never showed. He was
injured in a car accident on the way over and taken to the hospital with a
broken thumb. But he proceeded to Danoff's anyway.
'That's A Hit Song'
Denver asked to hear what Danoff and Nivert had been working on. Nivert
urged Danoff to play the "Country Roads" song, which he'd been working on
for several months, but he hesitated.
"I said, 'He won't like that. It's not his thing, you know, because it's for
Johnny Cash,' " Danoff said in an interview.
At the time, Danoff and Nivert were only local performers. But they aimed to
make it big by writing a hit song for bigger artists.
"So I played him what I had of 'Country Roads,' and he said, 'Wow! That's
great, that's a hit song! Did you record it?' I said, 'No, we don't have a
record deal,' " Danoff said.
He said Denver told him that they could record it together. And, several
months later, they went up to New York City and did it. Danoff's first
reaction to the recording was not positive.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God. There's way too much echo on that,' " he said. "I
loved the song, but I thought we'd blown the record. And millions of other
people didn't agree."
By August, the song had reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles
A West Virginia Anthem
"Take Me Home, Country Roads" became the unofficial anthem of West Virginia
and the official song of the West Virginia University Mountaineers. But
here's the catch: Danoff had never even been to the Mountain State before
writing it, though he'd heard the sounds of the state as a kid growing up in
Danoff said he listened to "hillbilly music" on WWVA from Wheeling, W.V.
"I just thought the idea that I was hearing something so exotic to me
from someplace as far away," he said. "West Virginia might as well have been
in Europe, for all I know."
Danoff would go on to write 12 more songs for John Denver. And he would also
form the Starland Vocal Band, famous for "Afternoon Delight." Still, 40
years later, Danoff said, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is his biggest
moneymaker — he says he splits 75 percent of royalties with Nivert and gives
the remaining 25 percent to the Denver estate.
Danoff said he doesn't regret handing his biggest hit to Denver to record.
"Left to our own devices," he said, "Taffy and I may have never gotten
that record cut. It wasn't a country record. We could've beat up Nashville
and nobody would've recorded it. One thing I learned in this business is
that things turn out other than you planned them to, no matter what it is.
And you can't predict what's going to happen."
Bill Danoff, who was born in
wrote the song first made famous by John Denver, a song set in West
Virginia, and it was about the hills of Western Massachusetts - not West
The Springfield Republican,
By Richard McCarthy
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I would wager a bet that most people who live in the circulation area of
The Springfield Republican do not know that one of the Top 10 most performed
songs of the 20th century, a song first made famous by John Denver, a song
set in West Virginia, was written by someone who was born and raised in
I'd wager that even fewer still know that the creative seed of the song
was transplanted from Western Massachusetts and Western New England.
But to begin at the beginning.
Bill Danoff was born in Springfield in 1946 and lived first in the North
End of Springfield, and then in the Forest Park section near the "X." For
those who don't know where the X is, it's the intersection of Dickinson
Street, Sumner Avenue and Belmont Avenue in Springfield.
Bill describes his family as a musical one. Extended family gatherings
usually included group sing-alongs of popular music. As Bill puts it,
"everybody played something - the accordion, the guitar, the player piano -
and we'd all sing along." Their preferred music was pop music, and Bill says
that he thus got steeped in American popular songs of the 1930s, 1940s and
Bill started taking guitar lessons when he was 9, and this was just about
the time of the birth of rock 'n'roll, when rhythm and blues was joined with
country in songs like "That's Alright Mama," recorded by a then-unknown
Elvis Presley at Sun Studios in Memphis.
By the time that Bill was in high school in Springfield Cathedral's Class
of 1964 (those of you who read my May column might remember that this is the
same class as legendary high school athlete Gene Ryzewicz), where he was a
member of both folk and do-wop groups with names like "The Fortune Five" and
"The Reflections." Bill remembers bandmates like Ricky Rydell and Larry
Dempsey. Bill also participated in Cathedral's music program by being part
of the Glee Club and the Minstrel Show.
Beyond his music, Bill was a top student (in the same first division
classes as Gene Rycewicz) and was accepted at Georgetown University in
At Georgetown, Bill was a classmate of future President Bill Clinton, who
was an acquaintance.
There was a club in Georgetown at the time called the Cellar Door that
featured touring musicians and comedians. The way Bill described the size of
the club and the caliber of the acts that were booked there reminded me of
the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, but with a liquor license. It was, as
Bill puts it, "a listening club, with no dancing allowed" during acts. Bill
knew several guys who worked as waiters at the Cellar Door, and they got him
in as a doorman. After Bill worked a short stint at the door, the Cellar
Door lost its "lights-and-sound-man," and Bill leapt into the void. He
remembers his first concert in that role as a "trial by fire" with the
demanding Nina Simone as the headline act. Bill was lights-and-sound-man at
the Cellar Door for nearly two years for fourteen shows a week, and
remembers it as "getting a PhD in music performance."
After the shows, when the audience had left and the doors were closed to
the public, Bill and other employees of the Cellar Door would often
socialize with the entertainers, people like the rock icons the Everly
Brothers and the up-and-coming young comedian Steve Martin.
One of the touring musicians that Bill became friendly with was a young
guy who was living in Minnesota at the time and who performed as part of a
group called The Mitchell Trio.
That guy's name was John Denver.
Along the way, Bill had started writing songs and had formed a folk group
called Fat City with his wife, Taffy Nivert.
One night, John Denver was hanging out with some of Bill's friends who
worked at the Cellar Door, and one of them said, "Let's go see Danoff play"
at a relatively small club where Bill and Taffy were performing.
Bill and Taffy did a song that night that Bill had written, "I Guess He'd
Rather be in Colorado." After the performance, John Denver asked Bill if he
could put it on his upcoming third album, "Poems, Prayers and Promises."
John's first two albums hadn't sold very well.
John Denver was friendly with Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and
when she heard the song from John Denver, she wanted to put it on her next
Bill remembers that he got an advance of $1,250 for the song, which was a
lot of money to him at the time - nearly a year's rent.
The next time that John Denver was in town, he wanted to know if Bill had
any other songs that he could put on the album. By this time, Bill had
written about 150 songs, and they arranged for John to come over to Bill's
apartment to see if any of them fit John Denver's needs.
On his way over to the apartment, the car that John Denver was in was
rear-ended and his hand smashed into his windshield, breaking his thumb.
After being tended to in a hospital emergency room, John came over to Bill's
When he got there, he asked Bill what he had for him, song-wise. Bill had
a song that he'd been hoping to get Johnny Cash to record (Cash being at
that time a bigger name than John Denver), but he figured that he'd offer it
to the guy that was right in front of him.
It was a song the inspiration for which had first come to him when he was
driving through the countryside of Maryland to visit his wife's family. On
those drives, his feeling for the land tapped into feelings that he'd had
for the countryside of his youth - the hills and valleys and country roads
of Western Massachusetts and Western New England.
Bill talks specifically in that regard of places like the Mohawk Trail
and a relative's place in Otis, and drives that he took to Misquamicut Beach
in Connecticut. He also cites generally all the countryside in the Pioneer
Valley within a short distance of his native Springfield. The fact that the
countryside is right outside Springfield's door comes alive when Bill talks
about it. Indeed, some of Bill's first drawings as a small child in
Springfield were of "fields with purplish mountains in the background,"
early attempts at conveying his feeling for the nearby countryside.
Bill had been working for six months to take that feel for the land that
he felt first for our countryside and which was reawakened by his drives
through Maryland, and to capture it and give it wings with a melody and
lyrics. By the time that he sang it for John Denver, it was largely formed.
When we talked about Bill's creative process in writing the song and all
the influences that went into it, I told Bill a story that I'd heard about
the creative process. The story goes that the great artist Picasso was
sitting in a restaurant in Europe, waiting for his meal, and he doodled for
a minute or so on his napkin. After his meal, another restaurant patron
approached Picasso and asked if he could have his napkin. Picasso said,
"Yes, but it will cost you $9,000." The other patron said, "But I watched
you, you only doodled on that napkin for a minute." Picasso said, "You're
not paying for that minute. You're paying for my whole life."
Bill played what he had of the song for John Denver, and when he was
finished, John Denver said, "Far out! Far out! That's a hit song." Bill
replied, "Yeah, well that's what we're trying to do here."
