Saturday, November 14, 2015

Article 4: Daniel Grayling Fogelberg



I first met Dan Fogelberg in the fall of 1969 at the Red Herring Coffeehouse in Urbana, Illinois, although it was not until March or April of 1970 that we spent any significant time together.  I had seen Dan perform several times at the coffeehouse, and, like everyone else who saw him, was overwhelmed by his talent as a singer/songwriter.  His vocals and guitar playing were extraordinary, and he was beginning to write songs that were better than anyone else's songs.  His guitar work reminded me of a young Stephen Stills, who Dan idolized, and his vocals brought Jackson Browne or Neil Young to mind.

But Dan was more than an unusually good singer/songwriter; his presence on stage was magical.  What set Dan apart from every other performer was his willingness to show his emotions and vulnerability on stage.  He sang of and from the heart.  That's what stunned everyone into adulation.

For several months I tried to figure out a way to approach Dan.  I wanted to talk with him about music--and his music in particular.  I wanted to find out what drove him, why he had written his songs.  He lived on the north side of the University of Illinois campus, in a small basement apartment, so I showed up one night and knocked on his door.  When the door opened, he looked at me and I asked, "Can we talk?"  He said only, "Come on in."  I first noticed a copy of James Joyce's Dubliners lying open on the linoleum floor of the entryway; maybe he had been reading.  But when he invited me to sit down with him on the living room floor, I noticed his guitar out of the case.  He'd been working on a song.

We talked for four hours straight--about music and love and life.  We talked about our shared love of Gordon Lightfoot's music.  I told him I'd just written my first song, "Morning Gray," and hadn't even learned the words or chords to it.  At the end of four hours, when we were both exhausted, Dan said, "We haven't finished yet.  Why don't you come back tomorrow night and bring your guitar."  I returned the next night with my 12-string, and that session lasted another four hours, during which Dan played several of his songs, including a couple of new ones, and I played my one song.  By the end of that song, Dan was playing lead guitar and singing a harmony on it.

During the next couple of years, we talked a lot about songwriting, and I was often the first person to hear a new song of his.  He played the beautiful "Wysteria" for me the afternoon he wrote it.  He didn't have a piano at his apartment, so I sometimes came upon him in Smith Music Hall (across the street from the Red Herring) working on a new song at an available piano.  I sat next to him on the piano bench as he finished up his epic song, "The River."  At one point I made a list of all of his songs that I'd heard.  There were 85 of them, many of which he never performed on stage.  (I remember titles like "The Subtract Blues" and "Malted Milk Blues" from a time when he was listening to Stephen Stills a lot.)

We had an interesting friendship.  By the spring semester of 1971, I was living in a small room at Channing-Murray Foundation, which housed the Red Herring.  Dan would knock on my door frequently, and we would put on a record or go out to McDonald's for a burger.  We developed a "sixth sense" about each other, where we could feel the presence of the other person in a crowd of people.  Maybe Dan had that with others, but he remarked matter-of-factly that we had it.  I remember walking through the very crowded basement cafeteria of the student union one day, and as I came around a corner, he was sitting there, smiling, expecting me.  He said, "I've been waiting for you; what took you so long?"

Dan pushed me to be a songwriter.  Dan was the first to hear my early songwriting efforts, and he greatly encouraged me to keep writing.  By sharing his songwriting ideas, I developed my own voice and style, and some of that style was borrowed directly from him.  Two of those techniques jump to mind--the use of "internal" rhymes and alliteration.  Dan liked rhyming two words that did not come at the end of successive lines, but were in the middle of those lines, so that at least two sets of rhymes resulted from two lines of lyrics.  He also employed alliteration more often than most songwriters did.  Here's an example of two lines I wrote but never used in a song:

     Know how you're feeling, stealing the stars above
     I'm staring at the ceiling, reeling from how I love you so

The internal rhymes of "feeling," "stealing," "ceiling" and "reeling" are obvious, but notice the alliteration with "stealing," "stars" and "staring."  Those lines are a good example of the influence in craft I got from Dan's writing.

