“This old guitar gave me my life, my living
All the things you know I love to do
To serenade the stars that shine
From a sunny mountainside
And most of all to sing my songs for you
I love to sing my songs for you
Yes, I do, you know
I love to sing my songs for you…”
— John Denver, This Old Guitar
This Old Guitar: A gift from his grandma…
John Denver wrote this song about a 1910 Gibson “F-hole” acoustic jazz guitar which his grandmother gave him when he was 12 years old. This was the same guitar she used to play. It became Denver’s prized possession, as he learned to love music playing the instrument.
Denver would often talk about the guitar in concert appearances and interviews, as it was such an important part of his development. He was living in Tucson, Arizona when he got the guitar, as his father, who was in the Air Force, was stationed there.
Denver was a shy kid and was forced to move around a lot because his dad was in the military. He spent a lot of time listening to the radio and playing the guitar, learning to write songs along the way. When he was 13, his music teacher asked him to bring the guitar into class, which he did. After playing some songs for the class, he became much more accepted at the school.
John Denver died on October 12, 1997, and his body was cremated along with this same guitar. The remains were spread over the Rocky Mountains.
The story behind the song
“This Old Guitar,” tells the story of the 1910 Gibson guitar that belonged to Denver’s grandmother as a young girl. From a 1974 Denver TV special, the singer explains that his grandmother gave him the vintage instrument when he was about 12. Also, he recalls getting hit over the head with the guitar at a lumber camp in Washington.
“The fellow was not a Hank Williams fan at all,” he says with a laugh.
Having once lost the guitar and fearing he’d never get it back, Denver recalls how thrilled he was to have been reunited with the instrument a few years earlier. The reunion, he notes, is what inspired the song. After Denver’s death, his family donated the guitar for use in an exhibit honoring the entertainer at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
The first verse is typical of the sort of simple sentimental Americana that Denver was so good at:
This old guitar taught me to sing a love song
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days
It helped me make it through some lonely nights
Oh, what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night
Watch John Denver sing “This Old Guitar.”