American singer-songwriter John Denver paid tribute to his most prized possession in his 1974 song “This Old Guitar.”
Denver wrote the song about his 1910 Gibson acoustic jazz guitar, which his grandmother gave to him when he was only twelve years old. This was the same guitar his grandmother used to play as a young girl.
The vintage instrument then played an essential part in Denver’s development.
“This old guitar taught me to sing a love song. It showed me how to laugh and how to cry. It introduced me to some friends of mine and brightened up some days and helped me make it thru some lonely nights. Oh, what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night,” the song goes.
The Inspiration Behind The Song
John Denver grew up to be a shy kid. In his 1994 autobiography, Take Me Home, he described his life being the eldest son of a family molded by a forbidding father who couldn’t show affection for his children. And since his father was in the U.S. Air Force, Denver’s family was forced to move around a lot.
Always being the new kid in class has caused trouble to the introverted Denver. He grew up always feeling as if he should be in one place or another but does not know where exactly he should be. He finds solace in listening to the radio, playing the guitar, and along the way, learning how to write songs.
Things changed for Denver when he was thirteen, and his music teacher asked him to bring a guitar into class. Denver did and even happily played some songs. Since then, Denver became much more well-received at the school.
Denver would talk about his old guitar time and again in concert appearances and interviews. For instance, in one of Denver’s TV specials in 1974, the singer recalled being hit over in the head with the guitar at one lumber camp in Washington. “The fellow was not a Hank Williams fan at all,” Denver laughingly said.
Denver has also lost the guitar once in his life, and the singer feared he would never get it back. Luckily, he was reunited with the instrument a few years earlier, and you could imagine how thrilled he was. The reunion, Denver said, is what inspired him to write “This Old Guitar.”
Sadly, Denver was killed when the small, experimental Rutan Long-EZ plane he was flying crashed off Monterey Bay near Pacific Grove, California, in 1997. Many fans believed Denver’s old guitar was laid to rest with the singer after his untimely death, but it actually has been safely stored the whole time.
Denver’s family especially hand-picked the guitar and donated it to be used in an exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, to honor the singer.
You can listen to the song in the video below.