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Remembering Dan Fogelberg

| August 13, 2013 | 85 Comments

Most of my readers know about my deep, abiding and often embarrassing love for Dan Fogelberg and his music. He filled the soundtrack of my youth, made me want to learn to play the guitar, was the model for all the moody musicians I fell for in college, and trying to figure out how to meet him—when I’m being ridiculously honest—is the real reason I started Performing Songwriter magazine in 1993.

My brilliant plan worked and I did get to meet Dan. I interviewed in him 1994, and had my dreams come true when I spent almost two hours talking to him about art and artistry, music and musicianship. He told me about his love of Georgia O’Keefe and stories his then-wife—who was O’Keefe’s nurse—shared with him; of sailing around with Jimmy Buffett, drinking Heinekens and penning “Domino College,” his only co-write; of the inspiration he found in Tom Robbins’ book Still Life With WoodPecker; and how overlooked Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones was and that he thought “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” was Simon’s greatest piece of work.

Today Dan would have turned 62 years old, and I thought a good way to celebrate would be to go back to that conversation I had with him 19 years ago and share a few of his thoughts on his early albums—including The Innocent Age which, unbelievably, turned 31 last year.

Thanks for all the great songs and memories you left us Dan, and we celebrate your birth. You are truly missed.

What is your perception of your first album, Home Free, now?

It just strikes me as a very young man; very innocent. It was my first record in Nashville and I was having a wonderful time. I still like the songs on that album, I just wish I could have sung better when I was younger. I mean it was just always this high falsetto. And nobody knew what they were doing (laughs). We were all just kids, you know, doing a lot of drugs and having a lot of fun. And that’s the truth. When people come to me and say Home Free‘s their favorite, I just wince. But there’s something about that innocent quality that still translates to people. It’s like my first born, you know. I’m always going to love it, but I don’t hear from it often (laughs).

Do you remember writing “To The Morning?”

Yes I do, very vividly. It was the first real piano song that I ever wrote. And I had come back from college my freshman year in the summer and I sat down at my mother’s piano at her house, I was home for the summer, and I remember being up in the morning and looking out through the venetian blinds, and it was a lovely sunny summer day, and I just wrote this song. It was very heavily influenced by Joni Mitchell. And it was all done in one morning. And it’s still one of my favorites, I still play it in concert and it still holds up. I think it’s a very good song for what it is.

What about “Wysteria?”

I don’t know where that came from. I think that was just a college drug haze, because it doesn’t make much sense. It’s this really weird thing about a vampire; a dead woman. I used to ask the audience what they thought this song was about and nobody knew. (Laughs) Wysteria is dead, it’s a ghost. And this guy’s still hung up on this ghost. Listen to it in that context (laughs). It’s a weird song. I think I remember lying in a hallway of some dumpy house I lived in in college and this thing came out. And I didn’t even know what the name “Wysteria” meant. I was at a head shop and I saw a candle or some incense called Wysteria, and I thought it was a great word (laughs).

What does your second album, Souvenirs, represent to you?

That was my L.A. days, running with The Eagles. They were all over that record, we were buddies and we were touring. The thing that I’m most proud of with that record is that it opened the door to the people I wanted to work with. And Joe Walsh got me Russ Kunkel. I always looked up to Russell immensely from his James Taylor and Carole King work. And I was just drooling to work with this guy. And Walsh just called him and he came down, and here I had him and Al Perkins from Manassas and Graham Nash came in. So I got to work with a lot of my heroes on that record. And it opened the door for me in L.A. as far as not just being the kid anymore, but being one of the guys. So I remember that one as a real good time … probably way too good a time. It’s a miracle we survived that record.

What about your album, Captured Angel?

