Denver wrote this song with his friends Bill and Taffy Danoff, who were married at the time (Taffy later became Taffy Nivert). Denver was in Washington, DC to perform with the Danoffs, and after the show they went back to the couple's home where they played him what they had of this song (John almost didn't make it - he got in a car accident on the way over and was taken to a hospital for a thumb injury). Denver helped them complete the song, and the next night they sang it together on stage. Denver knew he had a hit song on his hands, and brought the Danoffs to New York where they recorded the song together - you can hear Bill and Taffy on background vocals.
The Country Roads in this song are in West Virginia, but Denver had never even been to West Virginia. Bill and Taffy Danoff started writing the song while driving to Maryland - they'd never been to West Virginia either! Danoff got his inspiration from postcards sent to him by a friend who DID live there, and from listening to the powerful AM station WWVA out of Wheeling, West Virginia, which he picked up in Massachusetts when he was growing up. Danoff told NPR in 2011: "I just thought the idea that I was hearing something so exotic to me from someplace as far away. West Virginia might as well have been in Europe, for all I knew."
The Danoffs were hoping to get Johnny Cash to record this song when they wrote it. They almost didn't play it for Denver because they didn't think it fit his style.
The Danoffs were in a band called Fat City at the time they wrote this. They later formed the Starland Vocal Band, who had a big hit with "Afternoon Delight
" in 1977. There was some speculation that Denver somehow screwed the Danoffs when he became famous and they remained in obscurity, but the couple always defended Denver in interviews, pointing out that he brought Fat City on tour and helped them get a record deal with his RCA/Windsong Records. Denver also recorded several other songs Bill Danoff wrote.
The Shenandoah River is in West Virginia, running right through Harper's Ferry into the Potomac. The Blue Ridge Mountain Ranges run in a strip from northeast West Virginia to its southwest across the eastern part of the state. Clopper Road originates in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It was a single lane road, but is now a busy 4 lane road that heads to Germantown, Maryland. No country road anymore... not even close! It is attainable by exiting off of I-270 at Exit 10.
This was released as a single in the spring of 1971. It broke nationally in mid-April, but moved up the charts very slowly, as Denver was a little-known singer. To this point, Denver's biggest success was writing "Leaving On A Jet Plane
," which he performed as a member of The Chad Mitchell Trio but was a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary in 1969. Denver pushed RCA records to keep promoting "Take Me Home Country Roads," and their persistence paid off when it became a huge hit that summer. It was Denver's first hit, and the first of 13 US Top-40 hits he scored in the '70s.
Denver charted earlier in 1971 with "Friends With You" at #47, but "Country Roads" established him as a crossover artist with appeal to Pop, Country and Easy Listening audiences. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Clopper Road is still there. It is a four lane road from Qince Orchard Boulevard to just past Rt. 118 where it returns to a two lane road. The end of Clopper Road is in a town called Boyds. From Rt. 118 to the end, the road is much like it was in 1969 through the mid-1980's. In 1969, it really did seem idyllic in a way. Other than the farms and a few houses, there was nothing between Gaithersburg and Boyds other than the few stores and a few businesses in Germantown, and a gas station/country store at the corner of Clopper Road and Rt. 118. Today, the road is built up from Quince Orchard Road to Seneca Creek, but the last mile or two is like it was back then. The concrete batch plant has been gone for a number of years, the old B&O railroad flag stop is now a MARC commuter rail stop for Boyds, but the rest of Clopper Road has been sold to housing developments. The trip from Rt. 118 to Boyds and to Dickerson beyond is still one of the nicest and peaceful drives in the Metropolitan area. (thanks, Kenneth - New Market, MD)