Mack and John Denver:
The following is a transcript of Mack reminiscing about his experiences with John Denver:
I literally learned to play the guitar learning John’s songs. I was never a fan in the sense of learning all about him, or anything like that, but I just learned all his music. And I really respected him as somebody that I could learn from. I spent a lot of time trying to have the opportunity to meet him.
There was one time in New Hampshire I was working at a resort hotel and he came to do a concert up there, which was kind of surprising. It was a small place, with the concert on one tennis court and they had a stage set up. So you can imagine that’s just how many people were there. And I had gotten really good seats and I had put together a package – a cassette tape of some of my songs and a letter. It was a great show and he had just started working with James Burton and those guys and at one point, he started introducing everybody on stage and he mentions Barney Wyckoff, who’s his stage manager at the time. So, as soon as the show was over, I ran up to the limo behind the stage and I opened the door, and I threw my package in and said, “Barney said ‘make sure John gets this.’” And then I shut the door and I ran.
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I get this little note from “John Denver Music” and it said, “we listened to your tape and didn’t find anything we could use and don’t ever do that again.” So that was pretty close.
But then, on September 20, 1997, that changed. A group I work with, The Hard Travelers, does benefit concerts for Cystic Fibrosis every year, and we are the opening act to big-named country stars. For the 10th anniversary, we were able to get John. We had talked to John and we’d tried many times to put the show together but it just never worked with his schedule, but this was going to work. So, at the 7th inning stretch of every Baltimore Orioles baseball game, they play “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”
So that day began with us going to the Baltimore Orioles game and we were in the Governor’s box and this was going to be the first time that I met John. So, I walked in and saw him standing over there and I was really nervous. BUT, I knew one thing for certain and it was kind of comforting. I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to say something very stupid. I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be. So, with that confidence, I decided what I would do is turn the tables to my advantage. I waited until he took a bite of something and then walked up and said, “John, my name is Mack Bailey, and I just wanted to thank you for teaching me how to sing a song. And I’ll be in the band tonight.” And I turned around to walk away.
He said, “Wait a minute. Mack Bailey. Didn’t you record “Potter’s Wheel” before I did?” And swelling with pride, I said, “Why, yes. I did.” And, so we talked for a little bit and it was really very cool. And then he went down for the 7th inning stretch and mouthed the words to “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”
Then, we went on up to sound check. We had asked him if he would sing, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” because we have a great fiddler in our band, and he agreed. So, we get to sound-check and he said, “I’m going to save my voice for later on.” He looked at one of the guys in our band and said, “Kenn, you sing the verses during sound-check and I’ll do them during the show.” Kenn said, “I don’t know them, but Mack does.” So, he said, “OK, Mack. You do them for sound-check and I’ll do them in the show.”
I was thinking, “you know what? I could care less if this show’s tonight or not. This is what it’s all about. This is like my full circle - right here.” So, I sang my butt off during sound-check and when it was over, he came over and said to me, “You know, why don’t you and I just trade verses on this thing.” So, during the show, we actually traded verses and it was quite a thrill.
And then, of course, two weeks later, we get hit with the tragic news. So, now we get some of his former band members together and we do a tribute show in Aspen every year. It’s a wonderful emotional tribute. It’s not sappy or schmaltzy at all; it’s just a nice tribute by his friends and people who had a chance to make some music with him. And it’s so touching that people come from all over the world and there were a lot of tributes. It’s a great weekend tribute to a wonderful man.