Bill and John and Taffy spent the night rewriting the second verse and
finding the right words for the bridge. They changed the locale from
Maryland to West Virginia, a place Bill had never been. Bill knew some
people from West Virginia, and the sense people had of West Virginia seemed
to fit the sense of the song. Besides, as I said to Bill, eliciting a
chuckle from him, "Almost heaven, West Virginia" has a ring to it that
"Almost heaven, Maryland" lacks.
By six in the morning, the final version of "Take Me Home, Country
Roads," was written, officially co-authored for posterity by Bill Danoff,
John Denver, and Taffy Nivert.
It is a little-known fact that Bill played the guitar on the first
recording of the song by John Denver because John Denver's thumb was still
broken from the car accident.
Bill had thought when he wrote the song, "That's got to be a universal
experience. Everybody could dig that." When the enormous popular success of
the song came, Bill says that he said to himself, "Boy was I right. Little
did I know. We were trying to write a hit song, and we did."
There is, of course, more to Bill Danoff, who has lived in D.C. since his
Georgetown days, than his writing of that song more than 35 years ago.
Indeed, Bill went on to write a total of 12 songs that John Denver recorded.
But although some of my first drafts of this column veered onto the
"superhighway" of a feature article about Bill, I found my way back to my
own "country road" of a column and its original intent - to tell the story
of how a guy from Springfield came to write "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
When I was ambling along that country road of column-writing, I got the
added bonus of discovering that Bill Danoff began the process of creating
one of the world's most popular songs amidst "the fields and purplish
mountains" of his own, and our own, native region, 25 years before he and
John Denver put the last word to the last note at 6 o'clock of a morning in
Washington, D.C. So the next time that you're in West Virginia, or Maryland,
or Japan, or Australia, or wherever, and somebody starts playing "Take Me
Home, Country Roads," feel free to tell them that you're from "Almost
heaven, west New England."
Now that has a nice ring to it. Richard J. McCarthy, of Wilbraham, grew
up in Springfield.
“I can be in a grocery store and my song will come on, and there’ll be
some old guy there singing my song,” Walter Egan (COL ’70) said. “It’s
like my own little movie.”
Magnetic: Walter Egan’s publicity photo from the 1970s.
Courtesy WALTER EGAN
Egan had a top 10 hit in 1978 with “Magnet and Steel,” and has returned
to Georgetown this semester to teach a seminar on the music industry. He
joins fellow alumnus and two-time Grammy winner Bill Danoff (FLL ’68) on
the faculty of the music department.
Danoff teaches songwriting, a fitting pursuit considering he wrote John
Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “Afternoon Delight”—a paean to
the joys of daytime lovemaking and a number one hit for Starland Vocal
Band in the summer of 1976. The song was inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame, but is probably best known for inspiring Will Ferrell in
Anchorman and for an ironically incestuous episode of Arrested
Danoff arrived at Georgetown in the fall of 1964, planning to major in
Chinese and find a job in the government or foreign service. He had played
guitar on-and-off through out high school, after his mother got him out of
bed to see Elvis Presley perform on television.
Facetime: Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert share an intimate moment
Courtesy Bill Danoff
In college, Danoff traded his electric guitar for an acoustic, in
keeping with the country’s brief folk music obsession in the early 1960s.
“I thought it would be too difficult to try to put a band together
while going to college,” Danoff recalled. “So I sang in the corridors of
the dormitory [Loyola, now LXR], where people
Danoff began working as a doorman at the Cellar Door—“one of the
coolest small nightclubs in the country,” located at 34th and M where the
Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory is now—in the summer of 1965. The lights
and sound man left soon there after, and Danoff found himself operating
the club’s sound and lights by hand.
“That really was my training,” he said. “It taught me how to perform,
to distinguish a good set from a bad set and how to behave yourself both
on and off stage.”
Egan walked into Copley in the fall of 1966 for his freshman year and
saw flyers announcing “This is Clinton country,” advertising Bill
Clinton’s (SFS ’68) campaign for junior class president—Danoff’s class.
Egan gravitated to Georgetown’s small art department as a sculpture major,
and spent much of his time fighting with the station management to play
rock and roll on WGTB, then broadcasting its FM
signal over a 60-mile radius from the basement of Copley.
Peekaboo: Walter Egan sees you as he poses next to one of his own
paintings on the left of the band that he used to be a part of.
Egan came to Georgetown under pressure from two of the other three
members of his high school band, the Malibooz, who also attended. Egan
credits one of them, John Zambetti (COL ’70), with starting him on the
electric guitar. The Malibooz had already experienced modest success,
having made a record and played the first color TV special from the 1965
World’s Fair in New York.
Toward the end of his freshman year, the band changed its name to
Sageworth—hoping to evoke the sounds of California bands like the Byrds
and Buffalo Springfield—and added Annie McCloone as the lead singer. The
band rehearsed in the boiler room of New South, where Egan lived for his
sophomore year. Egan began to be drawn toward the new country rock sound
of Gram Parsons, whose seminal country albums Sweetheart of the Rodeo with
the Byrds and Guilded Palace of Sin with the Flying Burrito Brothers
greatly influenced him.
Danoff, a Chinese major by day and a budding musician by night, began
making connections through his job at the Cellar Door, meeting jazz
musicians like Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderly, as well as
folkies like John Denver.
“We’d have two shows a night,” Danoff said. “As soon as we’d get rid of
the last people … the staff, mostly college kids, would break open the
Budweisers and we’d sit around sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning, and
usually joined by whoever the artist was.
“So you really got to know the people pretty well. It was kinda cool,
to share a beer with this big jazz guy, or see people like the Everly
Brothers. I remember Phil Everly reading my palm at 2 in the morning. And
he was dead on, too.”
In early May of 1968, 18-year-old Little Stevie Wonder was in residency
for the week at the Cellar Door, and it was then and there that Danoff met
his future wife, Taffy Nivert—who auditioned for his band, Fat City, the
next weekend. She joined the group and began making suggestions a few
“We just started to fall into a pattern of going back and forth with
lyrics,” Nivert said. “I don’t know what the secret is to collaborating,
all I know is that it worked.”
Fat City became a duo, recorded an album for ABC
in 1969 and started playing at Emergency, a alcohol-free teenage nightclub
at 29th and M, where Sageworth was practically the house band.
By his junior year, Egan and his band had moved into a house on 1608
Wisconsin Avenue, dubbed Sageworth House. Linda Ronstadt and her
band—including future Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey—visited, as did
Spirit, Emmylou Harris and Neil Young.
“When you came in the front door,” Zambetti said, “on the left hand
side there was a wall of the hallway, and musicians would sign the wall as
they came in.”
In addition to Emergency, clubs like the Silver Dollar (located next to
Nathan’s) and Apple Pie (across M street from the Cellar Door) made up the
John Denver was a relatively unknown solo act at this time, and had
recorded one of Fat City’s songs, “I Guess I’d Rather Be In Colorado,”
after hearing them play it one night at JAMF
(short for Jive Ass Mother Fuckers, and located where J.Paul’s is now).
Since Denver wasn’t much of a local draw, the owners of the Cellar Door
booked the locally popular Fat City to open for him in late December of
On December 29th, Danoff and Nivert returned after the gig to their
slum basement apartment on Q Street to swap songs with Denver.
“Country Roads” was one of about 350 songs that Danoff and Nivert had
written by that point. The song came to Danoff while he and Nivert drove
along Clopper Road in Montgomery Country, Maryland.
“The joke at the time was nothing rhymes with Maryland,” Nivert said.
“West Virginia seemed slightly more lyrical perhaps, and we knew a guy who
had moved to a commune up there.”
Lacking only lyrics for the bridge, they played it for Denver. “John
just flipped,” Danoff recalled. They stayed up and worked on the song
throughout the night, looking up West Virginia—which Danoff had never
visited—in whatever reference material was handy to find details to put in
the song. The next night, Danoff and Nivert joined Denver on stage to
debut the song at the end of his set, getting a standing ovation. The same
thing happened the following night.
