Sandy Denny: British folk-rock pioneer’s short, influential life

​There’s a good chance you’ve heard her voice.

It’s on one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. Somewhere between 30 and 40 million copies of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album have been sold, and that’s Sandy Denny singing with Robert Plant on “Battle of Evermore.”

Maybe you’ve just heard a song she wrote. “Who Know Where the Time Goes” is one of the most covered songs of the past 50 years. One website has compiled a list of more than 85 of them. The first, released even before Denny’s own, appeared as the B-side of Judy Collins’ 1968 hit version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny was born Jan. 6, 1947, in southwest London. She would go on to become a leading light in the British folk-rock boom of the late 1960s as part of the band Fairport Convention.

At first, Fairport seemed like a competent British take on the music coming out of San Francisco in 1967. Denny joined the band before its 1969 sophomore album “What We Did On Our Holidays,” which took a distinct turn toward folk with electrified takes on traditional songs such as “Nottamun Town” and “She Moves Through the Fair.” Denny’s own original, “Fotheringay,” based on the sad tale of Mary, Queen of Scots, displayed her songwriting prowess.

At the end of 1969, Fairport released “Liege & Leaf.” Dominated by traditional tunes, totally reimagined, and Denny’s dusky ache of a voice, it set the standard and defined the British folk rock genre.

It was also the last thing Denny would record with the band.

She started a band called Fotheringay, releasing one album with them, and then began her solo career. It started with a lot of promise, and two very good albums. There are moments of brilliance on the third, but by the time of her final album, “Rendezvous,” it all seemed uninspired. As Rolling Stone would later say of that effort, “casting her as a pop singer didn’t quite work.”

Less than a year after “Rendezvous” was released, Denny died on April 21, 1978, from complications after a fall down a flight of stairs. She was 31 years old, and left behind a 9-month-old daughter.

She left behind a remarkable recorded legacy, too, one that changed the course of a particular corner of popular music forever.