one of his earliest memories: He's four years old, standing up on a box
in front of his father's big band, baton in hand, conducting. Though his
dad stood behind him, doing the real work, for Dan it was a foreshadowing
of what his life would be -- following in his father's footsteps to become
the leader of the band. "It was an amazing feeling," he declared decades
later during a series of discussions for these notes. "To be immersed
in music. It felt both very magical and powerful. And I was fearless."
fearlessness has led him far, as he developed into one of popular music's
most gifted and successful singer-songwriters. With an early genius
for both melody and harmony, a soulfully angelic singing voice, and
a natural gift for romantic expression, Dan Fogelberg has created songs
that have become so embedded in our collective consciousness that they
still resound with authentic magic and beauty years after they first
His story starts in Illinois. In Peoria, specifically, a little town that in the words of Charles Kurault, is in the middle of the state, in the middle of the country, in the middle of the world. Born the youngest of three sons, he was raised in a musical home. His father, Lawrence Fogelberg, was a "legitimate musician" as Dan refers to him, a bandleader who led the big bands long before Dan was born. His mother, Margaret Irvine, was born in Scotland and came to Illinois with her parents at the age of three. A gifted singer, she studied operatic singing throughout college, and it's she who Dan points to as the source of his innate vocal prowess.
Daniel Grayling Fogelberg was born in Peoria on August 13, 1951. His father taught music in local high schools and colleges, gave private lessons, and conducted school bands. Dan's early creativity surfaced in imaginative ways to avoid piano practice. " I used to fake injuries," he said proudly, "even taping up my finger and saying I jammed it playing baseball. But it wasn't a trick you could use a lot." Though he didn't like lessons, he loved the instrument itself, and would spend endless happy hours at the keys, sounding out the hits of the day.
In church, he loved the music but grew restless during the sermons. To keep him occupied, his folks provided pen and paper, thus fueling his love for drawing and painting that has extended throughout his life. He was a constructive kid quick to create his own fun -- At a cub scout jamboree where boys hurled baseballs at old records as a kind of carnival sport, he collected all the unbroken ones, a great bounty of old obscure fifties pop and college fight songs.
His maternal grandfather, a steelworker from Scotland who worked at a foundry in Peoria, gave him an old Hawaiian slide guitar. It had pictures of dancing hula girls engraved on it, as well as steel strings about a half-inch from the neck, tough for anyone, but nearly impossible for an eleven year old beginner. Yet he took to it naturally, forcing him to acquire a strong left hand as he taught himself chords from his Mel Bay guitar book.
In 1963, he heard the Beatles for the first time, triggering the realization that songs are written, they don't simply just exist. He started writing his own then, entirely in the Beatles' pervasive thrall, while also assimilating the rock and roll riffs of Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins, as well as the delicate melodic leads of George Harrison. He started performing by lip-synching with friends to Beatles records at a variety show before forming his first real band, the Clan, who played all Beatles songs at backyard parties and street dances. Their reign extended through Dan's junior year in high school, when the others fell away from music to get involved in the social matrix of school. While their connection with music diminished, his became more intense than ever, as did his need to express himself in other ways, from drawing and painting to acting.
By now the music that inspired him the most was the West Coast rock of bands such as the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield, as well as the contemporary folk of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. Having abandoned the matching black velour pullovers favored by the Clan, his attire now included moccasins, fringe and silver in the style of Neil Young. When he joined a new band, the Coachmen, he did so only on the condition that they abandon the Paul Revere & the Raiders outfits they still wore. He was a valuable asset to the group, bringing his repertoire of folk-rock to their mix of R & B and soul standards, as well as possessing a great ear, a miraculous voice, and like his father, an impressive versatility on a variety of instruments. "We would be doing 'Bluebird' by Stephen Stills," he remembered, "and I'd play 12-string for the whole song until the end and then launch into banjo. Pretty adventurous for kids from Illinois."
