BY MICHAEL SCALISE
AUGUST 5, 1997
Q. You're at your twenty-five year point.
DF. Yeah!....I turn twenty-five in a week!
Q. Not age...your career.
DF. August thirteenth.
Q. Are you satisfied with your career...The way it's gone and where you are at this point?
DF. Yeah!....It's a great job. I've been doing this more like thirty-five years. You don't just start up with your first recording obviously. I paid a lot of dues before getting there. Yeah...there's very few fantasies I have left to fulfill in the music business. I've been able to pretty much work the way I've wanted to work with the music I believe in and not have to cow-tow (?) to commercial tastes. I've been fortunate to have a large commercial following through the years. But I feel good more about the fact that I've been able to follow my own path and doing you know, what has moved me as a musician first, and as a songwriter, and then letting things fall in as they have.
Q. You mention doing things of your own personal taste plus the critical success. Do you try to find a balance or do you please yourself first?
DF. No, I please myself first. There's no question that making bluegrass was not a commercial consideration. Some of the things I've done...the records with Tim Weisberg were essentially jazz instrumental type music and they've been pretty successful, but we didn't make them for that. I didn't make them for that at all. Like I say if you're gonna stick around twenty-five years you've got to take risks. I think you have to be true to your own artistic instincts. And some of those risks and chances are gonna pay off better than others, but I think you have to take those chances. In order to keep an audience interested you have to remain interested yourself, I believe, you just can't just keep repeating yourself you know, just because you found something that worked on top forty radio or whatever. You know. The record companies would love to have you do that. Just keep repeating this thing until it goes away. But uh, that's not really why I got involved in this business. I got involved in it as a musician. To explore my own creativity and express myself as a songwriter. So, uh...that's what I've always done and let the chips fall where they will.
Q. Have any of the chances you've taken totally surprised you?
DF. No...umm...A few of the singles and songs have surprised me. "Leader of the Band", which is one of my biggest hit songs for radio, was a big surprise. I wrote that as a quiet little note to my father really. I was amazed at that my manager, Irving Azoff, picked up on that and said, "This is a hit record." And I'm going, "Yeah, right." He had great instincts, because it touched something in the public that he could see. I thought, especially when it came out during the era of disco, you know, here's a song about saying "I love you" to your father. And patching up a parental relationship, with three vocals and two acoustic guitars, I couldn't see it but uh... So that one surprised me. But it's very gratifying that it became such a big song.
Q. When you came out with that song what was your father's reaction?
DF. Oh, he was so proud of it, sure. My dad was still alive when the record came out. Uh, he really went out in a blaze of glory. He wasn't alive long after that. And he was a musician and did it all his life. A professional musician. People were calling him. The press was wanting to interview him. So the spotlight was squarely on him in his last days because of the song. That made me feel great! Everybody was real interested. Who is this guy? Who is the "Leader of the Band.?"
Q. The man behind the song.
DF. Yeah...it was pretty cool.
Q. That was an excellent tribute. So that was one song that totally surprised you.
DF. Yeah...I certainly didn't expect it to be a commercial success.
Q. When you write your songs...I'm looking at the lyrics and the melodies...songs about lost loves, broken hearts. Are many of these songs from personal experiences?
DF. (laughs) Yeah...I'm not a fictionalist. I'm not really good at writing fiction. I have. I've written some editorial music. Especially...umm...in the nineties my music has been less personal, less autobiographical, more philosophical, but it's still my philosophy of life and my view on things. That's what songwriting to me is. It's not about making something that's gonna sell records. It's more than that. It's more expressing your own philosophy. Your own life experience. And in doing so I think it creates a more viable listening experience because it connects with something. If you do it well...and you do it honestly it will connect with something in other people. The people will say, "Whoa! I experienced that too. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's been through this kind of stuff." Whether it's good, bad, or indifferent...whatever. It's more of a sharing of philosophy and experience.
Q. Do you have a favorite place to get away and write?
DF. Yeah...I live in Colorado but I spend my summers, when I can, up in Maine. I have a place on an island up off the coast of Maine. And I sail up there. It's a very primitive kind of lifestyle compared to my Colorado lifestyle. And so I usually have an acoustic guitar. After two or three weeks of sailing and living on the island I get bored enough that I start writing again. (laughs)
Q. You just need to get away from it all.
DF. Yeah...I don't write on the road. I don't write really that much in Colorado anymore. I do on and off. But it seems like Maine still has that very quiet isolated existence. I mean running a ranch in Colorado is a business. It takes some time. And there are distractions and such. It's not quite the mountain retreat that people might imagine it as. But Maine is a very isolated place.
Q. Many of your albums have paintings by you.
DF. A few..yeah.