On New Years Eve 1970, his birthday, Denver joined his good friend Paul
Meek, the coordinator of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in
Chicago, at a Georgetown restaurant and told him, “I’m on my way.” Denver
recorded the song with Fat City, and it quickly went to number 1, becoming
his signature song.
By early 1971, Emmylou Harris had considered leaving the music
business, but according to Meek, Danoff and Nivert managed to convince her
otherwise and got her a gig at Clyde’s Restaaurant. Sageworth, Egan’s
band, continued to play around D.C. after graduation, opening for acts
such as the Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Poco and the Grateful
Chris Hillman saw Harris sing at Clyde’s and told Gram Parsons, who had
left the Flying Burrito Brothers and was looking for an accompanying
female vocalist. “The first time they sang together was in my kitchen,”
Egan said. “And I was pretty much the only one there … they sang ‘That’s
All it Took’.”
Brooding Beauty: Cover to sheet music by Walter Egan.
Courtesy WALTER EGAN
Shortly thereafter, Egan wrote his first country song, “Hearts on
Fire.” Parsons recorded the song with Emmylou Harris on his final album,
just before his death from a drug overdose made him a music legend.
Sageworth moved to Boston in 1972, hoping to find steady gigs in New
England college towns, but broke up when they were unable to secure a
record deal. With his credit for “Hearts on Fire,” Egan thought about
pursuing a solo career.
Chris Darrow—a member of influential underground sixties bands like
Kaleidoscope, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Corvettes—had met Egan in
D.C. while playing with Rondstadt, and encouraged Egan to come to
California. In Boston, Egan auditioned for Linda Ronstadt’s band without
success, and sent a letter to the Eagles asking to hold open the vacancy
left by Bernie Leadon.
When he arrived in California, the Eagles told him to “just stick it
out, persevere, that’s the key, you’ll make it.” Egan was simply happy to
be where all the music he loved came from.
“It was the promised land to him,” Darrow said.
The money—and success—from “Take Me Home, Country Roads” took its time
to arrive. Danoff has a picture of Nivert bailing out their apartment
after a big rainstorm, holding a trade magazine showing “Country Roads” at
number 1, though they still hadn’t seen a penny. But Denver soon gave
their careers a boost when he took them on tour to open for him and sing
Country Classic: Sheet music to the classic song collaboration with
Courtesy BILL DANOFF
After two albums as Fat City, Danoff and Nivert recorded two albums
under their first names for RCA that went
nowhere. But they made a big impression on Robert Altman, the Academy
Award-winning director of MA*SH, at the afterparty for a
show at Carnegie Hall, thrown by their agent, Jerry Weintraub. They met
with Altman, who wanted to make a movie about Nashville but didn’t know
anything about country music. Altman introduced the pair to screenwriter
Joan Tewkesbury, and sent them with her to Nashville for research. They
used their “credentials as the folks who wrote ‘Country Roads’ to call on
some people, check out the country music hall of fame, go to [the American
Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] offices, check out some
clubs,” according to Danoff. Tewkesbury kept a journal of the trip,
chronicling their adventures for what became Nashville, one of Altman’s
most critically acclaimed films.
After returning, Danoff and Nivert “didn’t take gigs because we were
going to be in the movie,” even though they had insisted throughout that
they were not actors. But their roles of Bill and Mary—married songwriters
and members of a folk trio inspired in part by Peter, Paul and Mary—had
been cast, and they never heard from Altman again.
RCA decided that Danoff and Nivert should
record a few singles before the company would commit to another full
album. Soon after, Danoff walked into a music store for strings, and came
out with an inexpensive 12 string guitar, which inspired him to write a
batch of new songs—one of which became “Afternoon Delight,” its title
inspired by the appetizer menu at Clyde’s.
Danoff decided that the song needed more voices than just his and
Nivert’s, and asked Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman to sing with them.
What a Sendoff: Danoff and Nivert waving goodbye from the back of a
Courtesy BILL DANOFF
“[It] was a perfect blend,” and Bill asked if they wanted to join the
group, Nivert said. “We knew our strength was not actually in vocalizing,
but in songwriting.”
Starland Vocal Band recorded “Afternoon Delight,” which became an
indelible part of the summer of 1976, reaching the top of the charts on
July 10th . “Once you finish the song and finish your record, everything
in the universe is out of your control,” Nivert said. Their label promoted
the song heavily, booking Starland as the opener for John Denver and
setting up radio interviews.
Their success led to the creation of a summer replacement series on
CBS, the “Starland Variety Show”—a retread of
the tired slapstick comedy meets musicians formula. It was David
Letterman’s first entertainment job, and one episode was filmed in
Georgetown; the band performed in Dahlgren Quad. Danoff made sure Clyde’s
got a gold record, which now hangs on the wall of the Atrium—once the
alley where they would smoke.
California agreed with Egan, whose hair became increasingly feathered
as the decade progressed. While touring England with Darrow, Egan met a
talent scout named Andrew Lauder, who later saw him play with his band
Wheels at the Troubadour in February of 1976. He offered Egan (but not the
band) a deal for six songs on United Artists UK; with this deal in hand,
Egan went to Columbia, who then offered him an album deal. The only
remaining obstacle was finding a producer.
Playing for Peace: Walter Egan in front of White Gravenor.
Courtesy WALTER EGAN
Egan’s first choices—John Fogerty and Brian Wilson—were unavailable,
but he found that he had a lot in common with his final choices, Lindsey
Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.
“I always loved the interplay between male and female voices,” Egan
On the way home from recording “Tunnel o’ Love” for his first album,
Egan was behind a Lincoln Continental with a diamond window and neon
lights, and a license plate reading “not shy.” Like Danoff, Egan took to
the found idea, which inspired the title of his next album and the chorus
of his biggest hit: “With you I’m not shy.”
“‘Magnet and Steel’ was very much tongue out of cheek,” Egan said.
“That was when I was madly in love with Stevie Nicks.”
“To me, the high water mark of my whole career in those days was
September when ‘Magnet and Steel’ was riding high in the charts,” Egan
said. “I felt like this is where it should all go … of course it didn’t
work out that way, but …
On February 22nd, 2008, a lonely pair of snowy footsteps were tracked
through the lobby to the lower level of the Davis Performing Arts Center.
The clicks and winding of a disposable camera led to Egan—now white
haired—documenting his exhibit of paintings and prints.
Darling Duo: Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert performing together at a
Courtesy BILL DANOFF
“Basically this is a culmination of a life spent in creativity,” Egan
said “I’ve tried to be an artist in whatever I do.” Since his commercial
heyday, he has continued writing—songs, an unpublished book (Top 10, a
thinly veiled autobiography) and an unoptioned screenplay called College
Radio ’68. Egan released two more albums before being dropped by Columbia,
but continued to play intermittently with the Malibooz (which reformed in
1981), and with Sageworth for college reunions. He also toured with Spirit
in the eighties, his own bands the Brooklyn Cowboys and the Walternative
band in the nineties. He’s been with Burrito Deluxe—the latest incarnation
of the Flying Burrito Brothers—since 2006.
And he has become a four letter word, an answer in crossword puzzles
for the New York Times and T.V. Guide.
“I’m really lucky that ‘Magnet and Steel’ did what it did, I’m really
lucky that Hearts on Fire got covered by Gram Parsons,” said Egan. “I wish
I didn’t have to supplement my income doing substitute teaching and
whatever else I have to do.”
Radio stations that played “Magnet and Steel” after its March release
moved on to another track off the album, “Hot Summer Nights,” by the
summer. When “Magnet and Steel” peaked in September at number 8 on the
Billboard Hot 100, Columbia released “Hot Summer Nights” officially as a
single, but those radio stations had already moved on.
“It was misfired, mistimed,” Egan said. “It got to the mid 50s, and it
was disappointing for everybody.”
Zambetti has known Egan since he visited his house in Forest Hills, New
York, in high school.
“It didn’t matter if [he lived in] a dorm room in Copley or in a
multi-million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills,” Zambetti said. “He’s been
exactly the same, all the way through. He is a true artist. All the other
stuff can either
be there or not be there, it doesn’t really matter that much to him.”
“It’s so beyond our wildest dreams how things turned out,” Zambetti
said. “I remember out in L.A. in 1976, Walt had a publicity picture taken
for Columbia. And as a joke, he signed it ‘Top 10 in ’76.’ Of course, two
years later, it actually happened.”