If I only had one record to take back and redo it would be Captured Angel. I can’t even listen to that one. That was done as demos. I played everything, I did everything. My Dad was in the hospital having open heart surgery and he was really sick, and I was living with my Mom in Peoria. And while I was there I had nothing to do so I booked this little funky studio, and I would just go in and work. I would go see my dad and hang with him until they kicked us out of the hospital, and then I’d go to this studio and work till dawn. And I made all these demos that I was going to take to L.A. and redo, and I played them for everybody, and everybody said, “why bother, they’re good enough. We’ll have Russell play some drums on it and add another bass player, but we think the tracks are there.” So it came out that way. And in retrospect it was a mistake, because it could have been a much better record. Again, I like the songs on the record, I still perform “Old Tennessee” and “The Last Nail” and “Next Time.” I think there was some good writing, but I just think that the production was miserable. Because, again, I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought I did (laughs).

How was “Old Tennessee” inspired?

That was a funny song. This is interesting because I never told this stuff. I wrote “Old Tennessee” as really a “cop,” as a joke. James Taylor was real popular at this point, and I was hearing this kind of … in James’ writing there was a lot of similarity. There was this east coast folky type of thing. And I said, “Well, hell, anybody can write something like that,” (laughs). So I wrote that and it’s really just a send up of early James Taylor work. And I just wrote about whatever was happening at the time, you know, about this girl I was with at the farmhouse who left, and all this sort of thing. So it wasn’t anything I did seriously, I just thought it was a send up of a particular style. (Laughing) Now I’ll probably get a letter from James.

What about your album, Nether Lands?

That was a real seminal record. I think that was the first mature record I ever made. To me when I listen to the first three, that’s a kid. I think Nether Lands was the man growing up. And I think it was musically mature, but also the lyrics finally had some real depth and philosophical strength to them that I’d never had before.

The song “Nether Lands” was a pretty grand musical undertaking.

You have no idea (laughs). I cut the track solo and then I hired Dominic Frontiere, the arranger, and I worked with him for a couple of days. And then we went in and they had a 69-piece orchestra. We played the chart, and then I freaked out and ran out and re-wrote the whole thing (laughs) at the session. This thing went like eight hours with 69 pieces. You wouldn’t be able to do that today, it’s cost prohibitive. I mean we were just nuts (laughs). My friend Norbert Putnam, who produced it, and I were having a great time. He bought a whole cooler of Dom Perignon and we were saying, “Boy, this is gonna be great, isn’t it.” And here are all these people and we’re out at the Burbank Sound Stage where they do the movies. We’re drinking champagne before the thing even started, thinking we were just going to sit there and listen. And I heard the first chart and just went, “Oh my God!” It sounded like a train wreck. So I was half lit to begin with, and then I had to go out and try and tell these guys what I wanted them to play. It was a long night (laughs). It was a great night in retrospect.

Tell me about that Twin Sons of Different Mothers with Tim Weisberg.

That was a real quickie. I had called Tim in to work on Nether Lands on a track. We just hit it off and I really liked his stuff, and it would be interesting to see what we could come up with. So I just started thinking about writing without lyrics, which is something I love to do. I started composing all of these pieces and asked Tim if he was interested. And he listened and said, “let’s do it.” So it was about six months, start of finish.

That album did really well, didn’t it?

Yeah, that just blew the top off the whole thing. And I was embarrassed to even put it out, you know. I mean, I liked it but I just thought it would be torn to shreds and ignored. And so I said, “Irving, you hold it for a week, I’m going to Europe,” (laughs). “I don’t want to be around when it comes out.” And then I got these calls in Amsterdam saying I had a hit record with it.

And “The Power of Gold” was the single from that?

Yeah. That was one of the few things that I’ve written specifically for radio that worked. We had this whole thing of all this instrumental bossa nova and other stuff—a pretty eclectic mix of music—and we had this big huge grandiose symphonic piece that I had written and actually tried to record. And I went home thinking that that wasn’t what we needed to end that album with. We needed something that rocked. And we had already done most of the album. So I remember just going home and banging this thing out in a day or two and calling Tim and saying let’s cut this other track. And we did it, threw it on there, and the next thing you know it was on the radio.

High Country Snows was a real departure for you. Was it a really fulfilling album for you to make?

It’s the most fun I ever had in the studio, and I think that comes across on the record. It was just a joy, a pure joy from day one to the finish.