Of course, Dan's biggest influence on my songwriting was to urge me to not be afraid of writing from personal experiences and from the heart.  As a tribute to him, I used the word "heart" in many of my early songs.  It amazed me how he could translate a real event in his life into a song lyric that appealed and applied to all, without making it sound contrived or sentimental.  That was the real beauty in his writing, and many of us aspired to that.

I would probably have stopped songwriting early in my "career" had it not been for Dan's pushing me.  I was in full songwriting mode by December, 1970, when Albert Melshenker (then known as Steve Melshenker) asked me to join him in writing a folk opera, called The Ship.  Albert was already an accomplished and prolific songwriter, and he liked my songs.  When we asked Dan Fogelberg to join us in writing the folk opera, he initially agreed, but he soon bowed out to pursue his own career, which turned out to be a pretty good move.

The last of my songs that Dan heard was one that I wrote for him and his best friend, Elliott Delman, a month before both of them left Urbana for greater things.  They were the only two people to ever hear the song, called Leave Easy.  I misplaced the lyrics many years ago, but I still remember writing the song to tell him and Elliott what they meant to me.

Dan pushed me to perform in front of other people.  I performed in front of coffeehouse audiences for the first time in the fall of 1970.  Dan just told me that I'd be fine and he'd be there.  He often played lead guitar for me after hearing my songs (at most) once.  In the Red Herring 1970 Fall Folk Festival, I teamed up with Nancy and Judy Spratlin to play a bunch of original songs, and Dan sat in to play lead guitar and sing harmonies.  Before going on stage, Dan told us that we were all good and deserved to be there in front of those 200 people.  That meant the world to us.

I played solo many times after Dan left to pursue his career.  Whenever stage fright would threaten to creep in, I thought of how Dan handled it--just try to play your best and let your heart show through.  If you made a mistake, it was no big deal; the song was what mattered.

Feeling comfortable in front of an audience has stayed with me all of my life, whether it be leading a class in something like ballroom dancing or performing a new song at a friend's wedding.  Dan was the first one to push me to enjoy performing.
 
And Finally.... By the early 1990's Dan and I had drifted apart, but I always picked up his new CD's and was amazed by his songs.  I once asked him if, due to his prolific output, he was afraid of running out of ideas for songs, and he told me it was the opposite--the more he wrote, the more ideas he had.

One of my fondest memories of Dan is when I went to see him open the show for The Eagles at a large venue in Chicago, some time in the mid-1970's.  I talked my way backstage near the end of his set and was standing with a group of about 20 people, including all of the guys from The Eagles, when Dan came off-stage after his last song.  He handed his guitar to someone and then noticed me standing about 15 feet away.  Without a word, he ran over and threw his arms around me.  As we walked off together, I heard someone say, "Who is that guy?"

Dan Fogelberg died of prostate cancer on December 16, 2007.  He and his wife, Jean, publicized his advanced disease with the sole goals of increasing prostate cancer awareness and raising money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.  Once again, Dan's influence greatly impacted my life, for I have had four prostate biopsies and one minor surgery.  I have been fortunate to avoid cancer and take every opportunity to urge my male friends to monitor their prostate health.  Jean continues to contribute her time and beautiful art to PCF.

48 comments:

  1. I have fond memories of listening to you and Dan jam. I recall hearing the two of you play "Mr. Bo Jangles."

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    1. Man, I'd forgotten about that! I did used to sing that song, and Dan would sit in. Thanks for reminding me, Paul.

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  2. Loved hearing your story. Thank you.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your remembrances. I've been a fan from the beginning and this brought the early shows back along with the the smiles from his personalized shows.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your memories. Great stories of a beautiful person, singer and songwriter. My first DF concert was in 77 when Fools Gold opened for him. I never knew or met Dan but he was and is a big part of my musical life.

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    1. You're welcome, Marietta. Unlike some musicians I've known, Dan was the same person off-stage as he was on-stage. I'm glad you connected with his music.