“It’s bittersweet after it goes along,” Egan said. “And I got married
after all that, so she always felt like why isn’t this happening now for
Starland Vocal Band became infamous as a one-hit wonder, though if they
had two they wouldn’t have been eligible for the one-hit wonder wall in
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Starland released a string of
disappointing albums, and the eighties found Danoff and Nivert separated
and then divorced. Danoff wrote a play and a musical, neither of which
were ever produced.
“There are just too many factors, too many reasons why we didn’t
sustain,” Nivert said. “I don’t have a story to go along with why we were
a one-hit wonder. Shit happens, and along with that goes, sometimes shit
During those lean years, Danoff became disillusioned with pop music and
stopped listening to the radio.
“Some people can go 25 years and never get a hit, or it takes them that
long to get something happening,” Danoff said. “With me it was sort of the
opposite, which is fine with me.
“All the things that have to happen to have a hit are really
incredible. They all have to line up correctly. And without any of the
particular things it doesn’t happen. It’s some sort of cosmic destiny when
you actually have something that comes out like that.”
The director of Georgetown’s fledgling music program, Dr. Anna Celenza,
introduced herself to both Danoff and Egan after their performances at the
Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance’s first annual show at the
Orpheum Theater in New York City. She was impressed by their stories and
experience, and floated the idea of teaching to both of them. Danoff came
to Georgetown last fall to teach songwriting.
Danoff had his students write four songs for the course, after spending
the semester analyzing songs to discover what they enjoyed.
“One of the first things I told them is ‘I can’t think of any great
songwriter or performer who took a class on how to write a song,’” Danoff
said. “They just did it. That was the underlying assumption of the class,
sort of a zen approach.”
Egan teaches a seminar on the music industry, which is a natural fit
for him “He’s played a lot of roles, put together his own bands,
songwriting, so it’s perfect fit for a music industry class,” Dr. Celenza
“The way that I structured this course is my point of view of the music
business, which started from the songs,” Egan said. The 16 students in the
class have formed four bands, which will be performing a concert on April
25th. “Not everyone in the class wants to be that performer. There are a
couple who want to be managers and promoters, so they’re gonna promote the
show.” The class also features many guest speakers, since the business has
changed significantly since Egan’s most extensive involvement with the
industry. Its atmosphere is laid-back and pretty loose, not unusual
considering its late afternoon time on Fridays.
“It’s kinda like School of Rock, you know, like the movie,” Rich
Webster (MSB ’11) said. The dynamic encourages a certain amount of goofing
off—members of one band sitting across the room from one another discussed
‘90s rock while Egan attempted to explain the plan for the rest of the
“I know few people in this country that are better rock and roll
historians, with encyclopedic knowledge,” said Annie McCloone. “He’s got
passion for it. I don’t think you can find any better person with more
passion, more knowledge … on his pedagogy, I’ll reserve judgment.”
“I’d like to think that I can still try to find a way to replicate that
success of writing a song [like Afternoon Delight],” Danoff said, a
sentiment echoed by both Egan and Darrow.
“I remember people would say … ‘What if you never do that again, what
if the songs aren’t hits?’ I don’t have time to think like that. So I
never had a plan B. And I still don’t.”
Bill Danoff will be performing a free concert for Friday Music in
McNeir auditorium on March 14th at 1:15 P.M. Walter Egan will be
performing a free concert for Friday Music in McNeir auditorium on April
4th at 1:15 P.M. Walter Egan’s art will be exhibited until the end of
April on the lower level of the Davis Performing Arts Center.
From The Hoya (Georgetown University Newspaper)
Bill taught a singer songwriter seminar at Georgetown University
during the fall semester. Here are two articles from GU papers about what
Bill's been up to.
Here's a little secret: While you're sitting in your Wednesday afternoon
classes scribbling lecture notes into newly purchased notebooks, a group of
a dozen or so students are making their way into the depths of New North,
turning up the music and enjoying a little Afternoon Delight. …With Bill
Danoff, that is.
The Georgetown class of 1968 alum and musician best know for his hit
songs "Afternoon Delight" and "Take Me Home Country Roads" has returned to
the Hilltop to teach a songwriting seminar this semester.
It's not every day college students have the opportunity to have a
two-time Grammy winner review their musical talents, short of a stint on
Making the Band or waiting on cold city streets to audition for American
Idol. Instead, Danoff kicks back with his room full of both seasoned and
rookie musicians once a week to study the form and structure of American pop
songs in an atmosphere that's a little bit MTV Unplugged meets Comedy
Danoff melts the faux-brick walls of the tiny New North studio into a
neighborhood coffee shop and turns class into open-mic night. He peppers his
lectures with anecdotes about the road he took to the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame and the people he's met along the way, all the while tuning and
strumming his guitar in preparation for his next number. When he's finished,
students hesitantly clap as visions of the folksy American south melt back
into a monochromatic classroom and a man who could be their father cradling
As students break down songs in search of the elements that make them
successful, they needn't look any further than Danoff, whose hits seem to
pop up everywhere—from The Simpsons to Arrested Development and of course
the famous scene in Anchorman. Will Ferrell even declared "Afternoon
Delight" "Absolutely the best song ever written." Students look to Danoff's
work as well as songs by other artists on the mixed CD he assembled for them
as examples of different songwriting techniques within all sorts of genres.
Students in the seminar are also expected to write or co-write songs,
which Danoff and the other students will critique. And yes, there is
assigned reading and research, as well as music exercises. This week's
included changing either the lyrics or melody to John Fogerty's "Proud
In my fourth year at Georgetown, this is one of the most original
courses I've seen offered — and of course, the starpower doesn't hurt. Hoyas
with rockstar aspirations can have professionally critiqued demos to pass
around along with their resumes after college, which is definitely a leg up
in the "real world." The students who are enrolled in the seminar come from
different musical backgrounds and levels of expertise, and Danoff makes it
clear that he is looking for effort over sheer talent. Some students who
have taken years of music history and theory courses are happy to have the
opportunity to apply what they've learned.
And so Georgetown is faced with another win-win-win situation: students
benefit as much as the College does, which can now boast its own version of
celebrity influence to rival School of Foreign Service star Madeleine
Albright. And Danoff can keep his voice conditioned as he records his next
album. Even Hoyas with no musical talent will have the chance to sing along
with him as he performs at the All-Alumni Live Concert hosted by GEMA on
September 14th and 15th.
For Danoff, the chance to return to Georgetown without resuming his
Chinese language studies is compelling because he wants to "work with this
whole new generation of folks and see what they're into." Though it's been
more than three decades since Danoff began topping the charts, some things
never change: this generation of folks is into him.
Erin Delmore is a senior in the College. She can be reached at. The Rules
of 8-Track-tion appears every other Friday in The Guide.
From another GU article from the fall....
The first play in Georgetown's Hidden Histories performance series, "Fabulation"
is a witty, edgy, social satire about class and identity issues in the
African-American community, says Derek Goldman, artistic director of the
series and associate professor of theatre and performance studies."All the
pieces [in the series] engage with history in a sense of the
macro-narrative, history writ-large … the idiosyncratic person in
oft-forgotten histories," he says.The season includes both world and D.C.
premiers of performances ranging from comedies to a Japanese drama with
live-action anime drawing on stage.
The Hidden Histories theme helps tie the mixed genres to each other,
Goldman says. "These are interesting conversations that are very
'Georgetown' kinds of conversations … that go to the heart of the mission,"
he says. When choosing to direct "Fabulation," Wooden thought about what
would captivate the community both in and outside Healy gates. "I think that
speaks to the university's mission of being women and men for others," he
says. "Being entrenched in what the world is, offering and being responsive
to and responsible for our fellow citizens."
Wooden also serves as artistic advisor for the Black Theater Ensemble, a
student group performing pieces related to the African-American experience.
This year the group collaborated with the English department, the
Undergraduate Learning Initiative and the British Council to host the Black
Atlantic Project, a musical dialogue between British and American artists.