These were his river years, as he withdrew daily to a sacred spot between two ancient pines overlooking the Illinois River. "I was not feeling like a part of Peoria anymore. I was off in my own trip, deep inside myself. At the same time, I was terribly excited because I was discovering this whole person I never knew could exist, and this music and this creativity. It was an incredible awakening, the beginning of a great journey. And I knew the river was a conscious metaphor for my escape from Peoria. I was just waiting to leap on its back and ride it, down to St. Louis and New Orleans and out to the Gulf and on to the world." A Leo with Cancer rising, he understood even then the opposing astrological forces at work that left him feeling conflicted -- the extroverted entertainer who exists to perform, and the introverted artist who requires solitude.
After graduation, he felt he could have gone in many directions, and eventually decided to pursue acting at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Finding the college acting scene to be more political than theatrical, he switched majors to study art, with aspirations of becoming a serious painter.
Yet music kept calling, this time in the form of a kindred soul, musician Peter Berkow, who ran a little folk music club called The Red Herring. Berkow invited him to perform, and before long Fogelberg was a cherished part of the burgeoning coffee house scene. "I started meeting like-minded people, musicians who were bright and well read, and I realized that I was finally free of the provincialism of high school." He started playing his own songs, and the spirit of the scene shifted from politics to music: "The Red Herring went from being a hide-out for pinko leftists who were plotting the overthrow of the government to a really creative musical scene. And it started packing people in."
Anyone back then who heard the sophistication of his songs, and the power with which they were rendered, knew that it was only a matter of time before his break would come. That break arrived late one night when a former high school sweetheart knocked on his door, urgently awakening him from a sound sleep to say that an important music agent wanted to hear him play. Though half-asleep, Dan followed her to a frat party at a funky little bar to meet Irving Azoff, a U. of I. grad now running a local booking agency. Azoff, who had already landed the regional band REO Speedwagon a record deal with Epic, was on the look-out for new artists. Onstage was a raucous rock band playing to a mostly drunken crowd, their songs punctuated by the rhythm of beer bottles crashing against the back wall. Azoff ignored the clamor which continued when Dan took the stage alone. Though the bar brawls failed to subside, in the soulful beauty of Fogelberg's songs, Azoff saw his own future. "Yeah," Irving said to him after his set. "You're the one. I'm ready for the big time. And I think you're ready for the big time, too."
Dan dropped out of school. Shocking his parents by showing up at home at midday in mid-semester, he told them his plans. His father, silent for a long time, finally said quietly, "Okay, I don't agree with this, but if this is really what you want, you go try it for a year. If it doesn't work out, you come back and go back to school." This support was the greatest gift his father could give him, inspiring Dan years later to write "Thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go" in his famous tribute to his father, "Leader Of The Band".
Azoff moved to Hollywood, setting up an office on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood directly across the street from David Geffen, who was in the first stages of establishing his own Asylum Records, and signing singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.
Receiving $200 in traveling money from Irving, Dan rented a pickup truck in Chicago, and headed west. Running out of money in Estes Park, Colorado, he found what he felt was the most stunning place in the world. Remaining happily stranded there for a week, he befriended a local hotel owner who gave him free lodging. He spent his days hiking in the mountains, and writing such songs as the beautiful "Song From Half Mountain". Azoff soon wired him enough money to move on, but he never forgot the spirit of pure inspiration he felt in those mountains, touching him as deeply as his connection with the Illinois River.
Arriving in L.A., a few days later, Dan headed directly to Sunset Boulevard to meet Azoff in front of the famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go, where his idols from Buffalo Springfield first met. Azoff drove him to a little San Fernando Valley apartment dubbed "The Alley in the Valley" because of its alley entrance. They lived there together for months as Azoff shopped his tape around town. As Dan recalled, "Irving would come home one day and say 'Okay, the deal's done -- we're signing with Asylum!' Then three days later he'd come back and say, 'It's A & M. I got a better deal.' This went on for months. Then he'd come home and say, 'No, it's Capitol!" They eventually signed with Columbia Records, persuaded by Clive Davis in a Hollywood ritual held at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel: "Clive had everything laid out --caviar, canapés, the whole deal. He played me Paul Simon's first solo record, which had yet to come out, and kept talking about a kid named Springsteen and a guy named Billy Joel who he had signed. Clive said, 'I'm signing singer-songwriters, and I think you belong here too.' He talked us into it, gave us a nice check and we signed with Columbia." It was 1971.