How long had you toyed with the idea of making a bluegrass album?

It happened really pretty quickly. I had been listening to a lot of bluegrass because I was building my ranch in southern Colorado and I was driving a lot between my old house near Boulder and this place. And I was listening to bluegrass because it seemed like great music to be driving through the mountains listening to (laughs). And so I renewed my interest just kind of on my own. And then I went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1984, I think, just to hang out. I showed up and Chris Hillman and Al Perkins were there, and Herb Peterson had missed his flight. They were supposed to do a trio, so Hillman asked if I wanted to be in the band—actually he didn’t ask, he said “you’re in the band” (laughs), and I hadn’t done any of that kind of stuff in a long time. So we worked up some chestnuts backstage and went out and did a show. And I started thinking about how I really enjoyed this music when I was younger. It’s really complex, it’s really challenging, and it’s a whole genre of singing and playing. So I just came back and said this is my wish list of musicians and it turned out that all went for it. So I didn’t have a choice, all of the sudden everybody was saying, yeah, let’s do it. And all of the sudden I had this phenomenal band ready to go, so I thought I’d be an idiot not to do this. I had a hard time convincing the record company, though.

“Same Old Lang Syne” is one of your most popular songs. What was the writing of that like?

That was really a joke. It was just an exercise in songwriting. It took a long time to write that thing. And what I had done was I took Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, that riff, and I wrote it in C major and played it with a Floyd Cramer feel, which I thought was funny to begin with. And then I threw this 6 minor chord in, which to musicians I thought would be a very funny thing to do. So I was just going to throw this at my friends in the studio as a joke. And then I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to exercise my craft here, and let’s see if I can do a song about nothing. About something so inconsequential.” So I was thinking about what that could be, and I thought, “Okay, you just came back from your mom’s, you ran into your high school girlfriend, see if you can write a song about that.” And so I started writing it and just laughing about it, that it was actually fitting into this song (laughs). And then I came up with the title, which I thought was a good pun. And suddenly I realized that there was a great poignancy developing in the song that I never intended. And it started taking on a life of it’s own. And it kept drawing me back over a year. And I’d work on it and write one verse or two lines or something. And finally after the whole time I had this big piece, and I went “My God, this is actually good,” (laughs). And I never intended it to see the light of day, I never intended it to be a serious piece of writing. You just never know what people are going to take a liking to (laughs). I thought it would just help me write other, better songs. But I don’t know that I’ll ever write a better song than that. It’s a darn good one, it’s still a powerful performance piece, and I never get tired of it.

What about “The Leader of the Band,” was that something you had been wanting to write for a while?

That was totally spontaneous, it was a one-day wonder, I just happened to sit down with the guitar and bingo, that thing was done. I mean I never consciously wanted to write a song to my father. If I had consciously thought about it, I never would have done it. Because I thought it was too obscure and certainly non-commercial. That for me was a real great moment, because whether or not that song was ever a hit, it meant a great deal to my father. He got to hear it, and it said things that neither one of us could say to each other. We weren’t real communicative males, you know, we’re midwestern (laughs). So that song was so timely because he only lasted about another year after that. That’ll always be a real special song to me.

—By Lydia Hutchinson

Photo by Henry Diltz

From Performing Songwriter Issue 10

Category: In Case You Haven't Heard

Comments (85)

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  1. keith says:

    I saw dan fogleberg open for souther hillman and furay band in 1974 in nyc.joe walsh was there and al perkins playing banjo and pedal steel for the souvenirs tour. went mosty for shf band but became an instant dan fogelberg fan who lasted alot longer then the ego crazy short lived shf band. RIP DAN

  2. I lived in Mississippi as a teen, and besides Dan’s home state of Illinois it was the state that “discovered” him first! WZZQ in Jackson started the morning with To the Morning for months after Dan’s first album came out. That album along with the remainder of his first 6 albums became a foundation for me as a musician. Dan underestimated his own early work. It is beautiful, honest, and superb songwriting. His influence on me as a musician was greater than any other.