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  5. Thanks, Steve. I enjoyed reading your "from the heart" story about your friendship with Dan and his positive influence in the path of your life. You made a wise intentional decision as a young man showing up at Dan's apartment unannounced, a decision that led to good outcomes!

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    1. Thank you, Suzanne. Dan was a young kid then (I think 18), but he had an aura about him that set him apart from others. All of us were a little scared to approach him, but I threw caution to the wind.

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  6. Thanks for sharing. This was very insightful as to the kind soul Dan was. I hope you are still writing and performing.

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    1. Pete, you're very welcome. I still write songs a little bit, but I put much of my time into writing essays and doing ceramics. My old group, The Ship, got together again in 2008 and 2010, when we produced a new album. Take a look at our website, www.theshipmusic.com, to see some photos of where Dan played in Urbana--Channing Murray Foundation.

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  7. Great history of one of my biggest influences - thanks! Waiting for the tribute album...any news?

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  8. Steve, Thanks so for sharing these reminiscences. Really a very special orbit you and Dan shared in the early days, and obviously, retained for many years. I feel blessed to have been able to interview him once after his '97 show in Indy for a small monthly music mag. He was very generous in his answers, and the conversation warmed to a lively give and take. He seemed simple, clear, uncomplicated - a truly unique persona. Months later I was able to get backstage after his show at the Ryman in Nashville; we chatted briefly, and I was surprised he remembered me, but after reading your article, it makes sense. A noble soul... This is a great contribution to Dan's legacy, and I learned about it from his official website. Keep writing, Steve! Thanks again - Hunt Sidway, Cincinnati

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  9. You've always been a good song writer. I am not surprised that your blog is also well written ... and from the heart, as usual. Peter Berkow

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing your story of friendship with Dan! He was indeed just as he appeared to be onstage and in his music from what you said about him. There are so few people who are authentic and noble with integrity to match. Dan's life and musical genius was certainly bigger than life with such a high calling. I am an avid Dan Fan as you can tell and appreciate hearing about his college years in detail. Bless you for sharing your friendship with Dan. I would wager that there are many songs that were recorded and never released. I hope that there will be another album released.

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing this blog about your life's intersecting with the famous DF. He was obviously the real deal. His music meant a lot to me and my wife. We got to see him in concert in Oklahoma City in our early married years. When his songs come on the radio today, it's as if we're transported back. He captured our hearts and the times like few can do. He left us way too soon! Thank you for your gift of writing!

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    1. Alan, you're very welcome. Of course, when I first knew Dan, he wasn't famous yet, although I thought it was probably inevitable. I like your phrase, "captured our hearts." That's what Dan could do better than anyone.

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  12. The manga singer/songwriter was disturbingly proud of his extensive ecchi collection. (rare, countable,) a person that was typical of possessing to a high degree the features of a whole class. He was the epitome of goodness. A condensed account, especially of his being a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter; abstract. I will always think of him with warmth and love who took me through the good and the bad times. Taking me to a higher plane of nirvana. A piece of mind only one can experience by themselves. I will forever be grateful towards him and wish to thank him for the felicific he gave me. Too young, too soon but the memories will never fade.

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  13. There are a few artists that you encounter in your life that cut straight to your inner being. The marrow of your soul. For me, Dan is certainly that. I had the pleasure of seeing him once with a full band in 82 and then later in Naples, Fla solo. My wife and I were front row center. To this day, that show remains the most special of my days. Close enough to see his every nuance, it was enchanting. Dans music continues to be like a sacred chapel that always fills me with the warmth and radiance of a crisp sunrise on a snow filled Carolina morning. Unique is every facet.

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  14. What a moving story...Wish that I could have met him

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  16. Thank you for sharing your stories about your friendship with Dan. Sad that I was never able to see him live or meet him in person, but his music has connected with me so much over the years. It had such a unique quality and the words in his songs are so powerful. I am sure you realized Dan had the "it" factor early on in his youth. Dan attended school close to my neck of the woods, as I am from the Danville area, near Champaign-Urbana. His music lives on and will forever within me. The more I listen to him, the more I realize that wrote the soundtrack to my life, as he had with so many others. Dan is the reason I have taken up trying to play the guitar. Today, on this 8th anniversary of his passing, I am doing my own tribute to him, celebrating his life by playing his songs all day long. Ever on Dan!