With his career now soundly on track, Dan got his first advance check and moved to Lookout Mountain, in the heart of Laurel Canyon, where his neighbors included the Eagles, and Mark Volman of the Turtles. He lived there for a year and a half, during which time the sunny inspiration that had touched so many of his fellow canyon dwellers began to bring forth a torrent of beautiful new songs in him. He rented a grand piano and entranced nearby neighbors, such a famed photographer Henry Diltz, who heard Dan playing til dawn. " I remember hearing this incredibly beautiful music echoing through the trees," Henry recalled, "and I said to my wife, 'Who is this guy?'" They all soon became fast friends, with Henry taking famous portraits of Dan for many of his album covers.
Now it was time to record his debut album, and Azoff went off in search of the perfect producer for the project. They found him in Nashville. Norbert Putnam was the force behind Area Code 615, a group Dan loved. With Azoff, Dan flew to Nashville to meet Norbert, and instantly fell in love with the town itself: its green trees, lakes and river, and what was then a peaceful laid-back music community, worlds away from the showbiz glitz of Hollywood.
It was one of the happiest times in his life. Norbert found him a place to stay in town "up in the trees," and the future looked bright. Thanks to Norbert, he got a profusion of session work as a guitarist and singer, perfection then the dazzling studio chops which he's brought to all his albums since. "I was only 21 years old and I was part of the band, these maniacs who were amazingly good players. These guys were much better than me, and they pulled me up to their level." Often working from nine a.m. to midnight, four sessions a day, he acquired a fast and comprehensive foundation in the art of record making. "I learned that it's not what you play, it's what you don't play. That has formed the core of my guitar playing ever since. It's melodic, it's sparse."
The recording of Home Free for him was an easy, non-pressurized time. He and Norbert met every day at the studio, cut all the tracks live, and overdubbed the vocals. "It was great fun. There was no pressure. It wasn’t New York or L.A." The resulting album was stunningly beautiful, opening with the now classic "To The Morning", a paean to nature that still stands as one of the most timelessly inspirational songs ever written. The album immediately established that he was not only a master tunesmith, but also a purveyor of harmonies so sweetly conveyed that they seemed miraculous, a soulful blend of perfectly tuned, heartfelt vocal harmonies.
Despite its abundant appeal, Home Free failed to generate any hit singles, a setback that Clive attributed to Norbert's Nashville production job, which he deemed "too country" for Dan's music. So for the next album, Joe Walsh, the hard-rocking guitar slinger from the James Gang, was enlisted. Though feeling initially that Walsh was the wrong man for the job, Dan was eventually convinced when he heard a solo album Walsh had recently recorded at Caribou Ranch in Colorado with members of Stephen Stills' band Manassas.
Dan came to Walsh with a handful of songs he'd written in Los Angeles, as well as a new one that emerged in Nashville called "Part Of The Plan". To choose players for the album, Walsh told him to write down a wish list of dream musicians. The first name he wrote down was that of the legendary Russ Kunkel, whose drumming he'd heard on James Taylor's records. When Walsh quickly enlisted Kunkel as well as other luminaries including percussionist Joe Lala, bassist Kenny Passarelli, the Eagles' Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner, and Graham Nash, Dan knew he'd arrived.
The making of Souvenirs in Hollywood was unrestrained fun as the spirit of sunny California combined with Dan's natural Leo radiance left him feeling fearless. In the studio he always felt at home, rising easily to the level of the L.A. studio cats as he did with the pickers in Nashville. Even when Walsh was on the road, Dan continued to craft the record, adding the guitar solo on "Part Of The Plan" on his own. When Joe heard what Dan had done, he loved it, and quickly convinced Graham Nash to drive over and sing harmonies. The resulting record went to the top of the charts. "That broke the whole thing open. In an instant I went from being an opening act to being a headliner." Souvenirs, with Walsh at the helm, radiated with Dan's melodic brilliance as well as proving, on burning tracks like "As The Raven Flies", that the man also knows how to rock.
