Sharing memories of John Denver
Ryan Summerlin October 11, 2013
If someone were to ask you if you’ve ever heard Jim Horn play music, most people would reply, “Who?”
But really, the answer should be, “Yes.”
In fact, it’s almost certain that you have, considering the list of hits and musicians he’s recorded with.
Horn is in Aspen as part of the John Denver Celebration. He’ll be performing from noon to 2 p.m. today on the fifth floor of the Mountain Chalet in Aspen, playing some of his music and sharing stories about Denver. Tickets are $50 for general admission.
He was part of Denver’s band for 18 years, longer than any other musician played with the iconic folk singer.
He’s also the most recorded woodwind player. Ever.
The opening flute solo on Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country”? That’s Horn. The woodwinds on “Up, Up and Away” and “The Age of Aquarius” by the Fifth Dimension? Again, that’s Horn. How about the horns on “Strangers in the Night,” by Frank Sinatra, or “Tears of a Clown,” by Smokey Robinson, or maybe the oboe solo on the Karen Carpenter hit “For All We Know”?
An impressive list, but it’s barely scratching the surface of acts Horn has played with.
He was part of the Mad Dogs & Englishman Band, backing Joe Cocker. He toured with George Harrison and was part of the 1972 Concert for Bangladesh. Horn recorded with The Rolling Stones, Elton John, the Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and all four Beatles on their solo projects.
He’s also performed with Garth Brooks, Billy Joel and Sting.
“I didn’t even realize how big some of those people were at the time,” Horn said. “I was just a teenager for a lot of that.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Horn was a senior in high school when a musician friend of his, Larry Knechtel, convinced him to go around town to some jam sessions he knew about. At those sessions, Horn met producer Phil Spector as well as the saxophonist for Duane Eddy, Steve Douglas.
By the way, Knechtel ended up winning a Grammy playing piano on Simon & Garfunkel’s hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Douglas was impressed with Horn’s playing ability and offered him his job in Eddy’s band. Horn dropped out of high school and went to New York to be on the Alan Freed show with Eddy. He returned to Los Angeles and became a sought-after studio horn player.
Horn met Denver in 1977 at RCA Studios while Horn was recording with Jose Feliciano. Denver asked Horn if he could add some horns to Denver’s music, which started their 18-year professional and personal relationship.
“John allowed me a lot of musical freedom,” Horn said. “I got along great with John from day one because we had a lot of fun playing together. He was a different guy, and I ended up hanging out a lot with him.”
Horn said they became the best of friends and spent many evenings eating and talking.
“There were a lot of times when he really needed somebody just to talk to,” Horn said. “Luckily, I was that guy. We talked intimately. Sometimes we laughed; sometimes we cried. We were best friends. I even flew with him in his biplane when nobody else would.”
Horn witnessed the change in Denver’s music when he went from love songs to songs with a message. He watched his friend suffer when people didn’t respond to his music like he envisioned.
“That didn’t stop him from recording what was on his mind,” Horn said. “I’m sure he would still be touring today if he was still with us.”
Horn has many John Denver stories, some of which he’ll share today during his performance at the Mountain Chalet.
“One night we were talking about Roy Orbison after he passed away,” Horn said. “I had recorded with the Traveling Wilburys, and John asked me if I thought the guys would let him replace Roy in the band. John loved the Beatles and really wanted to play music with George Harrison. I told him I’d ask, but I knew they wouldn’t go for it. John hung out with the country–folk people, and that was a very different crowd than the rockers. Luckily, John never asked me about it again because I would have hated to disappoint him.”
Horn also shared how the John Denver Celebration began.
“Right after he died, Annie Denver invited some people up to their home,” Horn said. “I had a few drinks with Mitch Machito Sanchez, John’s percussionist. We went outside and grabbed some pots and pans and started banging them together and singing John Denver songs. Annie heard us and said we should play John’s music every year in Aspen, and that’s when the celebration started.”
Horn’s memories in Aspen are strong and full of good times, and they’re about to get stronger. On Sunday, Horn is getting married in Aspen to Stephanie Newbern.
“We wanted a private ceremony with some close friends,” he said. “This is such a beautiful place and the perfect place to marry the one you love.”
Horn would enjoy seeing all of Denver’s old bandmates come back to Aspen in the future and play his music again.
“John’s music will stand forever,” Horn said. “He had that great voice and great messages. I think John would be amazed and grateful that he’s still so popular today.”