As first seen in Graffiti magazine
Taffy Nivert Danoff is one of the co-writers of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — the official fight song of the WVU Mountaineers. It’s been played at every home game since 1972. Taffy was a co-collaborator on many other songs that the late John Denver performed, including “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado.” Taffy also was a member of Starland Vocal Express, with their hit, “Afternoon Delight.” For more info, check out www.myspace.com/fatcitybilltaffy.
Graffiti: There are lots of versions of how “Take Me Home, Country Roads” got written … what’s the real story?
Danoff: The song began on Clopper Road in Gaithersburg, Md., summer 1970, on the way to a reunion of my mom’s family. Bill started singing “country roads, country roads, country roads.” We had a fan that lived in a commune in West Virginia. As songwriters, we were hard pressed to come up with a phrase that rhymed with “Maryland” and so poetic license took its natural course.
Fat City (Bill and I) opened for John Denver (God rest his soul) at the Cellar Door the last week of December 1970. In the middle of the week, John and Annie and Kris O’Connor and his wife Bonnie came over to our apartment after the gig. There was a car accident in Georgetown en route. John broke his thumb.
After visiting the ER, they showed up about 2 a.m. No one could sleep. John liked our songwriting and wanted to hear more. I suggested to Bill we show him “Country Roads.” He said we should finish it right then. I was the one writing the lyrics down. I lobbied heavily to include the word rhododendron, West Virginia’s state flower, but was rejected by the boys who said it was too “flowery.”
We decided to perform it the next night at the Cellar Door. I held the lyric sheet. Bill was looking over my shoulder at them. John’s thumb was sticking straight up with a cast on it. Long applause. I think we’ve met most of the audience from that night in the years since.
Graffiti: At the time you wrote the song, you had never been to West Virginia? Do you go there now?
Danoff: Oh, yes, of course! West Virginia is a beautiful short drive from both our homes. It’s everything we said it is.
Graffiti: The song changed John Denver’s career — what did it do for yours?
Danoff: To quote the Cindy Lauper song — money changes everything. We paid off a $1,500 grocery bill we had run up at Sol and Helen Butt’s mom and pop grocery store in our neighborhood. They believed in us and kept us nourished. Sol dropped the check to see if it would bounce. We moved out of the last remaining slum in Georgetown, D.C. We toured small clubs all over the country as John’s opening act. We would perform, then come out at the end of John’s set and sing “CR” with him. It was a great couple of years in all our lives.
Graffiti: There’s a missing little risquÎ verse to the song. Has anybody talked about performing it publicly?
Danoff: Bill or I perform it sometimes just for fun and the story behind it. Understand that it was the peak of the hippie era. We thought it was so cool and edgy at the time. John declared it would never get on the radio. We caved and rewrote the verse.
IN THE FOOTHILLS, HIDING FROM THE CLOUDS
PINK AND PURPLE, WEST VIRGINIA FARMHOUSE
NAKED LADIES, MEN WHO LOOK LIKE CHRIST
AND A DOG NAMED PANCHO, NIBBLING ON THE RICE.
John was right.
Graffiti: Lots of people don’t make the connection between you and Starland Vocal Band. It’s very different from folk. Tell me about those days.
Danoff: “Those days,” middle 1970s, were the days past popular folk. The music was evolving. Days of heavy metal sliding into disco. Bill wrote “Afternoon Delight” in 1974. We had not been successful as performers. We knew our limitations. The idea came to record “Afternoon Delight” with great singers. We knew Jon Carroll and Margot Kunkel from the DC music scene. We went to New York to record the single and named the group during the sessions.
Graffiti: Where in the world have you toured/played?
Danoff: Big and small cities and towns all over the U.S.A., Canada, England, St. Croix. Bill and Taffy were second banana on a series of six variety shows on BBC in London in 1973 with John. Fat City/Bill and Taffy have been opening act to John Denver, Tom Rush, Cat Stevens, John Prine, Moody Blues, Roger Miller, Argent, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Roy Acuff, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Sea Train, Cold Blood, Barbara Mandrell, George Carlin.
Graffiti: How did you get started in the music business?
Danoff: Singing along with my radio while doing my homework in high school. I gravitated to any harmony part, thinking I was making the record sound better. Whilst singing along with the jukebox at Clyde’s, a bar in Georgetown, the bartender Bruce Adams asked me if I wanted to join a singing group of a friend of his. I had a day job and nothing to do that week so I said yes. Scared to pieces but willing to try it. I sang loud and a little off-key, but loud and I got in the group that Bill and Jack Williams had started in their spare time.
Graffiti: Have you been in the music business constantly throughout the years?
Danoff: Hey, I got skills. I can type. I’ve had office jobs over and in between. I can type and organize and file and I give great office phone. One of the main reasons for going into show biz blind and untrained was to escape from 9 to 5. Anything but 9 to 5.