Hitting the road in 1974 with Fool's Gold, a young band from Illinois, he toured for the next two years. "Suddenly we were rock stars. These were heady days. We were soaking it up, and thought we were more important than we were. But really we were just these kids from Illinois with high voices."
It was the end of the quiet time for the boy by the river. And it was the beginning of the hurricane, a time of both tremendous success and upheaval. "That kind of adulation gave me so much confidence. When everybody is saying yes to you, you're unstoppable. You're unbeatable. And I started writing like crazy." His next album, Captured Angel, was finished and released within a year.
In 1975, learning that his father had taken ill and was in the hospital, Dan stopped everything to return to Peoria. He stayed there for many months until his dad recovered, spending his days at the hospital and his nights at a little studio in South Pekin, recording demos of new songs. When Irving and others heard the beauty and purity of the tracks he'd recorded alone, which Dan intended only as blueprints for his next album, they insisted that these were master tapes, not demos, and didn't need to be redone. Dan wasn't convinced, but eventually agreed on the condition that Russ Kunkel come in to redo the drum parts he'd played himself. "I can play a lot of instruments," he said, "but drums is not one of them."
While touring that year through Colorado with Fool's Gold, he learned that the house of one of his favorite musicians was on the market, that of Chris Hillman, who played with the Byrds, Manassas and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Fogelberg fell in love with the mountain house, which is situated 9000 feet up on the top of the Rocky Mountains. He immediately bought it, flew to Nashville to pack up his belongings, and hurried back to the splendor of Colorado.
It was an unforgettable winter. Perched at his grand piano, he had a breathtaking view of the Continental Divide, like sitting on the top of the world. When he wasn't learning how to run snow plows, he was at the keyboard, ready to plunge into a season of solitude and songwriting. Perfectly prepared to realize this dream of the wild, where it would get so silent he could hear the snow fall, he hit a solid wall of writer's block. It remained unbroken for months until the eventual emergence of "Loose Ends," a psychologically dark song that opened the way for the others to follow. Throughout that winter the songs for Nether Lands spilled out of him. Unlike those that had come before, these reverberated with haunting vestiges of the classical music he'd absorbed from his parents. "That winter was like a marvelous dream. Once I broke through the writer's block, I was in ecstasy. Because it was like nothing I'd ever dreamed I could do.”
He then turned again to Nashville and to Norbert Putnam, and the two friends produced the album in happy tandem, and created a masterpiece. "When I made Nether Lands, I felt that I had finally made a grown up record. That I wasn't a kid anymore, and that I was finding my own voice as a writer."
When the road started calling him again to tour for Nether Lands, the act of pushing a new album started to seem too crassly commercial, too much about money and too little enough about music. So in the face of the greatest success of his career, he chose to make his next album completely about music, without any commercial aspirations whatsoever. It would be an opportunity to step away from the madness for a moment, and create an album that celebrated the pure joy of making music. He invited Tim Weisberg, the famous flautist who played with him on "Give Me Some Time" from Nether Lands to make the album a duet. With a cover photo of the two musicians looking like brothers with matching beards and long hair, the album was entitled Twin Sons Of Different Mothers.
The two twins had planned a grandiose orchestral piece to close the album. They recorded the entire track only to discover -- too late -- that the piano was out of tune with the orchestra and had to be redone. Rather than incur that cost, Dan wrote a quick song -- now thinking that maybe one commercial track might not be such a bad idea -- and at the last minute, "The Power Of Gold" was recorded and added to the album.
It became one of the biggest hits of his career, causing the mostly instrumental Twin Sons to become a colossal hit. Dan, who had expected it to be savagely attacked by the critics, decided to skip the bloodbath by jetting off to Europe with friends prior to its release. In Switzerland, he was flabbergasted to receive an excited call from Azoff informing him that the album had gone Top 20.
