Gary James' Interview With
John Denver Tribute Artist
Wayne Denton, based in England, is helping keep the music and memory of John Denver alive with his show A Celebration Of John Denver. When he's not on stage playing tribute to John Denver, he's running Wayne Denton Associates, an entertainment agency.
Q - Wayne, how long have you been doing A Celebration Of John Denver?
A - I've probably been doing that 'round about ten years now.
Q - Were you in a band before that?
A - No. I just used to be a vocalist myself. I got through the finals of a talent show here in the United Kingdom in 1986 called New Faces, which is a little bit like X Factor now. After that I toured with celebrity people over here as their support act in theatres. Then I went on to doing cruise ships. This was all as myself because the actual tribute market in the United Kingdom didn't hit until the '90s. It was a program on television that launched called the Stars In Your Eyes. Then everybody decided they wanted to take somebody off. For me, I carried on all through the night as myself, but then decided to launch early into the year 2000 with this Celebration Of John Denver because I'd always been into John Denver music. I played guitar quite well so I knew I'd be able to look like him by putting a blond wig on and glasses, which kind of hides off your face anyway. (laughs) I basically put the show together and launched it on the U.K. theatre circuit. That's what I did.
Q - Did you ever consider paying tribute to anyone other than John Denver?
A - Well, when I did the TV show and there were judges on this New Faces at that time even though there was no tribute, one of the judges said I sounded like Neil Diamond, but I never did anything about that until basically the last two or three years when I've also put a Celebration Of Neil Diamond together.
Q - How popular was John Denver in England?
A - He was very popular. He would sell out easily Wembley and some of the big theatres over here within 24 to 48 hours. So, he was very popular.
Q - Did you ever see him in concert?
A - I saw him on a few occasions, but I never got to meet him. I wrote a couple of songs and tried to send copies to all the stage doors of the theatres when he did one tour to see if he'd be interested in these couple of songs I'd written. I got a real nice letter back about six months later saying he thought the songs were great, but they concentrated more on their own songwriters writing songs for him.
Q - That letter must've come from his management people then.
A - Yes.
Q - Do you know I rarely hear a John Denver record on the radio and I don't know why that is.
A - Well, it's really strange because when I tour we did a great show last week in Wolverhampton, a John Denver show and the theatre was nearly sold out. One of the great things is, when you talk about John Denver, because even though I dress like him and we run it just like a John Denver concert; I've got my own band. We use AV screens and we tell a story through that and when I talk about John Denver he was more than "Country Roads" and "Annie's Song" and "Leavin' On A Jet Plane". He wrote some fantastic songs. Absolutely breath-taking songs that I'm trying to introduce over here in my act and everybody loves 'em. But when I talk about John Denver everybody comes back afterwards and says "You know we've got a John Denver album somewhere in our loft or in our attic." Everybody, when he was big, would buy a John Denver record. I always say on stage, "Nobody, including myself, could ever replace John Denver, but I'm keeping his music alive," and I get a big round of applause for that. His music should be kept alive.
Q - I guess that's why you consider John Denver one of the greatest songwriters ever?
A - I didn't realize this until a couple of years ago, but with the compilations, John Denver released more than 50 albums. You can check that on the internet. It's somewhere near that. That's an amazing amount of albums to release.
Q - He must've been in the studio all the time!
A - (laughs)
Q - Not to mention performing, acting in movies, giving interviews.
A - He was also a humanitarian. He did a lot for the Hunger Project. He was very involved with saving the whales. I think he must've had thirty-six hours in a day, whereas most of us get twenty-four.
Q - What is Wayne Denton Associates? Is that a booking agency for yourself?
A - Wayne Denton Associates is an agency. We find work for other acts. I might go out and see an act for instance and like an act. I've got a lot of contacts on the cruise lines 'cause I also take my show, A Celebration Of John Denver and A Celebration Of Neil Diamond, onto the cruise lines, so all over the world. So we spend a lot of time on those. Because of my relationship with the cruise ships, if anybody good comes along then I always put them forward and then we book 'em on and obviously our company earns a commission off that. So, Wayne Denton Associates is just sort of a sideline. We were bigger just a few years ago, but with the way the internet is now a lot people just Google people and book 'em direct, so the call for an agency like mine is dwindling. I've still got the connections on the ships. So there's a couple other tributes that do the ships through my office. We've got a Kenny Rogers tribute that does it for me and we've also got a Cliff Richard guy that does it for me. So they come through my office. I've got someone in the office that takes care of the contracts. I've tried very hard. I want to come over to the States. I know there's a couple other well known tributes to John Denver over there. I think there's lots of conventions 'round about the anniversary of John's death every year in Denver, Colorado and they always have a guest tribute act go, but it's normally an American. It's one of their own. So I've found it very difficult to break into that, into the States, even though I would put myself up against any of them, me and my band and our show.