April 12th, 2024

John Denver’s music in the spotlight at the Yates

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on October 4, 2023.

Rick Worrall returns to Lethbridge on Oct. 6 for a performance at the Yates Centre paying homage to the late great John Denver. Submitted photo

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Rick Worrall remembers touring the province performing on a bill with Jensen Interceptor and hitting the stage at Lethbridge College.

The veteran musician, who started his career in 1976, returns to Lethbridge on Oct. 6 for a performance at the Yates Centre which pays homage to the late great John Denver.

The producer and lead singer of “Rocky Mountain High – Celebrating the Music of John Denver” created a production in 2018 that premiered in Kelowna, B.C. where Worrall lives.

While the original show is a full-blown symphony production, Worrall modified it for theatres with fewer than 1,000 seats. On stage will be a total of 14 musicians who will give audiences a look at the legacy of one of the original country pop crossover artists.

Worrall, in a recent phone interview, said the production was the result of work he did with Denver’s original arranger and conductor Lee Holdridge. The two have been reconstructing Denver’s symphony scores which were destroyed by his management company when the singer died Oct. 12 1997 at the age of 53 while flying a recently purchased airplane.

Worrall first saw Denver in concert at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1975.

Worrall still works with Holdridge – “we’re kind of attached at the hip,” he said in a recent phone interview.

The collaboration came about several years ago when Worrall filled for an Elton John tribute in Kelowna. His daughter worked with the Kelowna symphony and asked him how many John songs he knew and he ended up doing a couple of nights. He loved hearing the whole symphony production, said Worrall who has released albums and toured for years.

That first opportunity inspired him to create a symphony production of his own. He was always a fan of John Denver – “I cut my teeth on his music back in the Seventies when I was first starting,” he said.

A fan of reading liner notes, Worrall got to know Holdridge’s name because Denver would mention it in concerts and talk about his musical genius.

“I love his music and I love his melodies. It really lends itself to symphony so I went looking for the symphony charts only I couldn’t find any. There was none around and of course remembering Lee Holdridge’s name I wondered if he’s still around so I Googled him and he’s still very active in L.A.,” said Worrall.

Worrall contacted Holdridge who has conducted for the biggest names in music and an hour after sending him an email, got a response back to call him to talk.

Worrall then learned about the destruction of the charts – about a thousand in total – but Holdridge had kept all of his hand-written conductor scores. The two then started working together in 2017, the first sent to Worrall being “Annie’s Song’ which took him a couple of months to transcribe.

After about 50 songs were done, the two decided to do a show and the first premiered in March of 2018 with the Okanagan symphony with Holdridge conducting. It was a hit with three sold-out shows.

“This is a celebration of John’s music. It’s not a dress up like John, try to look like John. My voice and my brother’s voice – he also does some singing in the show – it’s similar in timbre,” he said.

“It gives people permission to let go. They’re not there to judge or critique” the performers’ looks or sounds, he says.

“It’s really to celebrate the legacy of the music that John left us,” said Worrall.

The show has toured major centres across Canada including Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton.

“What we found is we were missing a lot of the smaller venues in the smaller centres so we developed a show – we couldn’t really take a full symphony,” said Worrall, noting Lethbridge has a wonderful symphony but the cost of employing one gets cost prohibitive in a smaller centre.

“So we developed a show that was designed for smaller venues and it still boasts 14 of us on stage” with nine core members and an ensemble of strings, horns and flute.

Worrall said a lot of radio stations don’t play a lot of Denver’s material anymore.

“What’s really cool about is there have been new artists that have done his material like Carly Rae Jepsen did “Sunshine on My Shoulders’ and Chantal Kreviazuk “had a huge hit with ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane.'”

Worrall calls Denver “the real deal.” He was the top selling artist worldwide for three years in the 1970s.

“He loved music, he loved people.”

Showtime Friday is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $66 for adults and $61 for seniors. Five dollars from each ticket goes to fire relief efforts in the Okanagan and Shushwap.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter

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