Some songs just got it. Some can simply galvanize in the matter of a few beats or words. Some tunes engender such goodwill and joy that they immediately become anthems of the people. And John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” is one of those songs. It hooks and reels before you even know what’s hit ya. Denver’s puffy cloud voice and sunshine eyes have you.
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Released in 1974 on the LP Back Home Again, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” was originally written by John Martin Sommers for Denver (born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.). But it was when a live version was included on Denver’s 1975 concert album, An Evening With John Denver, that the song got its full recognition. That’s when it hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts.
It got so big, Denver would later host a variety show of the same name in 1977.
Sommers, who was a multi-instrumentalist, a guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin player, performed in Denver’s backing band. As legend has it, Sommers wrote the song on Denver’s 30th birthday—which is also New Year’s Eve—on December 31, 1973, while he was driving from his home in Aspen, Colorado to Los Angeles.
Sommers probably felt a bit of glee he was only visiting La-La land. In a pleasant mood, feeling peaceful, Sommers said he wrote about what he loved about home. What he loved about where he grew up. Thus, the simple pleasures of life came to his pen.
Since then, the song has been covered by a number of artists, including the great Dolly Parton, and it has been featured in television shows, movies and commercials. And for good reason. It’s as thick as molasses on a hot August day. In the live version, as the audience clap begins, Denver’s voice slices in as he begins to sing of life on the farm.
More claps, the audience loves it. Denver continues, reciting beloved aspects of the country—things Sommers recalled while musing about his homeland. Denver sings of pancakes on the griddle, the singing fiddle, his family, the sprawling country. What a joyous yarn he spins with his guitar.
Denver continues, as the crowd laps it up live, with lyrics like:
Well I got me a fine wife I got me an ol’ fiddle
When the sun’s comin’ up I got cakes on the griddle
And life ain’t nothin’ but a funny funny riddle
Thank God I’m a country boy
When the work’s all done and the sun’s settlin’ low
I pull out my fiddle and I rosin up the bow
The kids are asleep so I keep it kinda low
Thank God I’m a country boy
Denver, who was born on New Year’s Eve in 1943 and who died at 53 years old in 1997, was known as one of the country’s best entertainers during his lifetime. He was unassuming-looking, yet with his bright flash bulb of a voice and with songs like this, he shined. He was also known for more than music. He acted in television shows and movies, including alongside famed actor George Burns in the 1977 film Oh, God!.
A Jack of all trades, Denver’s light burned bright, and then it was sadly snuffed out in an airplane crash. But it was Denver’s knack for connecting with any- and everyone through his brand of midwestern Americana charm that had him stand out like a snow-capped peak in the otherwise level horizon.