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'Country Boy'

Performer Tom Becker celebrates legacy of John Denver

Although singer-songwriter John Denver was often lampooned for his earnest "Far Out!" persona and his long-term residency in the middle of the musical road, there's little argument that his acoustic-based tunes -- including "Rocky Mountain High," "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" -- continue to resonate with listeners decades after his heyday.

Growing up in suburban Chicago, Tom Becker said he began playing the guitar in high school due to Denver's influence, and was drawn to perform in the friendly folk-pop style of Denver, who before his untimely death in 1997 had added film, television, environmental and humanitarian activism, poetry and photography to his legendary list of award-winning achievements.

Becker will celebrate that musical legacy with his show "Back Home Again -- A Tribute To John Denver" at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9 on the downtown Square in Covington. The free concert is part of the Second Friday Downtown Concert Series, hosted by Main Street Covington and the Arts Association in Newton County.

If You Go

What: John Denver Tribute Concert, performed by Tom Becker and his band

When: Friday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.

Where: On the Square in Covington

Cost: Free; presented by the Arts Association in Newton County and Main Street Covington

"I always liked what John did," said Becker during a recent interview from his home in Pawley's Island, S.C. "What appealed to me was that it was acoustic-based and was something a kid in high school could pick up a guitar and play something he heard on the radio. It's hard to re-create the sound Pink Floyd has when you're playing by yourself. John Denver broke it down into simple terms."

Creating "Back Home Again" nearly three years ago, Becker and his band -- which includes his wife Michelle, who plays keyboards and sings -- will enjoy a personal highlight not long after their Covington date, performing Denver's songs with the Long Bay Symphony as part of the city of Conway, S.C.'s, Sept. 11 commemoration.

"That will be our first concert with an orchestra," Becker said of the Myrtle Beach-based Long Bay Symphony. "If that works out well, that could open up a lot of new doors for us, to go to cities and play with orchestras. John's music lends itself well to orchestration."

Becker's professional odyssey includes a three-year stint with the iconic New Christy Minstrels (albeit some 20 years after their initial success), a Nashville residency where he wrote songs and rubbed elbows with Gregg Allman, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles, and time spent performing in the ski resorts of Colorado.

He and Michelle also perform in the duo Lattitude, which has earned a host of Trop Rock Music awards in Key West, Fla. Their Denver tribute features two 45-minute sets, including all of the hits and a few added bonuses.

"I thought it would be cool to do a tribute to John, but I wasn't into doing an impersonation show," he said. "I didn't want to put the glasses on and put on the wig. I wanted to be true to his music and not be so much of a caricature.

"In the show, I tell stories about some of the songs, but it's not bogged down with a lot of facts. And I do some songs from the New Christy Minstrels, and we do a song I wrote, 'Sailor,' which in 1987 was used to raise money for the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington D.C."

Becker, who said his favorite Denver tune is "Rocky Mountain Suite (Cold Nights in Canada"), added that he's still enthused about performing music that was part of many Americans' personal 1970s soundtrack.

"I haven't gotten tired of it yet with this show," he said. "But as they say, the sign of a good performer is when he can sing his hit song like he's doing it for the first time.

"Brenda Lee once gave some good advice when she said if you ever get to make a record and it's a hit, learn to love it. I haven't gotten tired of singing any of these songs, which is great."

Of course, Becker is more than willing to oblige any audience who might feel to urge to join in.

"It's amazing to hear a crowd sing along," he said. "One time, my wife and I were in Switzerland and we went to this authentic 'oom-pah' bar to hear some oom-pah music and they're in there singing 'Country Roads, Take Me Home.'

"The audience can look forward to hearing their favorites and some of the most popular songs John had and if they feel like singing along, please do. And John had a good sense of humor and there are a couple of songs that have a humorous twist -- it's not all serious ballads and preaching about the environment."