Here he was, consciously trying not to make a blockbuster, and it went through the roof. Figuring there was no sense in fighting it, he returned to the States, and went into the studio immediately to work on songs for his next album, Phoenix. He didn't stop recording for many years. So jazzed was he by the unintentional success of Twin Sons that he set off on a non-stop procession of writing songs, recording, and touring.
Like Bob Dylan, rather than write only enough for one album, he'd simply write and record constantly, until there were enough songs to pick and choose from for a full album. From Boulder to Sausalito to Hollywood and beyond, he'd touch down and cut some tracks. In this way, many of his greatest songs were created, such as the gorgeous ballad "Longer" from Phoenix.
Though the albums that emerged from this hurricane were great ones, the process left him with little energy to devote to his personal life. Reflective of his need for simplification, he embarked on a solo tour, in which he'd open the show at a grand piano, playing the ethereal "Nether Lands". In 1979 he brought this show to Carnegie Hall in New York, which was one of the proudest moments of his life. His parents were in attendance, allowing him to finally prove to his father, as if there were still any questions about it, that he, too, was a “legitimate musician." The leader of the band had only been to the historic hall once before many decades earlier, to see Arturo Toscanini conduct the New York Philharmonic. It was a night that both father and son never forgot.
On New Year's Eve 1980, Dan sat in his Colorado home sequencing the songs for his next album. But no matter what order he'd try, he knew something still seemed to be missing. So in a move he knew could be construed as professional suicide, he decided he had more to say, and told Irving he was going back to work. The new record, he announced, would have to be a double album.
The record company, hungry for a new product, was predictably furious about this. "Same Old Lang Syne" had already been released and people around the world were screaming for a new record. Even so, Azoff supported him wholeheartedly, and informed the company that they'd simply have to wait.
Dan spent six more months working, and the songs that emerged were astounding, including "Ghosts" and "The Reach". Again, it was a case of doing what he needed to do for the music -- as with Twin Sons -- that led him to the greatest success of his life, The Innocent Age.
As his twenties came to an end, the album marked the closing of one chapter, and the opening of another. It also afforded him the opportunity to fulfill some musical fantasies, such as recording with musical heroes who were his inspiration during the river years, such as Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and Chris Hillman, all of whom show up on The Innocent Age. Another fantasy fulfilled was the formation of a new band, the kind of group that prior to this level of success he could realize only in the studio, with Russ Kunkel planted firmly behind the drums.
Released in the fall of 1981, The Innocent Age became an unprecedented success for a double album, which are often too expensive to become hits. This was a big exception, generating not one but four Top 20 hits in all -- including "Same Old Lang Syne", "Run For The Roses", written for the Kentucky Derby, "Hard To Say", and the touching tribute to his father, "Leader Of The Band". "I still think most highly of that album," he said. "Making it was certainly one of the high water marks of my life."
With multiple radio hits in constant rotation around the globe, Dan and the band sold out 20,000 seat arenas all across America. As he put it, "It was the big time. Big time rock and roll. That was really the peak. You couldn't get much bigger than that, really. It was amazing." Though he'd already reached some lofty professional heights, he felt himself being pushed even higher. He thought to himself, "Now the hurricane begins in earnest."
After rolling with the band for months on the road promoting The Innocent Age, he returned once again to the tranquility of his newly constructed ranch to ponder his next move. Since that album presented the closing of an emotional chapter in his life, he decided to explore new avenues of lyrical expression. Like Joni Mitchell during her Hissing Of Summer Lawns period, he abandoned introspection to write about the world around him. And like Joni, he was critically attacked for it. Though the resulting album, Windows And Walls, featured the hit single "Language Of Love", the marvelously cinematic "Tucson, Arizona" and other great songs, the critics tore into it with a vengeance they reserve only for those who have been to the very top of the mountain. And as they knew, Dan Fogelberg lived at the top of the mountain.