Wooden and the students created a full-scale mural to complement the
project. The mural runs alongside the exhibit in the Davis Center lobby
Those with a craving for weekly arts programming will find it at the
renovated McNeir Auditorium, host to the Friday Music Series. The free
concert series brings professional vocalists and musicians from around the
world to campus. Performers this year include jazz trumpeter Aaron Broadus,
Anonymous-4 vocalist Jacqui Horner and violinist Sarah E. Geller. "Everyone
we bring in is not only a great performer, but they also talk about what
they're doing," says Anna Celenza, the Caestecker Chair in Music and
director of the music program and the Friday Music Series. "The hope is that
if you've never heard that music before, it won't seem awkward. You're
getting some sort of input into it and they'll answer questions."The
American Opera Theater also is in residence at Georgetown for the next three
years, giving students a chance to work directly with professional opera
The group will perform Handel's "Messiah" December 7 to 9 at Gonda
Theatre. Celenza says that along with the new theater and music majors,
music and dance programs are thriving with the growth of performing arts at
Georgetown. The university now hosts a consortium of rock bands on campus.
The "Guild of Bands" is working with songwriter and Georgetown alumnus
Bill Danoff(SLL'68) to produce a CD at the end of the semester.
"People tend to look towards performing arts, theater and music as 'I can't
act or play an instrument,' but we need great audiences too," Celenza says.
"Experiencing [performance] can affect you in many ways. It can be a sensual
experience, but it can be a philosophical or intellectual experience as
well. If you can take in a performance once a month, it's a time to turn
off, take a deep breath and relax."
GEMA ROCKS FUNDRAISER W/ WALTER EGAN, BILL DANOFF, SAGWORTH & DRUMS, VERTICAL HORIZON/Orpheum Theatre/Sept.25
by Rick Kutner,
NEW YORK, NY—While most are
aware that Washington, DC’s prestigious
Georgetown University was the launching pad for basketball great
Patrick Ewing and former President Bill
Clinton, few may know that GU was also responsible for
producing two of the great pop hits of the ’70s.Walter
Egan’s “Magnet & Steel” (a love letter to one-time girlfriend
Stevie Nicks) and Starland Vocal Band’s (featuring
Bill Danoff) ode to mid-day nookie, “Afternoon Delight.”
Both songs have recently popped up in one major motion
picture after another including Boogie Nights, PCU,
Starsky and Hutch and Deuce Bigalow.
The GEMA (Georgetown Entertainment & Media Alliance) Rocks fundraiser was
organized by Teddy Zambetti, executive producer and in-house
composer at Sirius satellite radio and one-time GU
student. Zambetti, along with fellow students back in
the mid’70s, created “The Cabaret,” a forum for students to collaborate and play live.The event was
designed to raise funds for a film screening room, a
recent addition to the Georgetown campus. The event was held
at the Orpheum Theatre, home to the off-Broadway show Stomp located right down on 2nd Avenue
and St. Mark’s Place.
Not long after I found a seat right behind
some 50something hippie couple, the lights when down and the house band made its way down the aisle of
theatre onto the stage where they were joined by
Walter Egan on guitar. The band proceeded to launch into
Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York.” Then the
evening’s hosts, comedian Nick Kroll (VH1’s Best Week Ever/Upright Citizen’s Brigade) and Alison
Becker (FUSE), greeted the audience and soon had the
room chuckling and continued to do so throughout
the show between acts with their irreverent comedic
First up was late ’60s DC psych-rock band
Sageworth & Drums fronted by Annie McLoone (Walter Egan Band), Walter Egan on guitar/vocals, Ralph
Dammann on bass, Frank Peters on keyboards and John
Zambetti of NYC surf-rock legends Malibooz fame on
guitar. The band rocked out to Jefferson Airplane’s
“Don’t You Want Somebody To Love?” and Janis Joplin’s “Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart” with
McLoone’s unbridled charisma working overtime with her
belting out the vocals and captivating the audience in
Bill Danoff of Starland Vocal Band fame took
the stage shortly thereafter and treated the room
to an Emmylou Harris cover and then played “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” the smash hit he wrote
for John Denver. Danoff even played an alternate
version with a racier verse in which he sang of naked
hippies and mountainside communes. Then Bill and co. proceeded to kick right into “Afternoon
Delight” and those warm melodies and memories of cruising
around in mom’s station wagon back in the mid-’70s
came right back. The classic sugary sweet folk pop
sound and background vocals of Kirsten Thien and Liz McKeon (who also contributed two amazing
sets) really brought the song to life and reminded
everyone why it was a #1 hit back in the summer of
Just as Starland Vocal Band had done in July
of ’76, California rocker Walter Egan two summers
later in August of ’78 would also capture lightning
in a bottle with his steamy stroll “Magnet & Steel.”With
the help of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks (background
vocals) Lindsay Buckingham (background vocals/production) and Annie McLoone (background vocals), the
song climbed all the way to #8 on the Billboard
charts. But Egan chose to kick things off with “Hearts On
Fire,” a song written for friends Gram Parsons and
Emmylou Harris (he introduced the two while attending Georgetown) which they
immortalized on Grievous Angel. Then came “Magnet & Steel” in which
Walter and the band, along with McLoone, Thien and
McKeon on background vocals, perfectly nailed it and
showed that he’s still got it after all these years.
Egan ended his short but sweet set with “Hot Summer
Nights” which allowed him to strut his stuff and lay
down some of his classic Cali-cool fretwork.
Last up was the ’90s alt soft rock of Vertical
Horizon. Lead vocalist Matt Scannell and rhythm
guitarist Keith Kane played a few tunes including their
breakout hit “Everything You Want.”Then the house band
closed things out with an amazing rendition of Steely
Dan’s “My Old School”and Little Feat’s “Dixie
Chicken.”This by far was not your regular run-of-the-mill
night of bands, considering each performer played a
very short set, but the sheer talent that lit up
the room will no doubt have my eyes peeled for future GEMA
GEMA ROCKS Benefit Raises Money, the Roof in New York
by Lauren Freeman hoyasonline Contributing Writer
Photo by Chris Enochs
(I'92), left, and Matt Scannell (C'92), right, of Vertical Horizon perform
with backup from GEMA ROCKS Musical Director Doug Derryberry (F'89).
For a certain group of Hoyas, the annual
Cabaret - a rollicking student performance of music and comedy - remains one
of its fondest Hilltop memories. Looking for a way to give back to the
university and celebrate Georgetown's incredible musical heritage, composer
Teddy Zambetti (C'80), decided to resurrect the festive spirit of the
Cabaret with a star-powered fundraiser at the Orpheum Theater in Manhattan.
Some of Georgetown's most illustrious
musicians - chart-toppers, crooners, folkies, and hipsters - joined together
to rock out for a good cause. And although organizing the event involved a
certain number of logistical headaches, Zambetti was delighted by how
enthusiastic the musicians were about joining the event.
"I started reaching out," Zambetti says,
"and was incredibly overwhelmed at how many wonderful artists and musicians
are out there," who were willing to perform. Just as exciting, Margaret
Cotter (C'89, L'93), the President of Liberty Theaters, agreed to donate the
Orpheum Theater for the evening.
Says Zambetti, "We all have this passion
for where we went to school."
Alums like Matt Scannell (C'92) and Keith
Kane (I'92), better known as the rock band
Vertical Horizon, performed
Bill Danoff (I'68),
composer of classics like "Afternoon Delight," and "Take Me Home, Country
Sageworth and Drums, the '60's folk-rock
outfit, delivered rousing renditions of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to
Love," and Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," while more recent alums Kirsten Thien (C'93), Liz McKeon
(I'86), and Ray Ficca (C'89) teamed up for a killer cover of the Rolling
Stones' "Let it Bleed."
The energy in the room was incredible,
Zambetti says, "from the minute we started until we ended. It never went
To organize the event, Zambetti worked in
conjunction with GEMA, the
Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance,
whose mission includes supporting the university with arts-related
philanthropic events. The Cabaret event, GEMA ROCKS, was one of the most
high-profile of these endeavors so far, raising approximately $20,000 for
GEMA Screening Room,
a professionally-equipped 67-seat campus theater for use by film students,
arts students, and the entire Georgetown community.
"Georgetown has a unique positioning," says
Geof Rochester (B'81), the co-director of GEMA's New York chapter, who
helped organize the marketing campaign and operations for GEMA ROCKS. "It
turns out fantastically well-rounded people. It's a place where, even if you
want to be a lawyer or a professor, you probably have this other side of you
that you do at a very high level." GEMA ROCKS, Rochester said, was "a
celebration of that."
