Tom Becker knows a thing or two about sunshine on his shoulders. He lives in Florida for most of the year, so he regularly soaks up rays and enjoys warmer weather. But Becker is also a professional musician who sings “Sunshine On My Shoulders” as part of a John Denver tribute show he’s been doing since 2009.
Becker performs “A Tribute to John Denver” Feb. 22-23 at the Woodstock Opera House. He will be joined on stage by a full backing band from Orlando which includes his wife, Michelle, on keyboards.
Becker, 57, was born in New Jersey, but spent part of his youth growing up in the Chicago suburbs, attending Benet Academy in Lisle. He is primarily self-taught on guitar, but took some voice training in Nashville. He has been playing music all his life and was a member of The New Christy Minstrels for several years in the late 1970s. Becker had always enjoyed and was influenced by the music of John Denver, but the idea of doing a tribute show was suggested to him.
“My wife and I perform music in a duo called Latitude, and I happened to be doing a song of mine, ‘Sailor,’ that I wrote in the ’70s and a man in the audience said it reminded him of John Denver and asked if I could sing one of Denver’s, so I did, then he asked if I’d ever thought of doing a John Denver tribute show.”
It turned out the man was a theatre director at a performing arts center in Port Charlotte, Fla. and promptly booked Becker for a show.
“The show sold out, and was so well-received, and I realized we were on to something,” Becker said.
Becker does not do an impersonation of Denver, but a tribute to Denver’s music and legacy.
“I feel more comfortable doing the show as myself, and include some of my original music in the show, to show his influence on me as a songwriter,” he said. “But I do incorporate some of his stories, I quote him a little bit, and talk about the environment and how it’s connected to his music. He once said that the Rocky Mountain high didn’t have to necessarily be experienced in the Rocky Mountains. He wanted us all to know that there are many special places in the outdoors, and places that need to be protected so they’re available for all of us.
“John Denver was the boy next door, wholesome, and it was a time in our country when we needed someone like that, with the Vietnam War, and a time when young men were going off to war. I think that’s why ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ [written by Denver] was such a big hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary.”
The tribute artist is looking forward to playing at the Woodstock Opera House. “I love playing in old, restored theatres, in a place with history, and the acoustics are always so great,” he said.