During the many hours spent in his truck driving back and forth between Boulder and the ranch he was building, he'd been listening to a lot of bluegrass tapes, feeding his desire to play some roots music again. After sitting in with Chris Hillman's acoustic band at the 1984 Telluride Bluegrass festival, he decided to make a record that, like Twin Sons, was meant to be a step outside of the spotlight to enjoy the simple pleasure of playing great music with great musicians.
He jotted down a new dream list of his favorite acoustic pickers, and each one agreed to be involved: famed guitarist Doc Watson, Jerry Douglas on dobro, mandolinist David Grisman, Herb Petersen on banjo, and Chris Hillman, Vince Gill, and Ricky Scaggs singing harmony. The resulting album, High Country Snows, joined Jerry Garcia's Old And In The Way to become one of the best-selling bluegrass albums of all time.
The recording sessions were pure fun, the most enjoyable record-making experience he'd known since those early days in Nashville with Norbert. "I put that album on and I really dig it. I put it on and say, 'Man -- listen to these guys! There's a great spirit that's in those grooves.' Some of my others are almost too perfect. As Roy Acuff said, 'Every time you do it, you lose a little something.' And on that album, we lost nothing. It was so fast and easy. They were such great players that it didn't take long, you'd just let them go and that was it." During 1985 he toured with Chris Hillman's band to support the album, a group that eventually evolved into the Desert Rose Band.
Though his professional life was in great shape, his private life was darkened by the recent breakup of his first marriage. Drummer Joe Vitale said to him, "God, spare me, don't go home and write the ultimate divorce album." Dan promised that he wouldn't, and then proceeded to do just that, spilling all of his pain into the songs that provided the foundation for his Exiles album. He also let off a lot of steam by playing little Colorado bars in a good time rock and roll band he formed with Vitale called Frankie and The Aliens. Having shaved off his famous beard, he went virtually unrecognized, allowing him to reconnect with the spirit of pure anonymous fun he knew when first playing rock and roll in Peoria.
It also got his guitar chops into better shape than ever, as preserved in the intensity of his guitar work on Exiles, released in 1987. His singing, rawer than ever and bordering on pure soul, signaled that he'd been through tough times. "That's blood on the tracks, there. You can feel the pain and the anger in that album as much as you can feel the joy in High Country Snows."
Though his next two albums, The Wild Places and River Of Souls, were released as separate discs, he conceived them more as a double album, connected by the theme of the environment and inspired by world music. They are songs informed by his horrified awareness of the Reagan administration's betrayal of the environment. Though he'd been active in political issues throughout his career, he'd never devoted an entire album addressing these topics. Like many of his friends and contemporaries, songwriters such as Jackson Browne and Bruce Cockburn, he risked the possibility of alienating portions of his audience, as well as writing songs more topical than timeless. But his conscience would not allow him to ignore the direction the world was heading in.
"I felt there was no way we could save this planet unless we learned to love it. So these songs were about my love for nature." He was living now at the ranch through most of the year, and spending his summers in an old sea-captain's house he purchased on an island off of Maine. The Wild Places was the first album in this cycle, released in 1990, with songs about his time on the ocean, where he spends long days sailing on a wooden yawl called "The Serenade", and songs about the sweetness of his solitude in Colorado.
The Wild Places and River Of Souls were the first albums he recorded at his newly completed home studio, which allowed him to be free from the time constraints of commercial studios. While The Wild Places was more collaborative in nature, on River Of Souls he played almost all of the instruments himself, as he had back in Pekin making Captured Angel. Released in 1993, it's an album that not only reflects the beauty of the natural world, but also affirms his faith in a world beyond. It's a world connected to this one by a river.
Although River Of Souls generated one hit, "Magic Every Moment", it failed to become an instant blockbuster as so many of his others had. But his need to explore new territories both musical and spiritual far outweighed any inclination to repeat past glories. "I know metaphysical songs aren't going to sell on the radio," he said with a laugh. Having spun so long in the hurricane, he's learned that the only authentic test of an artist is if he can stay true to his own vision, despite the clamor of the commercial world. "You've got to just follow your heart and do your best work," he said. "For better or worse, I have followed my heart. There is no doubt in my mind or heart that everything I've done is exactly what I intended to do."
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