Hidden Gems has become an opportunity to look into the inspirations that drive the artists I love around here, but it’s also revealed several layers to those I’d thought I had pegged. Case in point, for all his catalog leanings and past permutations I’d have figured that Matthew Melton would turn in an uncharted power pop gem, or given his latest direction in Dream Machine, perhaps a proto-metal nugget from beyond the grave. However, Melton went deep into the past to unearth some of his first musical inspirations with a look at John Denver’s under-celebrated 1973 album Farewell Andromeda. I asked Matthew how this album came into his life and how it’s affected his work.
Matthew explains his love for Denver goes way back. “For me, he says, “the artist I think of as a hidden gem would be John Denver and his early material. I went to elementary school in Memphis at a unique school called Campus School that was located on the University of Memphis campus where they let students practice teaching on the students. The head music teacher there, Susan Van Dyke, taught me how to play guitar and sing and started me out as a child singer and performer in operas including Carmen and Tosca. She was friends with John Denver and was obsessed with his music and later got me a place in his children’s backup choir for a tour he was doing. She had me learn most of John Denver’s discography on guitar and vocals, I remember that as where I initially got the inspiration for the idea of being a songwriter.”
Melton points to Farewell Andromeda as the album that truly struck a chord in him, especially the lonesome deep cut “We Don’t Live Here No More.” “He really is one of those artists that people have an idea of in their head but have never really explored his catalog at all,” Matthew says, “and the guy really pours himself in to the music. That’s what I admire about it – the sincerity of it. Plus he’s such a mysterious guy with how he vanished while flying his plane and everything.”
As for how Denver has affected him he notes, “The other songs I had to learn were almost all in the same category of 70’s AM radio hits and the song formats of that era still resonate with me today. I think he is largely overlooked and to this day I’m fascinated with the sincerity and simplicity of John Denver and his early records. It is such a cool experience to look back on getting to hang out with and perform with him as a kid!”
The album charted decently at the time, with a trio of singles that kept it on the radio for some time around release. In subsequent years, as Melton notes, Denver’s become more of a caricature of the ’70s folk singer, but there’s plenty to love in his deep catalog. I suppose I’d have to thank The Muppets for more of my own introduction to JD. The record itself is widely available on CD, but as with the bulk of ’70s AM fare, it’s pretty easy to come by an LP copy on the cheap If you were so inclined. If you’re looking for an entry point to his catalog, you could do well to start here on Melton’s recommendation. As for Melton himself, if you haven’t caught up with either the final Warm Soda LP or the excellent new Dream Machine, then get familiar soon!
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.