"Without sounding corny," Rochester adds,
"we think this is a really important symbolic activity. It ties the future
to the past, a single room filled with alums from 1965 to 2002, as
performers and as audience."
And the audience, filled with Hoyas of
recent and slightly less recent vintages, all loved the chance not only to
listen to great music, but to reconnect with college friends.
"I've had people send flowers," Zambetti
says. "They say it was the best thing they've done since college.
"I don't know what happened that night,
some sort of spiritual thing, rewarding, gratifying, it just all worked...
everybody walked away with a smile on their face, proud to take part in it."
Rochester adds, "I think it was just a
great celebration of that kind of rounded-out Georgetown philosophy on how
you attack life. It's something we hope to do in the future, and we hope to
do it bigger and better."
Lauren Freeman is a frequent contributor to hoyasonline and she
knows it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but she likes it.
Folk, bluegrass and country music lovers were treated to a very special
performance for a very special cause Saturday night at the fourth annual
"Music from the Mountains - Tribute to John Denver."
Former members of Mr. Denver's band and colleagues from such groups as The
Starland Vocal Band, The Hard Travelers and Limeliters came together at
Maryland Hall for the popular concert that benefits Maryland Therapeutic
Producer / singer Kenn Roberts really knows how to put on a show. The
old-fashioned variety format featured everything from foot stompers to
comedy and a string quartet that enhanced some of the more mellow
ballads. Mr. Roberts is an accomplished performer as well as founder of
the MUSE foundation, an organization that produces concerts for charitable
causes. It is through his connection to local singer / guitarist Mack
Bailey that MTR first came to his attention.
MTR is a Crownsville-based nonprofit that puts the healing energy of
horses to work for more than 160 special needs riders ranging from age 2
to 76. Mr. Bailey has been an ardent supporter of this group ever since
they adopted his stirring (version of the) ode “Eagles and Horses,” as
their unofficial theme song six years ago.
Mr. Bailey is a phenomenal guitarist with a full, mellow voice that is
exquisitely suited to Mr. Denver’s repertoire. He was complemented by the
lovely Mollie Weaver, a velvety-toned mezzo who harmonized beautifully
with him in such showstoppers as “Sweet Surrender,” “Shanghai Breezes” and
“Fly Away,” to name but a few.
Keyboardist Chris Nole, a member of Mr. Denver’s band for three years,
demonstrated an easy familiarity with this style of pop-country music,
which set the tone for a relaxing and nostalgic evening of old favorites.
Rounding out the core band were performers who are stars in their own
right: bassist Ira Gitlin, for example, who also is a former National
Bluegrass Banjo champion, and the multi-talented instrumentalist, John
Sommers on banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Mr. Sommers composed “Thank God
I’m a Country Boy,” which was a hit for Mr. Denver and has since become
the Baltimore Orioles’ seventh inning stretch theme. It was naturally
received with enthusiastic audience participation.
Singer / songwriter Bill Danoff hails from Washington,
and it was there that he co-wrote Mr. Denver’s first smash hit, “Take Me
Home, Country Roads 32 years ago. He also penned “Afternoon Delight,” and
both pieces were wildly popular with the crowd at Maryland Hall. Another
of his hits, “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado, “ which was used
extensively in tourism promotions, served as comic fodder for a hilarious
monologue on his failed attempts to write a similar song touting
Washington, D.C. tourism.
Gary Muledeer, the “clueless country boy,” slipped into his routine so
smoothly that the audience didn’t realize until several jokes had passed
that his fine singing and picking would only come as a complement to his
wit. His delivery was so perfect that it didn’t matter if some of his
material wasn’t original. I would hesitate to say he stole the show,
because there was just so much to enjoy, but he could have if he wanted
The beauty of this venture was that all the artists worked together so
perfectly to re-create music that can never again be heard live in its
original context. It has been seven years since Mr. Denver’s flying
accident abruptly halted a remarkable career, but for one night it all
came together again, just the way we remember.
Count songwriter Bill Danoff among the millions laughing at the
politically incorrect antics of Will Ferrell and company in "Anchorman,"
especially at the harmonious send-up of his Grammy-winning song,
"I love it," says Mr. Danoff, 58, from his home in the District.
"It's my favorite new thing, one of those funny, dumb movies."
Apparently lots of other people enjoyed the film, which stars Mr.
Ferrell as a competitive TV newsman opposite Christina Applegate. The
film earned $28.4 million in its first weekend (July 9-11), finishing
second to "Spiderman 2."
" 'Afternoon Delight' has enjoyed its new rebirth," says Mr. Danoff,
who wrote the song for his group, Starland Vocal Band. It hit
Billboard's No. 1 slot July 10, 1976. Some 28 years later, a comic video
of the song is in heavy rotation on VH-1.
This is not the way Mr. Danoff had it figured, although he points
out that the original version of the song was playing under a brief
scene involving Mr. Ferrell in the recent "Starsky & Hutch" film staring
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
"Apparently, he really likes this tune," he says. And apparently,
its use in "Anchorman" was practically an afterthought.
Mr. Danoff says actor Paul Rudd, who plays a TV newsman in the film,
has reported that the comic news crew was killing time on the set
between takes when one of the actors started singing the song as a joke.
The four actors knew the words, so they started working up the harmony
The rest, as they say, is comedy.
Back in the '70s, when "Afternoon Delight" was working back down the
Billboard charts, Mr. Danoff says, "it was more of a pop hit, so when
its time came and went, I thought that would be it."
But the song resurfaced in the '90s during the first wave of
nostalgia for the 1970s, "looking back on a time that didn't really
exist," Mr. Danoff says.
It was featured in films such as "Good Will Hunting," where it
played over the credits, in "Boogie Nights," and in a lesser-known 1994
film titled "PCU." Mr. Danoff says it offers an alternative soundtrack
to the disco music most people recall from the era.
"When people are looking for the '70s, it's become a little icon of
the whole thing," he said. "It's great for me."
And even though "Afternoon Delight" has become sort of a '70s audio
punchline, Mr. Danoff seems to appreciate the joke.
"A whole new generation of people who know this song, know it for
the humor," he says.
The song's origin is Clyde's Restaurant in Georgetown — under an
atrium tent that offered snacks like smoked salmon and brie to patrons
before happy hour. The tent was labeled "Afternoon Delights." Mr. Danoff
put the words together with a 12-string guitar lick he had been absently
playing, and four months later, he had worked up a song about snacking
of a different nature.
"So when it was a big hit, I made sure Clyde's got a gold record,"
he says. "We had them made for our mothers, too. Clyde's put theirs on
the wall, and I've noticed that they've kept it."
Nowadays, Mr. Danoff still writes songs — "to me, it's just what I
do, I'm never not writing something" — and is co-owner with his wife,
Joan, of Starland Cafe on MacArthur Boulevard. He performs several times
a year and released a CD as recently as 2002.
Starland Vocal Band last performed at the Birchmere in Alexandria in
1998. Mr. Danoff says he took the stage with band mates Jon Carroll — a
keyboard player currently touring in Mary Chapin Carpenter's band —
Margot Chapman and his former wife, Taffy Nivert. They sang to pay
tribute to John Denver in a concert produced by the World Folk Music
Association of Washington.
Mr. Denver, who had died in a plane crash the previous year,
recorded about a dozen songs that Mr. Danoff wrote or co-wrote. One of
them was the campfire standard, "Take Me Home Country Roads." The 12
songs were rerecorded by Mr. Danoff in his 2002 CD.
As for his two biggest hits, Mr. Danoff says, "I wouldn't have
predicted either one of them."
"Success is a bunch of happy accidents," he says. "That's how it
happens. To have a hit song, you have to have so many little things go
right. So it's rare when it happens."
Aspen Times Weekly, Arts and Entertainment Magazine,
October 12 & 13, 2002
Photo by Barb White
Bill Danoff has
made a habit of getting things right,-very right, the first time.