    I truly hate that we do not have the opportunity to revisit with him his world of music and enjoy him in the smaller and more intimate venues that faded stars get to play in. His music is as powerful to me today as it was when I was 14 and I first heard Stars. Miss you Dan, more than I can express….

  3. Glenn says:

    Fantastic interview. Dan is certainly missed.
    My favourite albums are Home Free (for the extremely advanced compositions for such a young man and its purity), Nether Lands and Innocent Age.
    I totally agree with Dan about the sound on his early record. I thought his voice got better when he dropped the falsetto thing and as far as Captured Angel is concerned, I kjept nodding in agreement when I read his feelinghs about it. That album was wasted away. It contained probably some of his best compositions but the sound and the production is awful and the voice drowns in the wall of sound. Sometimes the singing doesn’t come through and the sound is incredibly dry and flat. It was really nice to hear him comfirm this as well. If that album was remade it would probably had been one of his best ever because the playing and the composition is top notch.
    As for Wysteria, it is probably one of his most hautning tunes and it blew me away when I first heard it. Pure magic.

  4. Michael Smith says:

    I become a big Dan Fogelberg fan right after the release of Souvenirs. I was listening to pretty much anything that came out of Laurel Canyon at the time. Bought Capture Angel right after it’s release and then saw Dan Fogelberg for the first time at DAR Constitution Hall in DC. One of the few singers who can bring me chills when I listen to some of his work. One of my saddest days was the day I was on vacation and learned that Dan had died on my birthday. I had to go off and compose myself before continuing on. Thank you for the article as I love to read the thoughts of those who entertain.

  5. Don says:

    Great piece! Ironically, I love the “raw-ness” of Home Free, the thing Dan wanted to change lol (love his high fallsetto) From To the Morning to Place in the World,Old Tennessee to Along the Road,Paris Nocturne to Scarecrow’s Dreams and The Reach plus the hits… Dan’s music will be a life soundtrack for me!

  6. G. Smith says:

    Great piece to read on this, the ninth anniversary of his passing… a huge influence and inspiration… back then, and still today…

  7. Dre Sellz says:

    Dan’s lyrical skills are astounding. He paints vivid pictures in my mind,that are clear as seeing them.

  8. Betsy Brown says:

    First heard of DF when my high school senior class (1977) chose “To the Morning” as our class song – and I fell in love with his music then and forever. Many favorites, including “stars ” “dancing shoes ” “Windows and walls” I could go on and on… Miss you Dan!! Saw him in concert in TX and TN many times.

  9. Rick Burrows says:

    The studio he refers too was Golden Voice Studio for Captured Angel was in South Pekin, Illinois. My Grandmother lived around the corner from it.

    • John Henderson says:

      Yes I was fortunate enough to spend a night in that studio with him watching his amazing talent and doing Ed Sullivan impersonations drinking Strohs beer and stealing licks off a Ry Cooder album.

  10. I first heard Dan in my mid teens.a British radio programme called “the Alan Freeman show “.the song played was “part of the plan”.being very much into heavy rock it didn’t fit into my schedule so my group of fellow musicians never knew of my softer musical side.that song started a mellowing within me and broadened my songwriting abilities.I feel like Dan is a good friend as I’ve had his music with me most of my life.I’m in my fifties now but whenever I put one of his songs on it takes me back to my teens as if yesterday.much loved and missed mark blaxland south Wales England.

  11. Barb Heaney says:

    Wow there are other Dan Fogelberg fans like me. Hands down the best singer song writer on the planet. My life as a young girl played out to every Dan Fogelberg song. The heavens are lucky to have him. Of my many favorites The last nail and Dancing shoes are the best but the list goes on and on. Thank you Dan for everything you gave the world and now give to God.

  12. Jim says:

    I was listening to Phoenix tonight, and while looking up some production information, found this quote from Russ Kunkel, the drummer on Phoenix:
    “Oh, gosh, this is a real soft spot for me. I miss him terribly. He was a very, very close friend. I first met Dan during the Souvenirs sessions that Joe Walsh was producing. Dan and I really hit it off, and that started a long relationship of recording and playing live together.

