1985 Radio Interview
Reprinted courtesy of Mixed Bag
Pete Forntale: I'm back with my special guest this morning, Dan Fogelberg. Dan, it has taken two and a half years for this to come together. I'm delighted that you could be with us on "Mixed Bag".
Dan Fogelberg: I'm glad to be here, very pleased to be here.
PF: I want to start right out of the box by asking you about your latest album, which is High Country Snows. Now, this record flies in the face of everything that radio and the record business says that people are listening to or buying these days. Tell me about your thought process in putting this one out.
DF: Well, it was kind of a natural process of evolution for me. It was something I began playing a long time ago. I used to live in Nashville for a few years and played sessions before I made it as a singer-songwriter, as a recording artist. And it just kind of all came together. I had moved down to a ranch which I had built in southern Colorado. It was very inspiring to listen to that sort of music driving through the mountains. And it also happened that I ran into Chris Hillman and Al Perkins and Herb Pederson and Doc Watson and all these people at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado three years ago, two years ago and just decided I loved this music, and I'd always wanted to play it, and I'd written it all along, but I hadn't had a place for it on my other records, you know, The Innocent Age or Windows and Walls, or those; it wouldn't have fit on there. So I decided just to do an album of traditional style song writing, which I enjoy doing.
PF: And to heck with the climate of the record business?
DF: Yeah, yeah, basically.
PF: To heck with it.
DF:: Well, I do this every five years or so, just for musical reasons as well, to keep myself sane, you know. I did the Twin Sons of Different Mothers record with Tim Weisberg, which was a real departure, too, from what people expected from me and was hip at the time. And so every five years or so, I do something just for myself to have fun with and to remind myself why I got into this business, which is to make music.
PF: Well, there's a line on the album here that kind of sums it up. You did the liner notes for the inner sleeve, and it says something along the lines of it being the antithesis of "life in the fast lane" philosophy.
DF: Yeah, that was little poke at Henley.
PF: Well, tell us about that. In a sense, you certainly fit in with that group of musicians and a lot of the things that they did, yet you have a separateness from them as well. That's conscious on your part, I'm sure.
DF: Yeah, yeah, I've tried to stay out of the fast lane pretty much, you know. I have to live it as much as anyone else does, being in this business. But I've chosen to live far away from major population centers. I live on a very remote ranch in Colorado, and it's important to me to keep close to nature and to keep the sensibilities that I had when I was a child, you know. The person that's here I want to survive this whole thing. And so I have kind of the best of both worlds, you know. I fly all over the world playing concerts and recording records, and yet I get to go back to ranch and just really cool out and ride my horses and ski, and it's a nice life. It's a good balance.
PF: Well, the record is as crisp and pure and natural as one could hope for in 1985. Why don't we listen to what I believe is going to be the next single.
DF: I believe so, yes.
PF: Tell us a little about it.
DF: I wrote this song in my truck, actually, driving through the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. I was coming over Wolf Creek Pass, and it just kind of popped into my head.
PF: Let's listen on "Mixed Bag" at WNEW FM.
("Down the Road" and "Mountain Pass" play)
PF: All right, that is the next single from the brand new album by Dan Fogelberg, High Country Snows. It starts off with "Down the Road," which is Flatt and Scruggs.
DF: Yeah, a traditional song. We just took a piece of that and made an acapella intro out of it.
PF: And then moves on to "Mountain Pass," one written by Dan. Maybe you should tell us about some of the people that you put together to work with you on this record, Dan.
DF: Oh, it was a dream come true. I literally went home from Telluride and made a list of the people that would be, you know, in my dream band, if I could get them to come and play, and I sent it to my secretary in Los Angeles, and she started calling around, and a week later, they were all coming to work with me in Nashville. So at that point I committed myself to the project and said, "This is going to be great fun," and it was. It's the most fun I've had recording since maybe my first record.
PF: How are you handling live performances these days in terms of incorporating this material as well as your older stuff?
DF: Well, I think we've got a good show this summer. It's different, it's unique in the fact that it's an entirely acoustic evening, and no one else is doing that. I've worked my solo concert into most of the show, and then Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson and their band are opening the show bluegrass, doing some of Chris' songs from the old Burrito Brothers and Byrds and some of that stuff, and then we all get back together in my show and do some of this material together.
PF: Here's a weird question: do you sometimes feel as if your career got underway at slightly the wrong time or slightly out of step with that which seems to be more predominant on the charts these days? Here's what I mean by that. In the Loggins and Messina era, I think everything you touch would be three times as giant as it already is, you know what I mean? And yet today, Dan Fogelberg on AOR radio, is at times, an afterthought or something that is moved over or considered to be more of the adult contemporary variety. Do these labels, first of all, offend you, and what is your attitude about it?
