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 emerged.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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."