When artists achieve worldwide success, oftentimes it can lead to disaster.
And when the success is not sustained or duplicated, the fall from spotlight can leave performers bitter, broken and angry.
As a member of the Starland Vocal Band, Taffy Nivert scored a No. 1 hit, “Afternoon Delight,” which earned the band two Grammys in 1977. She also co-wrote the John Denver smash, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
But although Nivert and the band never duplicated their early success, she is anything but bitter or angry about her career.
"I don’t regret a minute of anything,” she said. “I still have a sense of wonder that it all happened.”
Nivert recently sat down with Patch to discuss her career, what it’s like to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and why she chose to settle in Safety Harbor.
From Fat City to Country Roads
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Nivert was always involved in music, singing in church choirs, school glee clubs and anywhere else music was playing.
“I was always writing, always singing, always adding harmonies to songs I’d hear on the radio,” she said. “I thought it was my gift to the universe to be able to harmonize.”
Eventually she got noticed by a bartender at a popular club who knew of a band in search of a lead singer.
“I said sure, I have nothing to do this week,” she half-joked.
The audition led to collaboration with her future husband, Bill Danoff, and in August 1967 they formed the group Fat City.
Over the course of the next four years, they wrote more than 350 songs and developed a loyal following playing gigs all over town.
“Bill would play guitar, and I would write the words. We really worked great together as a collaborative team.”
Their popularity in the D.C. club scene led to an opening gig for an up-and-coming artist, John Denver.
When the singer visited their apartment between appearances and asked if they had any music to show him, the couple brought out a song they had written while heading to a family barbecue.
“During the summer of 1970 Bill and I were travelling to a family party in Maryland. I was driving and Bill was strumming his guitar and singing “country roads” over and over.”
The pair worked on the song for a while, changing the lyrics to include West Virginia instead of Maryland and adding a chorus.
When Denver heard it he immediately knew they had something special. They finished the song that evening and played it the next night; the rest, as they say, is history.
“The next night we did it as an encore, and we got a five-minute standing ovation,” Nivert said. “That was the beginning of our success.”
Sign up for the Safety Harbor email newsletter to get more of our local headlines and learn more about your community.
A ‘Delightful’ Trip to The Top of The Charts
While “Country Roads” got the group the clout to start doing bigger things, it was its next hit that made Nivert and the band worldwide sensations.
Ironically the inspiration for “Afternoon Delight”, a song known for sexual innuendos, came in the most unlikely of places.
“I was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery, and Bill went to lunch with a bandmate,” Nivert said. “He noticed the menu between lunch and dinner was called ‘afternoon delights,’ and a light bulb went off.”
The track became the initial song of the newly-formed Starland Vocal Band, and it would go on to become a worldwide sensation.
Not only did it help earn the group four Grammy nominations in 1977, including wins for Best New Artist and Best Vocal Arrangement, but it has since become of of the most recognized, imitated and criticized songs of the last century.
“The song was the right thing at the right time,” Nivert recalled. “It was the summer of 1976, the country’s bicentennial celebration, and it was just so different from everything else that was out there.”
In addition to topping the charts in July 1976, in 2010 "Afternoon Delight" was named the 20th sexiest song of all time by Billboard, and it has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows, including "Anchorman," "Good Will Hunting" and "The Simpsons."
“It’s become an animal with a life of its own. I have no explanation for it,” Nivert said.
Humble, Grateful and Not One Bit Bitter
Although the Starland Vocal Band went on to record four albums together, they never came close to repeating the success of “Afternoon Delight.”
Soon after their last album was released in 1980, the group disbanded, and Nivert and Danoff divorced not long after that.
“The song was huge but no one could remember the name of the group!” she joked.
Nivert finally left D.C. and moved to Safety Harbor two years ago to be closer to a lifelong friend, and it’s given her a chance to reflect on her career.
“I think it’s beautiful here. I’ve met some nice people, and I’m very comfortable here. I feel like I've been transported to an exotic land.”
She’s currently working on a memoir and says she will always have fond memories of her days as a pop music sensation.
“We didn’t sustain a career but we lived the average life span of any band - five years."
"But because we were a one-hit wonder, we got our name on the wall at the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame," she added. "If we had another hit, that would never have happened.”
Are you a Starland Vocal Band fan? Do you remember when "Afternoon Delight" topped the charts? Share your memories in the comments below.