DF: Yeah, well I've never thought of myself in terms of time frames, as such, you know. As a musician, as an artist, I try to keep true to my own musical beliefs, whether it's trendy or not, you know. The trends have come and gone, and I'm still hanging around like a bad June bug, you know, so I, you know, I have to pay a certain amount of attention to what's going on. I don't want to get lost in the flux by getting too off the wall, you know, with these projects. I mean, my next album will be very pop, very AOR, very CHR-oriented again. So I keep my irons in the fire always in my commercial side, but again, I have fun every now and then, just doing what I feel like doing.
PF: Well, this is very funny and very coincidental, but I have as one of my biggest questions to ask you about the name of a band that happens to be written on your shirt as you sit before me. Now since this is radio, I'm going to let you tell the people what I'm talking about.
DF: Well, I have this wonderful T-shirt that a guy made up in Chicago, Illinois and brought out to my show, and it's just says "Buffalo Springfield." It's the same logo from their drumhead.
PF: Great, great. Where did that love and appreciation for that band and its music come from, and what does it mean today?
DF: I don't know. Buffalo Springfield, to me, was probably the single most influential American band of the Sixties. I remember hearing "For What It's Worth" I was in the back of a car jammed with people in 1966, and it just stopped me dead. I said, "What is this sound?" I don't know, I think the attraction of it is it's a very American music. They were using Gretch guitars and shakers, they were using American three-part harmony, they were using traditional modes into rock and roll from folk. They draw some, they drew from so many varied modes of music, like the Beatles had done in England. You know, I really kind of equate the two, you know. Buffalo Springfield never of course reached the commercial pinnacle that the Beatles did, but for me creatively, it was really a high-water mark as far as self-contained bands. These guys all wrote, they played, they sang, they did it all. And at that point, there wasn't much of that going on in this country, you know. The Byrds were doing Bob Dylan music. And they were an influential band, but the Springfield to me was the first great self-contained American band and led to, you know, the whole generation of Eagles, of myself, of Jackson, of, you know, the whole southern California school that we carried along.
PF: Absolutely. You are really, in 1985, the heir...
DF: Carrying the torch...
PF:...to that tradition.
DF: I still love that music, you know, and it's still, there's still a lot of that influence in what I write, you know. Even though I write a lot of different styles now, there's still a lot of Springfield in everything I do.
PF: Your biggest acknowledgment of that influence and pay back, if you will, came about on your two record set, do you agree?
DF: Yeah, oh, absolutely. I mean, on that record I was not only paying tribute, but I was stylistically going after some of those sounds, and the song "The Innocent Age," the title track, I mean, we really sat down with Buffalo Springfield again, you know, and figured out how to make the bass drum real dull, you know, like it was in those days. Went after that real big Neil Young, Gretch sound, you know, and we had a ball doing that. And then it was also a plus to get Richie Furay, one of the original Springfield members, to come and sing harmony on it, that was great.
PF: Yes indeed. There are two songs on that album that are very close to me and a lot of your fans, and when I had the opportunity to see you do them live on that solo acoustic tour a couple years ago, they just put me away. I'd like to ask you about each of them. The first is "Leader of the Band." Tell me about your dad.
DF: My Dad was a wonderful man. He was a bandleader, as the song says. He spent his whole life as a musician. He was first a jazz musician in Chicago during the Prohibition era, you know. He had some great stories about those days. And then he got a little more legit, and worked for the NBC Orchestra in Chicago and lots of different orchestras. He had an Army band during the war - that's the reference to the soldier - and it was based out of Detroit. Did a lot of, what are those things called, USO tours during the war, stayed stateside, and he had these great pictures of him with Lucille Ball and Cagney and the Marx Brothers, you know, and they went around on trains all during the war and entertained the troops. You know, people were home or the prisoners of war or whatever. Later, he met my mother in Peoria and decided that's where he wanted to live, and he became a teacher, a music teacher and a bandleader. He did marching bands, he did symphonic concert bands, jazz bands and eventually wound up his career as the music director at a high school in Illinois.
PF: When I first heard that song, I don't know why I assumed this, but I thought it was written from the perspective of a son whose father had passed on, and in fact that wasn't at all the case.
DF: No, not then. He was still very much alive then.
PF: And I was thrilled with the idea that an offspring could, during the lifetime of the person when it could really be appreciated, communicate love on that kind of level.
DF: Well, that, that's the best part of that song. So many people, I think that's why it's reached so many people and touched so many people, because perhaps they haven't been able to say that to their own father or mother during their lifetime, and I think it's a very important thing to do. I think as you get older, you realize that's the primary relationship in your life. Everything else is based on that, and until you resolve that relationship with your parents, you know, you're not really going to be able to have successful relationships with anybody, I doubt, you know. it's so pivotal in a person's life.
PF: That is the truth.
DF:And I was lucky to have found that means of expression and to have been able to say it to him in that way. And I'm glad that other people have said they've used the song to play for their own fathers.
("Leader of the Band" plays)
PF: The other song on that album that mean a lot is "Same Old Lang Syne." Is there a story, is that...?