Q. How did that come about? Is that another artistic love of yours?
DF. Yeah...I was a painter really before I was a musician. I've painted and drawn all my life. At the University of Illinois in nineteen hmm hmm (*careful not to show his age!*) I was majoring in painting and fine arts before I left school to become a musician. I mean, I was doing both. But umm, people were paying me to sing suddenly in my freshman and sophomore year in college. And no one was paying me to paint. So it just looked like a more viable way to make a living actually. So, uh, I came out here to California when I was nineteen, I guess, and started pursuing the music side of it. I'd love to get back to painting. I kind of say, five years down the road from this I'd like to kind of look at my life. Slow down the music and devote myself to drawing and painting the visual arts again. You know, see what's there. See how good I could be at that.
Q. If you weren't doing the music would you be a painter?
DF. Absolutely! Yeah, I definitely would have pursued a painting career if I hadn't have done music.
Q. Many of your songs paint a very visual picture. Is that a conscious thing that you do? Combining your painting and your writing skills. When we listen to your songs we get a picture of what's going on.
DF. Well, that to me is a compliment cause I try to tell stories with music and I try to take people to a cohesive place. I suppose as a painter, as a visual artist, I relate to that in a lot of the same ways. You know, when you're working on a song it's like a blank canvas in a lot of ways. It depends on what you apply, how you apply it, what layers, etcetera. What colors, and all these relationships that go on. Which I suppose is the same. And, you know, to me one form of art is about the same as another. It's a creative outlet for something you need to express. Whether it's with a brush or with a guitar I don't see that it's that different.
Q. The solo tour. You are performing out there...just you!
DF. Without a net!
Q. How does that compare for you to performing with a band. Do you miss the interaction? Do you like being solo, presenting your music in a raw form, giving people a better sense of you as the singer/songwriter?
DF. Yeah...it's very different. And I've done it all my life. I've gone back and forth from doing it with a band for few years and then the solo acoustic thing. This just seemed like a good time with twenty-five years to say thanks to my fans and do a real intimate kind of one-on-one show. I enjoy them both. And it keeps it interesting for me. Cause...I love obviously to stand up and play rock and roll. And as a guitar player, you know, it's kind of limiting to just do an acoustic show. But at the same there's an artistic and a personal thing that goes on with this solo acoustic thing that is really magical, that you can't get with a band. You know, it's a very personal contact with an audience. It really comes down to a one-on-one type of thing where each person is being communicated directly with. And you can be more personable. I think people get closer to you with this. With a band there's always kind of a barrier of production, of lights, and sound, and sets, and amps. The whole deal, you know. Umm...it's a lot of fun. And in some way limiting to do a solo acoustic show. 'Cause obviously you can't do "The Power of Gold" or something without a rhythm section. It just wouldn't work. But....I don't know...it keeps it interesting for me and I hope it keeps it interesting for the audience. I can't imagine just going around from year to year and just keeping the same kind of show. You know, I think I'd be bored.....I think the people would get bored as well. I think it shows different sides...You know.
Q. Do you plan to do a solo acoustic recording sometime soon?
DF. Ummm......(Hesitates as he looks at his tour manager. Should he discuss this????) Can I get in trouble for saying that? (His tour manager indicates it's O.K.) We've actually been recording this summer. This tour. And so I'm not going to say yes or no until I get it home and listen to everything. But yeah, we've recorded all thirty of these shows. So I've got my work cut out for me this winter! (laughs) You know, to sit down and sort through all these nights. And see what I got. But I'd like to do something like that...Yeah. I've always wanted to...I did some of that on my live recording Greetings From the West. It was a two CD package and there was about a half an hour solo in there. But I've had a lot people through the years say, "We'd really love to have things like "To The Morning" and some of my older material played solo. So that's kind of what I've been doing this summer. With an eye towards perhaps releasing that or not. Only time will tell. We'll have to see how it sounds. We'll have to see what I did!
Q. I'm sure the fans would appreciate a collection of solo recordings.
DF. Well, I think so. That's kind of for the hard core fan, you know, this is not a real commercial type venture, I wouldn't think. But uh, yeah it's a good show, and a lot people enjoy coming to it. So they might like to have it as a kind of souvenir of that experience.
Q. When you are writing, recording, and performing your music are you are a perfectionist? If so, do you drive the people around you crazy?
DF. No. I rarely see them! (laughs) Except for Bill! (pointing to his tour manager) And I see way too much of him! (laughs) No...I'm not a perfectionist. The people that I hire are perfectionists. I don't have to be. I mean these guys are so good. They have done this for me for so long. I know every night when I walk out everything's gonna be perfect. And that's a nice thing to have.
Q. So the weight is on their shoulders?
DF. Yeah...I mean it's real easy for me. Like I say a lot of the guys I work with I've worked with for twenty years. They really know me. What I do and how I do it. So...it's actually quite easy for us.
Q. Your recordings cover all styles of music. Bluegrass, Jazz, Rock, Country, etc. Do you like to be diverse in what you do? Keep the audience guessing what you will do next?