    “I believe I worked on three more records with Dan before The Innocent Age. That would be Captured Angel in ’75, Netherlands in ‘77 and Phoenix in 1980. The Innocent Age, I believe, was recorded at Graham Nash’s studio at Crossroads Of The World in Hollywood, California. It was a double album, as well I kind of remember the record company being a little uneasy about it being a two- record set, but in the end it was incredibly successful.

    “Dan was a huge, huge, huge talent at making his records, another person who knew exactly what he wanted and could articulate it in the most wonderful way. He was a visionary and a complete composer. He could see the finished product. He could look at the pound of clay and see the sculpture.”

    What a nice tribute from a fellow professional who has worked with Ronstadt, Taylor, King and so many others.

  13. Bob says:

    I first heard of Dan Fogelberg the fall of my junior year at Carolina. A friend that worked in a radio station had been given a demo album of Souvenirs and she gave it to me. I was hooked immediately and then went out and bought Home Free. I bought each new album as they came out through Windows and Walls. I was lucky enough to see him in concert in Charlotte in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Every time I hear Leader of the Band, it brings tears to my eyes. There are so many other favorites, too….Changing Horses, Innocent Age, Wysteria, Netherlands, False Faces….too many to count. Always good. And brings back a lot of great memories.

  14. Susan Winston says:

    I miss him so much! No one wrote or sang and touched my being the way Dan Fogelberg did. Thank you so for keeping his legacy alive.

  15. Becky Pride says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for re-sharing. So many lovely memories. The thing that strikes me throughout this conversation is how modest he was and such a sense of humor. Apparently all us women wanted to met him, his lyrics were so hauntingly touching our heartstrings. Gone too soon, alas I never got to met him. But, will love his music forever.

  16. Bea says:

    While trying to finish my thesis proposal defense presentation, my mind was wandering so I thought I would do some net surfing to reboot. I came to the Dan webpage and read this article. I still stare at his photos, shake my head and think he really can’t be gone…not yet.

    I saw him for the first time at Purdue University in 1978 or 79. I was beyond hooked. Saw him a few times more after that. Like you Lydia, I was always trying to figure out a way to meet him. Sadly, I never did so I will just live vicariously through your encounter.

    What I found absolutely cool in your article were his comments about High Country Snows. I always thought he sounded sooo good and most importantly, incredibly happy on that entire album. It just permeates the room when it plays. Sigh…at least we still have his recorded music to enjoy forever.

    • DeeAnne Shaughnessy says:

      Tried to see him at Purdue, probably the same concert. I had graduated and asked a friend to get tickets. She didn’t know who Dan was but purchased a bunch of tickets. Later let me know that she had sold the tickets to a bunch of other friends and didn’t have one left for me. Never got another chance and regret it to this day. His writing/voice were awesome.

  17. Tony Santana says:

    Still a fan after 30+ years of enjoyment. Through the years I have had my favorites. But now I searched the archives for new/old melodies. I listen regularly to: mountain pass & the outlaw (high country snow), give me some time (netherlands), river of souls (river of souls), the way it must be (exiles), only the heart may know (innocent age), stars (home free) and Lahaina luna ( twin sons….). There are certainly others, but these are on my current playlist. Do others agree? Thank you Dan for sharing your soul!

  18. elaine curreri says:

    played aud lang syne four times today a tear every time. 16 year old said – i really like that song, can’t get it out of my head.. neither can i..

  19. Sherri Bornhoft says:

    Thank you for the wonderful, Lydia. I still love all of the “Dan” stories! I grew up not far from Red Rocks, and got to see Dan perform there every summer for many, many years. My cousin and I considered ourselves to be his biggest fans! Like so many others, I feel that he wrote the soundtrack of my life, which is still playing now. I miss him but am so glad to always have his music and legacy.