The first song
Danoff ever wrote with his ex-wife and longtime musical partner, Taffy, was
"I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado." Though Danoff had never actually
been in Colorado when he wrote the song in the early '70s, it was recorded
by a string of well-known artists: first John Denver, on his "Poems, Prayers
& Promises" album; Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary on her "Mary" album;
poet Rod McKuen. Merle Haggard's version became the theme song for the
"Centennial" television series. In the '80s, "I Guess He'd Rather Be in
Colorado" became the official song of the Colorado tourism board.
The first song
Danoff co-wrote with Denver, who would become his frequent collaborator, was
"Take Me Home, Country Roads." The single off "Poem, Prayers &
Promises" was Denver's first No. 1 hit, and catapulted him to fame. "Take
Me Home, Country Roads" has became an international phenomenon — a reggae
standard in Jamaica, voted the Country Song of the Century in 1999, a top
hit in Europe last year, as recorded by the club music group Hermes House
When Danoff and
Taffy formed the Starland Vocal Band in the mid-'70s, they found a similar
kind of instant success. The band's first single, "After- noon Delight,"
was a number one hit in 1975, and earned them five Grammy Award nominations.
But Danoff has
seen the downside of fast starts. Though he would have a dozen of his songs
recorded by Denver, none approached the astounding popularity of "Take Me
Home, Country Roads." And the Starland Vocal Band, though it released
several charting records in the wake of "Afternoon Delight," it would never
match the initial success.
"That's kind of
the danger of opening up with a song that's such a big hit," said Danoff.
"It's hard to follow that up."
Vocal Band broke up in 1981, a few years before his marriage to Taffy ended,
and Danoff went into a self- described funk. He would write songs that
routinely went unfinished. He wrote a play and a Broadway show, neither of
which was particularly successful.
emerging from his funk some years ago. He was remarried; he and his wife,
Joan, own a restaurant — the Starland Cafe — in the Palisades section of
Washington, D.C., Danoff's long- time home. In the early '90s, John Denver
recorded Danoff's "Potter's Wheel" for his "Different Directions" album.
And songs that he had only begun started getting finished.
though, has Danoff's recording career been kicked back into gear. He has a
new album, "I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado," of his own recordings of 12
songs he wrote for or with Denver. It is the first of a trio of CDs Danoff
has planned: The second will feature songs he has never gotten around to
recording; the third will be of new songs and songs he has yet to complete.
his creative resurgence in part to the John Denver tribute concerts he has
been performing in since Denver's death in an airplane crash in the Pacific
Ocean five years ago. Among the memorial events he has participated in has
been the annual Musical Tribute to John Denver concerts at the Wheeler Opera
House each October since Denver's death. Danoff, along with Denver's road
manager Kris 0'Connor and part-time Snowmass Village resident and singer
Kenn Roberts, organized the first concerts at the Wheeler in 1998; he has
returned as a performer ever since.
died, we all mourned him in our own way," said Danoff. "We did a lot of
these shows, and it made me revisit these songs and these old times. So this
album ["I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado"] made me go back and revisit
these things. And it made me take a new look — we didn't make it sound like
the '60s or like John's versions. It's a fresh look; we got a nice, new
sound. So now I want to do two more albums."
For this year's
series of concerts, Friday through Sunday, Oct. 11-13, Danoff will be joined
by fellow Denver collaborators Jim Horn, John Sommers, Pete Huttlinger, Herb
Pedersen, Denny Brooks, Chris Nole, Richie Garcia, Jim Salestrom, Mack
Bailey and others. Special guests for the Sunday evening concert are
Nashville husband-and-wife singers Vince Gill and Amy Grant. As from the
beginning, the concerts are fund-raisers for Challenge Aspen, a local
nonprofit that provides outdoors and cultural opportunities for handicapped
Danoff was wary
at first about the tribute concerts. But he has come to enjoy them a great
deal — as a way of playing the songs, to see a group of musical friends and
acquaintances, and to remember Denver and see how devoted his fans remain.
"At first, I
didn't know how we'd respond. No one did," said Danoff, who has also done
Denver tributes in Pennsylvania, and at the Country Roads Folk Festival, at
the Almost Heaven Farm, in West Virginia. "I was a little uncomfortable
with the idea.
"But when we
took the stage, and the audience was there, it became like a John Denver
show without John Denver. It sounds odd. But it's the spirit and the love
and the energy, and it really works. And it's a chance for the players,
most of whom worked with John, to get together and see each other and play."
A career of collaborations
Of all of the
Denver collaborators to take the Wheeler stage this weekend, probably none
dates back as far as Danoff's.
mid-'60s, Danoff was a student at Georgetown University. His major in
Chinese language didn't seem to offer much in the way of a career — "Our
government didn't recognize China, so the job opportunities were limited to
the CIA," he said — so he focused instead on music. Danoff was the sound
and light man at the D.C. folk and jazz club, the Cellar Door, and also had
a duet, Fat City, with Taffy Nivert, who would become Taffy Danoff. When
the folk group The Mitchell Trio arrived at the Cellar Door, with their new
singer John Denver, Danoff was curious.
"He was the new
kid in town, and I was a fan of the group, and interested in seeing how the
new kid was," he said. "It was a collegial atmosphere— after we kicked the
crowd out for the night, the staff and musicians would stay on and play."
came to D.C. a few years later, with the short-lived Denver, Boyce &
Johnson, there was another after-hours session, this time at JAMF, a club
where Fat City was performing. The Danoffs sang "I Guess He'd Rather Be in
Colorado" for an impressed Denver. A few weeks later, Denver called from
New York to tell them he had recorded the song.
later, Denver returned to D.C., to play the Cellar Door as a solo act with
Fat City opening. A late-night session was scheduled for the Danoffs'
apartment. When Denver arrived — late, after a car accident that resulted
in an injured thumb — Danoff played the beginnings of a song he had written.
Denver only heard bits and pieces of "Take Me Home, Country Roads," but it
was enough to convince him of its potential.
"He said, 'Why
don't you record it? That's a hit,'" said Danoff. "I told him I didn't
have a record deal. He said, 'I do.'
"We stayed up
all night doing a rewrite. We played it the next night at the club, and the
crowd loved it."
"Take Me Home,
Country Roads" was recorded a few days later in New York, with Danoff and
Taffy singing backing vocals. Denver also recorded "I Guess He'd Rather Be
in Colorado." The result was the first hit song and album as a solo artist
for Denver, who had previously released two unsuccessful solo albums.
It was the
beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship. Denver would go on to
record many more Danoff tunes: "Baby, You Look Good to Me Tonight," "Late
Night Radio," "Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas" and more. When
Danoff formed the Starland Vocal Band, Denver had the band open his Spirit
of '76 tour, which played the biggest arenas in the country.
as the musical relationship was, Danoff wasn't always impressed with
Denver's handling of the material. "I was often surprised by the songs he
picked to do," said Danoff. "Some were more rhythmic, funkier than what I
would expect. And sometimes the production didn't get to the essence of
what we thought it was. But frankly, as a songwriter you're always thrilled
by someone doing your song. So you don't grouse much. At least I didn't."
as a songwriter, and as a singer with the Starland Vocal Band, Danoff didn't
have much confidence in approaching other singers about working together.
When Starland was flying high, Danoff expressed to his bandmate Margot
Kunkel how much he'd like to write a song for Emmylou Harris.
"She said, 'Did
you ever ask her?'" said Danoff. "I said no, I wasn't big into
collaborating. It was like asking someone for a date." Danoff eventually
did approach Harris at her D.C. club gig, and Harris told him she had
lyrics, but no music, for a song. The two spent two days creating "Boulder
to Birmingham," which Harris recorded for her first major album, "Pieces of
the Sky." The song has become a signature tune for Harris and has also been
recorded by Dolly Parton and the Hollies.
"It's a magical
song," said Danoff. "I still feel emotional about it."
interesting sidelight to his career came as Danoff was emerging from his
funk years. "I was in the habit of saying no to things," said Danoff. "So
I made a decision to say yes to things."
So when Danoff
got a call, out of the blue, from a casting director, Danoff said yes. "She
said, 'We're doing a film about aluminum siding salesmen, and we need sleazy
characters,'" said Danoff. "I said, 'How sleazy do you want me to be?'"