DF: Oh, absolutely, that's absolute dead truth right there. I didn't, however, write the entire story, and I'm not about to tell you what the rest of it is.
PF: Some secrets are allowed.
DF: Yeah, but it really happened. I was home in 1976 visiting my parents for Christmas, one Christmas Eve. They sent me out to get some whipping cream or something at the Seven Eleven in Peoria, Illinois, and I went out there and just happened to run into my high school girlfriend in the frozen foods, and the rest of it is history.
PF: Some of the greatest songs just fall right out of real life like that.
DF: Yeah, well, writing it was not quite as easy as that. It took about two years to write.
PF: Do you mind sharing the secret of the opening notes with our listening audience?
DF: The opening notes? Oh, it's just a rip-off of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" with a six minor chord in it.
PF: If you're not aware of that, of course, you don't hear it, but once you know about it...
DF: I was waiting for the Tchaikovsky heirs to come after me, you know, come beating down my door in Colorado.
PF: Let's listen on "Mixed Bag" at WNEW-FM.
("Same Old Lang Syne" plays)
PF:What an inspired piece of music.
PF: That's Dan Fogelberg and "Same Old Lang Syne." Dan is my guest on "Mixed Bag" this morning at WNEW-FM. Dan, what of your body of work are you proudest of?
DF: The album The Innocent Age, I think, is my own personal high-water mark, as far as it being, as a songwriter, a guitarist, as a producer. I just think it's the best piece of work I've done. I think I'll have a little trouble topping that one.
PF: Double albums, too, are...
DF:Yeah, yeah, it's a lot of substance.
PF: There's almost a jinx against them, and so few have held up well under scrutiny.
DF: Yeah, and this one was so successful, you know. It's difficult to, I've always got that behind me, you know, going "Oh, boy, how am I going to top that one?" You realize after a while you don't have to top yourself, you just have to keep working and come up with good stuff.
PF: What about specifically singles? Which is the one that means the most to you?
DF: Gosh, I don't really think in terms of singles. I think in terms of songs, you know, I don't really think my singles are my best work, by any stretch of the imagination. I think the best work of mine is on the albums that were not commercially accessible, you know. "Ghosts," I think is a real neat piece. Singles? Boy. I kind of like "Make Love Stay." I think that's a good song. I like "Old Lang Syne," a lot.
PF:What does success mean to you? What does it enable you to do?
DF: Well, it enables me to live out in the middle of nowhere by myself. I don't know. Success causes as many headaches as it causes, you know, freedoms that it gives you. I like the idea of being financially secure, you know, being able to travel and being able to not to have to struggle to make a living. It buys you time to think and to work and to create. That's the main, I think that's the best part of it.
PF: Well, some people see it as a trap, some people see it as freedom, too.
DF: It's both. It's both. It is a trap and it is a lot of freedom, and it's hard to balance the two. It's hard to avoid either, you know?
PF: I'm going to assume that you can probably go from a public figure to a very anonymous figure real quick if you walk down a street...
DF: In a matter of minutes.
PF: Is that, has that been thought out?
DF: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I've tried to do that all my career, you know, to keep a very low profile with my personal life and a very public profile with my professional life.
PF: It's real interesting, because most often when that has happened in the past, it's been a group that's been able to do it, you know. For years, The Moody Blues were not individuals, they were a fivesome.
DF: The Eagles were the same way.
PF: Yeah, right, right. But you're a soloist, and you get away with it. You're onto something, Fogelberg. What came first for you, piano or guitar?
DF: I began playing piano as a young child. My parents gave me piano lessons like everyone else in the Fifties. But it was when, I think it was hearing the Beatles, you know, in 1964, that said, "Boy, that's what I want to do." And that's when I first got my first guitar. My Granddad gave me an acoustic guitar. And, you know, from there on out, I knew that's exactly what I wanted to do. And years later when I was in college, I decide to go back to the piano and compose. And I think, more than anyone, Joni Mitchell convinced me of that. She was one of the first people that was really composing popular music in the Sixties on piano, you know. So, I think, when I heard her, I said, "OK, I'd like to be able to write both styles."
PF: Well, I saw, as I mentioned earlier, that concert at the Nassau Coliseum, and one of the most captivating portions for me was when you took the stage, sat down, alone on a stool, maybe a glass of water to your left or something...
DF: Yeah, it was probably more than water in it actually.
PF: And picked up an acoustic guitar, and did what I considered to be the unexpected. Now, as it happens, you may have noticed, one of our staff members, Jim Monahan, has provided the guitar. Would you be interested in recreating that for us?
DF: Well, I can give it a try. I haven't played this stuff, I'm not doing this stuff on this current tour. But I suppose I could try. This is kind of a south of the border version of "Eleanor Rigby" by Lennon and McCartney. (plays guitar) And there you have it.
PF: Dan Fogelberg, much success with High Country Snows and on your current tour, and you have an open invitation to come back and join us on "Mixed Bag" anytime.
DF: Thank you. I'd love to come back.