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  17. I thought everyone on this three would appreciate learning of the latest Dan Fogelberg news. The was posted on the official site today, the anniversary of Dan's repose. In addition, the "NO PEEKING" is a bit of a tease, as the main page features a beautiful live recording of 'Song From Half Mountain' (I think it is from 1979, solo acoustic tour). So, in addition to the Tribute Album mentioned below, perhaps there is a new Live Album coming soon also. Enjoy!

    A Christmas Surprise

    It’s been eight years since we lost Dan, but his legacy is still going strong, thanks to all of you. Now we have some very exciting news to share with you: after five and a half years, the last vocal for the tribute CD has finally been recorded!

    It’s been a long time coming, and you’ve been very patient, but now it’s all happening, and we’ll be sharing more details very soon. But wait, there’s more!!

    As a special thank you for your patience, on December 25th we’ll be posting a preview track from the tribute CD on DanFogelberg.com, just for you, Dan’s loyal fans. Which track, you ask? You’ll have to wait for Christmas Day. And...NO PEEKING!

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  18. Thank you for sharing this. Dan helped me get through many dark days during those early 70's and it breaks my heart that his voice has been silenced, but so happy his legacy never will be.
    I was looking at one of his live performances today and noticed he had a huge goiter on his neck. This is and indication of iodine deficiency which is a precursor to breast (which have thankfully survived) thyroid, and prostate cancer. I am founding an org. to education people on important issues like this. Anyone in Dan's corner who would like to help get this information out, please send me a message thinkwholistic@gmail.com

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  19. Thanks so much for sharing your recollections of Dan Fogelberg. He truly was an example of "what you see - or hear - is what you get". It sounds like he truly was a genuinely honest, open person who felt it was important to share his feelings with others; he wrote such marvelous songs about his relationships with others. He certainly could have written some amazing, moving lyrics about children, including his advice for them. Do you know if he had any of his own?

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    1. To my knowledge, Dan had no children of his own. Curiously, that is one subject we never discussed, although we talked often about his parents and his close relationship with them. For instance, he told me once that the song "Longer" was a tribute to his mother.

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  20. That's a wonderful, touching revelation which I don't recall coming across in any of Dan's interviews… Thanks for sharing that, Steve.

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  22. Steve, thanks so much for your story. I can't say I was Dan's biggest fan, but I can say I was a huge fan. I never heard Dan's music until he came out with "Longer"! Once I did, I fell in love with his style and the depths he was able to take it. So many great songs! But two of his earlier songs ("To The Morning" and "Hickory Grove") really took a grip on me and I followed Dan from the on. I even had the chance to see Dan in concert in New Orleans in 1984...just Dan and his piano, no band. When he sang " Same Old Lang Syne", he forgot the words. He said "It's pretty bad when you forget your own songs" and laughed. When he did, everyone in the audience pulled out lighters and started singing the song. He picked up on it and kept going. At the end of the concert, everyone wanted an encore and Dan never came back out. We were all shocked and disappointed. The very next morning, I heard he was immediately rushed to the hospital as he exited the stage for dehydration. I knew then what an extraordinary man and artist Dan truly was. There will never be another Dan Fogelberg in my book. I envey your friendship with Dan.....but only because I wish I could have been so lucky!!!

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  23. Just read this. Was a 'solo' guy in college and...ached for someone to assist me in writing, singing, and playing. Oh to have been "gifted" by DF.

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    1. Although Dan was certainly the best, the Red Herring between 1969 and 1973 was filled with good songwriters, most of whom jumped at the chance to collaborate and jam. Probably more than 20 of those people went on to make multiple CD's of their songs.