DF. No...I like to make the same type of album every time but I've just, I've just missed it a few times. That's all. I don't know how...I don't know what happened on those records! (sarcasm at its finest!)
Q. Let me rephrase that question!!
DF. Ha! Ha! Ha! To this day I don't know what I did!! Just kidding!
Q. It keeps life interesting for you.
DF. Yeah...as a musician...again I think longevity is dependent upon change. You've got to be able to take chances as a musician. I grew up with a lot of different music. The Beatles, my dad was into Jazz, and Classical, and Motown, R&B, Blues, all this stuff. And I love all that music. You know, as a multifaceted instrumentalist, I play a lot of different instruments. Not that great, but I do play a lot of them, you know. So it's always interesting to go and see what each instrument does, from what era, what influences creep in. And I think every musician, you know, you have to keep curious if you're gonna stay alive. If you just keep repeating yourself and being satisfied with what you've done...then you die creatively. You just gotta keep pushing and changing and growing. Like I say, if I have a good time I think the audience has a good time. Whether it's on a recording or if it's in a concert setting. Umm...I think ultimately you do have to satisfy yourself first. Because if you are doing a good job of that...of satisfying your creative needs...then it's gonna become apparent in your work.
Q. It comes across to the listener.
DF. Yeah, I think it comes across. In the grooves or from a stage.
Q. Many artists are in the limelight. Entertainment shows, magazines, etc. You are a private person. Do you like it that way? Not want any part of the glamor?
DF. Yeah...I've always been that way. I've never really believed in publicizing my private life. I don't really think it's anyone's business but my own, to be honest with you. And I think with the people that I am involved with in my personal life it's only fair to them as well. I give enough through my music, I think. And through my performances that I don't think you owe much more than that, to be honest with you. The fame is almost kind of almost the downside of what I do. I love the job, I love the music, I love the creativity. And I love what comes with it. I love the perks. You know, I'd be crazy to say I don't like the money, the adulation, getting a good seat at a restaurant. But at the same time you know, you attract some strange people. I mean, it's the same with any celebrity. Anybody who has achieved fame in this business. In any business, whether it's film, or television, or music, or whatever. There's some dangerous aspects to it that I don't care about. And that's why I've kind of gone out of my way to shield the other people in my life. My family from this sort of thing. Because I have to deal with it. That's part of the game. Whether I like it or not. But I don't like that spilling over to people that don't deserve that in their lives.
Q. I would think that privacy keeps you grounded as an individual.
DF. Yeah...I don't have many friends in the entertainment world. Most of the people I'm friends with are not show people. They're artists or skiers or something. They're normal civilians. (laughs)
Q. It keeps a normal aspect in your life.
DF. Yeah...But I've also chosen to live pretty far from Hollywood. In Colorado and Maine...and I've never really been a part of the whole scene, you know. So people really don't have much access to what I go through or what I do. And so far I've managed to stay out of the jail and stuff you know for the most part so that I don't get in the tabloids or anything!!
Q. After the tour...and a vacation....What's next?
DF. What's next for me? Well, I'll still be touring this year. I've got some more dates in the fall. We're taking about a two month break. We worked all summer. We'll pick up again in the fall and winter. And as I say...I'll be listening to all these tapes we've made. See what that's about. See if there's an album there. Ummm....I've got some other projects I'm interested in pursuing. At this point with this box set, this twenty-five years, it's a great place to take a breath. And just stop and go, "Cool, you know, wow that was a wild ride wasn't it." Now what?? What do I want to do with this? Do I want to stay in this? Do I want to go here? Do I want to try this? Do I want to do this? So I'm just gonna take a nice long breath this winter and look at life. And think about what I want to do next. If you stay in this business long enough you really can attain quite a bit of freedom over what you want to do. And so the choice, I think, is really gonna be up to me. Again, what my impulses and my artistic, creative self tells me to do. I just have to try to be responsive.
Q. Is there something you haven't done? Musically...Film/TV scores...someone you haven't yet recorded with?
DF. Well...no...I'm tempted to try my hand at some classical compositions. And you know I started out doing that years ago and I kind of got back away from it. But uh...I have a certain melodic gift in writing that might apply to a symphonic setting. Which I'd love to pursue. I don't know....I'd hate to have an orchestra play my music because of my name. Cause I'm a pop musician, you know. I would like to see if I could write something that would stand with Samuel Barber (sp?) or Bernstein or any of the American composers of our century. Otherwise I think it would be kind of silly just to write a piece that, you know, like a pop singer writes a pretentious classical piece. (laughs) I'd have to really get away, far enough so that I could say, 'Yeah...this really does stand on its own merit." But that's a fantasy, musically.
Q. Well we look forward to the next project. Once you've gone through all those tapes of your shows!
DF. Ha! Ha! Ha!
Q. Whatever it may be we know that it will be of the highest quality!
DF. Well,...Thank you!
Q. Thank you, Dan
DF. You're certainly welcome.