About the song

John Denver’s Whiskey Basin Blues. Now that’s a song that takes you on a journey, a journey nestled amidst the snowy expanse of Wyoming. Denver, a true champion of the American landscape, often weaved tales of nature’s beauty and the simple life into his music. Whiskey Basin Blues is no exception, but here, a melancholic undercurrent adds depth to the usual folksy charm.

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Released in 1973 on his album Farewell Andromeda, the song paints a vivid picture of a solitary winter in a Wyoming cabin. The protagonist, shrouded in a veil of secrecy, seeks refuge in the isolated Whiskey Basin. Denver’s signature gentle vocals set the scene – a drafty old cabin on a snow-covered night with not a hint of sunshine in sight. It’s a far cry from the sun-drenched meadows and mountain vistas that often graced his songs.

The location itself, Whiskey Basin, sparks the imagination. While the song doesn’t explicitly state it, the name hints at a place not unfamiliar with saloons and a touch of frontier roughness. Perhaps it’s a one-horse town, a place where whispers travel faster than the wind. This adds a layer of intrigue to the protagonist’s situation.

The lyrics offer glimpses into the reasons for his seclusion. There’s a lady back in Laramie, a significant detail that hangs heavy in the air. Laramie, a Wyoming city with a rich history, stands in stark contrast to the isolated cabin. Was there a broken heart, a falling out that drove him away? The song doesn’t provide answers, but the longing in Denver’s voice speaks volumes.

Whiskey Basin Blues isn’t just about a solitary winter, though. It’s a contemplation on choices and the weight of the past. The line “another shining light and a good man on the run” presents a fascinating contradiction. Is the light a beacon of hope, a reminder of a better life he left behind? Or is it a symbol of pursuit, someone relentlessly searching for him? The ambiguity keeps the listener engaged, piecing together the protagonist’s story.

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As the song progresses, the harmonica weaves a melancholic melody, further emphasizing the emotional weight of the situation. It’s a stark contrast to Denver’s usual optimistic sound, showcasing his versatility as a songwriter.

Whiskey Basin Blues is more than just a folk song; it’s a character study. It invites the listener into the protagonist’s world, a world of isolation, regret, and a yearning for something lost. It’s a testament to Denver’s storytelling ability, his capacity to capture the complexities of the human experience within the simple framework of a folk ballad.

So, sit back, close your eyes, and let Denver’s voice transport you to the snowy confines of the Whiskey Basin, a place where secrets hide and the blues linger in the crisp mountain air.

Video

Lyrics

“Whiskey Basin Blues”

On a snow covered night up in eastern Wyoming, another lazy day, looking for the sun.
In a drafty old cabin, outside of Whiskey Basin, another shining light and a good man on the run.
There’s a lady back in Laramie and a reason no one else can see
for him to spend the winter on his own.
Nothing much to do tomorrow, just a matter of survival.
Another friendly fight in a life chock full of fun.

It’s a special kind of medicine, all that you can do is win.
And though the taste is sweet, you can refuse.
Put your heart on the table, fill your cup with moonshine.
Another empty case of the Whiskey Basin Blues.