At the audition
for director Barry Levinson's "Tin Men," Danoff got the sleaze quotient just
right. He was hired to play a police officer and ended up with two minutes
of screen time in a hilarious scene featuring Danny DeVito and Richard
Levinson, no one, had any idea I was a singer or songwriter," said Danoff.
"We never discussed it."
Singular Sensations –
Bill Danoff, 1976
"If Bill Clinton hadn't become President," says
Washington-based singer-songwriter Bill Danoff, 50, "I could have been the
most famous person in the [Georgetown] class of '68." As the writer and
performer—along with ex-wife Taffy and two other pals-—of the inescapable
smash, Danoff, who also co-wrote John Denver's "Country Roads," at least got
to sing "Delight" for Clinton at the class's 25th reunion. Danoff and the
Starland Vocal Band made three more albums and served as hosts of a
short-lived TV variety show on the strength of "Delight." "It could have
been so much fun," says Taffy, now raising their two daughters, "but we
ended up with the worst show of all time." Yet the echoes of "Delight,"
named after a menu at the Georgetown hangout Clyde's, still resonate for
Danoff, remarried and the father of a 6-year-old son. "Personally, I haven't
heard it enough," Danoff says, with an eye to royalty checks. "But everyone
else seems to have heard it . . . a LOT!”
September 11, 1991
The Aspen Hill
September 12, 1991
“Take Me Home . . . Clopper Road”
— by Betsy
Stieff, Express Staff Writer
“Take me home, country road, to the place I
The next few words really should sing out
“Montgomery County”, not "West Virginia," because that's where the
inspiration for the popular tune sung by John Denver came from.
The songwriter. Bill Danoff, and his former wife.
Taffy, were inspired to write the popular tune as they were driving down
Clopper Road 21 years ago on the way to a Fisher family reunion at the Izaak
"It was a real pretty old country road with farms
and cows and fields. I thought it would be a great thing to write a song
about so we started humming it right then," Danoff said. He and his wife,
who were then part of the group Fat City, developed the song and were later
helped out by friend, John Denver, who put in his two cents worth and later
recorded the hit.
Why West Virginia if the country road was in
Maryland? Danoff admitted it just sounded good. He'd never been there he
said, but he has gone since – to Harpers Ferry where the Blue Ridge
Mountains reach the Shenandoah and "it's everything I said it would be -
almost heaven,'' he joked.
Concert to aid Cystic Fibrosis fight
Danoff was also the talent behind the group
Starland Vocal Band, responsible for the hit “Afternoon Delight.” The band
broke up about ten years ago but will be back together for a very special
performance – the 4th Annual Hard Travelers and Friends Concert
for Cystic Fibrosis Sept. 20 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. This year
Barbara Mandrell will headline the concert. Kenn Roberts, a former
Montgomery County developer and resident and a member of The Hard Travelers,
puts this concert together every year to raise money to help find a cure for
the nation’s number one genetic killer of children.
The Hard Travelers is a group of seasoned
performers that began playing together again in 1985 after 20 years apart.
Not long after their reunion they did a benefit show for Cystic Fibrosis and
were taken with a little girl that had the disease. The little girl died,
and the group decided then to dedicate themselves to fighting the disease.
“There have been a lot of breakthroughs in recent years....we have been
involved in something that we can actually see the results,” Roberts said.
Over the past years, the group has raised over
$150,000 and this year they hope to add another $100,000 to that figure.
2,800 tickets have been sold this year but there are plenty left, Roberts
said. Roberts promises a family-oriented event. Danoff and the other
members of his band are going to have their children do a number and
children with Cystic Fibrosis will have their moment on stage.
“I’d love to see the place full. It’s going to be a
wonderful night of entertainment and all the proceeds go to finding a cure
for Cystic Fibrosis,” Roberts said.
The Rouse Company is one of the major sponsors and
as owners of Merriweather, the company helped secure the location for the
event. Other sponsors underwrite all the expenses, and the artists perform
at reduced rate.
“When we are as fortunate as we are to be able to
play music and to have friends join us — it is such a blessing we feel we
have a responsibility to give back, and through Cystic Fibrosis the Hard
Travelers are able to give,” Roberts said.
Friendly to Folk
THE COFFEEHOUSE revival has become so widespread that
a new division has begun to take shape in between the amateur/local and
national circuit leagues—a sort of semi-pro venue, with an established
regional-draw act serving as host and headliner.
The Washington area is already plentifully supplied
with good "minor-league" coffeehouses, hosted by popular local artists and
lending exposure to talented beginners. The long-running Hard Travelers &
Friends shows at the King of France Tavern in Annapolis and now Bill
Danoff's new Sunday showcase at the Starland Cafe on MacArthur Boulevard NW
are just one step more prepossessing; but in the case of Fat City/Starland
Vocal Band veteran Danoff, it's particularly comfortable — more like a
busman's holiday than a concert. These Triple A clubs have some advantages
over general acoustic "listening rooms," since a well-known performer can
develop a pool of frequent if not regular patrons—thus ensuring bottom-line
security and a friendly, semi-participatory atmosphere—and serve as a
guarantee of quality control. (In fact, Mack Bailey has cut his Thursday
night jams at King of France from weekly to monthly in part to maintain a
Particularly for those audiences who don't follow the
circuit closely enough to be familiar with guests' names, and who have
limited enthusiasm for watching inexperienced performers learn the ropes,
the semi-pro showcases are better musical bets than open mikes (which, to
continue the baseball analogy, are where mediocre musicians get peeled of
Also, while many Washington restaurants have a
laissez-faire attitude toward performers that bends to an exuberant
clientele, the coffeehouses involve at least some collaboration between club
owner and entertainer, so the service and the music tend to coexist on a
more friendly basis.
The community atmosphere of the Starland Cafe is no
accident, nor is Danoff's being so at home there an affectation. The cafe
really is his neighborhood restaurant; he and his wife Joan held their
wedding reception there, and Joan, who is general manager of the Occidental
Grill, tends to fall into habitual host mode, shuffling chairs and friends
around the dining room (a neat trick, since it's not large— 10 or 12
The cafe itself is quite pretty, with a front dining
room that looks like one of those great-homes foyers done up as an Italian
piazza—half columns, hanging (but not accessorizing) greenery and lots of
windows—and a pleasantly understated main room in a warm neutral mode. Being
up a flight of steps from the boulevard improves the view and the exhaust
level, so the veranda view is fairly pleasant.
The food is not haute, nor particularly hot, but it
is hearty without being heavy. The menu is a mix of Greek, Italian and
basic restaurant cuisine: kebabs, gyros, grape leaves, moussaka; veal piccata, pastas (egg noodles, in some cases) with seafood,
alfredo or pesto; and mixed grills, roast, charbroiled or Dijon chicken,
blackened redfish (which has risen to requisite status), calf's liver and
shrimp—plus burgers, clubs, fried zukes, buffalo wings, quiche and a kid's
The wine list is short but suitable; the actual bar
is a homey one with a few stools and a pleasant outlook. The major drawback
is that the back room where the performers set up is a smoking area; it also
opens onto a food prep area, so that the bell to announce finished dishes
sometimes provides unexpected punctuation.
Danoff's shows have been such friendly affairs that
one night it seemed at least half the crowd (including the owners of a
Rockville club) was in the music business one way or another. By the end of
the evening he had a mini-hootenanny going, with songwriters Doris Justis
and Carey Creed, Mack Bailey (the "official" special guest), steel guitar
star Danny Pendleton and Hard Traveler Kenn Roberts all crowded around the
mikes singing "Country Roads."
Danoff's own self-deprecating humor is part of the
fun; he admits to harboring more affection for the songs that have made him
money—"Roads," "Afternoon Delight" and "Potter's Wheel"—and dropping them
into the shows allows fans with even the most limited radio knowledge of
Danoff's career to hook in. (Other grades of familiarity include those who
know Danoff as co-author with Emmylou Harris of the first cut off her first
album, "Boulder to Birmingham"; and those who know the words to everything
he sings, and sing along.)
The acoustics are surprisingly good for a
stucco shoebox (thanks to the soundman), but to be frank, that's less
important than the kitchen-table atmosphere.
The Starland Cafe, at 5125 MacArthur Blvd.
NW, is open seven days a week; call 202/244-9396.