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  24. Thank you for your article. I recently started listening to artists that I haven't listened to in many years, and Dan is one of them. I forgot how much I enjoyed listening to his powerful arrangements and orchestrations as well as singing along to his recordings, especially the harmonies. I didn't know that Dan was a fan of Gordon Lightfoot. I had a close friend whose name was also Dan. Dan passed away 20 years ago. It just so happens that my Dan was also a huge fan of Gordon Lightfoot. We used to perform folk-rock music, including some of Dan's songs. I was fortunate to have seen Dan perform in NYC.

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    1. In our first conversation, Dan said something about Gordon Lightfoot's songs that has always stayed with me (and that later I applied to Dan's songs). He said that you could always trust Lightfoot "to get it right." He wrote songs that worked and held together and made sense from beginning to end. Songwriters know how hard it is to get it right, song after song.

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  25. Loved your story Steve. I had the pleasure of watching Dan work on Captured Angel at Golden Voice Studios in Pekin when his dad was sick. A friend of mine was doing an article on him and I tagged along. We drank Strohs beer and Dan would do Ed Sullivan impersonations. He had a Ry Cooder album he was using for inspiration on slide guitar parts. He played the album for us. He did everything himself. Most talented musician I ever met and so humble and gracious and funny!

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  26. Loved your story Steve. I had the pleasure of watching Dan work on Captured Angel at Golden Voice Studios in Pekin when his dad was sick. A friend of mine was doing an article on him and I tagged along. We drank Strohs beer and Dan would do Ed Sullivan impersonations. He had a Ry Cooder album he was using for inspiration on slide guitar parts. He played the album for us. He did everything himself. Most talented musician I ever met and so humble and gracious and funny!

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    1. John, I remember Dan's Ed Sullivan impersonation--really funny. I did a little recording at Golden Voice as well, with my group, The Ship. You were fortunate to see Dan work in the studio.

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  28. Absolutely! I am a guitar player in Los Angeles and was going through some of his old songs and am amazed at what a brilliant solo guitarist he was.

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  29. I'm in the right place at the right time, and it was Dan who guided me here... who else could do it. I found Dan late in life, well, later than most. I'm now 74 and I still have Dan in my car with me everyday... his music is among my absolute favourites. BTW I went to school with Gordon Lightfoot and sang in the church choir... and Renaissance Woman was a pen name over 20 yrs ago - I'd almost forgotten until now. Thanks for music Dan..... Sandy

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  30. Dan's music has been literally the soundtrack of my life. I was raised by parents who loved his music and it became my own. One of my favorite memories was seeing a solo performance of his in 1999 at a beautiful vineyard location. The couple sitting next to me commented that it was incredible to them that an 18 year old kid in torn up jeans and a punk rock tee shirt would know every word to the songs being sung. I will forever be grateful to Dan for the gifts that he gave to me and each of us that have known him only through his beautiful words and melodies.

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    1. Landon, I think Dan would be extremely pleased to hear your story. I'm curious about the winery--was it in Saratoga, California?

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  31. I was born in 1971. I grew up listening to Dan because he was one of my mom's favorite singer/song writers. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform several times. One show I was 9 months pregnant. Told the little one in my belly to stay in so I could make the show. That little one is now 11. Now, my 3 kids love Dan too. His music will live on forever in my heart.

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  32. I was born in 1971. I grew up listening to Dan because he was one of my mom's favorite singer/song writers. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform several times. One show I was 9 months pregnant. Told the little one in my belly to stay in so I could make the show. That little one is now 11. Now, my 3 kids love Dan too. His music will live on forever in my heart.

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    1. Sarah, I hope your kids grow up loving Dan's music. That would be three generations.

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  34. Dan Fogleberg albums got my roommate and I through college. Wrote an English paper on Dancing Shoes. We loved his look too.

    I was surprised and saddened upon hearing of his death. I was surprised that he aged. I barely remember my roommates. But, in my head, Dan Fogolberg was not supposed to age or die.

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  35. I remember The Red Herring (and Toad Hall) very well from going to the U of I. Had all the Red Herring albums from those years too. Unfortunately lost them to a hurricane in 2005. Recognized Dan's talent immediately. Wish I had known him. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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