By Jim Bissett
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As Bill Danoff remembers, the concrete on the floor of the space they were using as a dressing room that day wasn’t entirely dry.
No matter. The trio, which included Danoff, his then-wife, Taffy, and a smiling, shaggy-haired singer named John Denver ambled out anyway — and ushered in a new era of WVU football.
And when they hit the opening chords of “Country Roads” to dedicate Mountaineer Field on Sept. 6, 1980, it sounded like all 50,000 fans sang along.
More than 30 years (and countless performances) later, Danoff, the guy who wrote that ode to moonshine, mountain mamas and winding, Whitman-like lanes, still gets a charge out of it.
“I knew I had something,” Danoff said, of the song he’ll sing tonight at Bob Huggins’ annual Fish Fry fundraiser for cancer research and scholarships for students pursuing careers in coal mining.
Said tune is a guaranteed sing-along, and not just in the place that calls itself the Mountain State, Danoff said.
Last year, he performed the tune for Oktoberfest at the German ambassador’s house in Washington, D.C. The tune, as it turns out, is a jukebox favorite in Munich during the festival. “Don’t ask me why,” he said, chuckling. Jason Parsons is more than happy to offer an opinion why. “Country Roads” is about people and place, said Parsons, who is president of Remember the Miners, the outreach and advocacy group that is co-hosting tonight’s 6:30 p.m. event at the Hazel and J.W. Ruby Community Center, at Mylan Park.
And never mind that the song was originally about New England, then western Maryland, and that Danoff had Johnny Cash, not John Denver, in mind when he penned it.
“It just resonates,” Parsons said. “No matter where you are or where you’re from.”
Parsons, a Boone County native, is a former WVU student body president who helped organize Bill Clinton’s visit to campus in 2008, when he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House.
Danoff was part of the deal, too, as the former president’s opening act.
He and Clinton have been friends since the 1960s, when they were classmates at Georgetown University. Danoff came there from his native Springfield, Mass., to study Chinese language and culture.
Now 67, Danoff has been a District resident ever since, and today he stays in touch with Parsons, who is now a marketing consultant in Northern Virginia on top of heading the miners’ organization.
Come out tonight, he said, and you’ll hear a version like never before.
That’s because Danoff will sing, for the first time in public, the “lost” second verse of the song — the one that Denver gently suggested “he might want to take out” lest the thing not get played on the radio.
Brown rice and bold nudity may have been part of the original, Hippie-themed lyrical landscape, its writer said.
“John was worried about airplay,” he said.
Denver ’s review of the song — sans the worrisome verse — the first time Danoff played it through?
“He said, ‘Far out.’ But he said that for everything.”