  20. Jim says:

    I just realized as I was listening to “Souvenirs” that is is the 40th Anniversary of that wonderful album. I so very remember sitting in the listening room of the University of Montana in Missoula, pining for my then girlfriend to that album. Or lonely, looking out the window in cold Rochester, NY with “There’s a Place…” playing on my crappy stereo.
    The world is a lesser place without Dan. I hope my children, when they are lonely, or in love, or wistful, or need beauty in their lives, will find Dan. I hope my generation will pass his music on.

  21. Kathy and Chad says:

    My husband and I, married for 38 years, grew up listening to Fogelberg, and here we are now, on a road trip listening to Dan….we had the pleasure of seeing him play several times and love his music so much as it was such a part of our lives. We miss you Dan….

  22. terri says:

    Thanks for publishing this…it’s been so fun to “go back in time” and listen to my Dan Fogelberg CD’s. My husband and I used to go to his concerts, we’re about the same age so his music has a history for us. I recently started taking piano lessons…my inspiration? Dan of course…I’ve always wanted to play “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler” on the piano. Hope to achieve this goal in my lifetime. Thanks Dan, your music is a blessing.

  23. Linda Darkhand says:

    Thank you for this interview. I found myself nodding my head when reading Dan’s comments on his earlier albums because I totally agree with him. Oh, how I still love his music. He will always be missed.

  24. Pattie Ferguson says:

    Note…this is the year I lost my Dad so I was quite oblivious to a bunch of things being so overwhelmed….but after thinking about this yesterday, l do recall my brother telling me. Listening to Dan Fogelberg’s music just makes me need an instrument more now…than just my God given voice…

  25. Pattie Ferguson says:

    I was up early( for me) the other morning and all l could think of was this song…To The Morning!!! OH YEAH DAN FOGELBERG!!! knew l had the cassette tape but the lp Home Free. I found them both and honestly have been playing them over and over. 34yrs ago they had some deep meaning but Lord know what but seeing a dear friend after 38 yrs and a gorgeous morning just put that record back into my head.
    I was unaware Dan Folgelberg was no longer with us which saddend me because l was actually thinking wow l should see if he was appearing in any near venues. He was excellent. Plus being a piano player wanting to learn guitar…l do believe To The Morning l may have tried to play by ear…as l did a lot. I also thank you for the clarification about Wysteria….l was looking that up next. This has been great. Thank you for the great article and interview. :)

  26. Lori says:

    Funny how he thought that his first album was just a young mans attempt to record an album. To me that album is by far the best he ever did. I being a guitar player too, really seem to have a liking of artists first pure musical recordings. Seems after that many are lost in production and the artists nature. Don’t get me wrong, I own everything I could find by him, and he will always be my favorite musician in the world!

  27. Alan Slawter says:

    I love reading this every time…Thanks so much, Lydia

  28. Jasper Jackson says:

    Lydia: Just wish to say thank you – this was a nice interview. Dan – I miss you.

  29. Paula Brown says:

    Jed, the “joke” part was the music, not the lyrical content. If you listen closely, you will find that the melody to the intro & verses are the same notes/melody as Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”. He talked about this in concert or TV interview once as I recall, demonstrating the passage. Lyrically, though, it is well documented as a story based in fact. So don’t lose heart, or respect, Jed.

  30. Jed Morton says:

    It’s interesting that in the interview, he describes the song “Same Old Lang Syne” as a “really a joke.” But elsewhere on this site, in response to a written inquiry as to the source of the song, he replies that the events actually happened as described–even going so far as to state that the snow really did turn to rain as he drove away. I lost a measure of respect for DF after reading these two incongruous versions of how that song came about. I tend to believe the interview version: that the song was written as a joke. I guess it was a lot easier to respond to a girl’s inquiry by falsely asserting that the song chronicled an actual event.

  31. Sue says:

    I always thought Wysteria was about a vampire. Such a beautiful and haunting song-his best IMO.

  32. Greg DeMaio says:

    Lydia, this is my THIRD comment simply because each person that leaves feedback touches another heart string. We all miss Dan and there isn’t one fan on this site who will ever find the “right” words to say, only Dan was able to do that. But we all keep trying and I am great full for that!

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