a new direction in his musical development, a time for “sitting on the bluff over the river and becoming a romantic,” he says. Tired of the band scene, of singing and playing electric lead guitar, Fogelberg’s attention was caught by the music of Gordon Lightfoot. It inspired the young musician toward songwriting. “ ‘Louie, Louie’ had its place,” says Fogelberg, “but Lightfoot was doing music as literature -- poetry with beautiful melodies -- and it really got to me.”
Dan was also struck by the acoustic playing of Red Shea, Lightfoot’s original lead guitarist. “I still marvel at Shea’s work on those records,” says Dan. “ It’s just delicious to a musician." The influence of Red Shea’s tasteful, understated approach is reflected in all of Fogelberg’s playing (even in his electric work). It’s the school of guitar that emphasizes note selection, rather than flash.
For about a year, Dan continued his acoustic explorations. Then came the itch to get a new band together. But by this time the acoustic side of his musical personality was firmly established.
That was the era of the country/rock pioneering of the Dillards, the Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield. Fogelberg’s new band, the Coachmen, reflected the electric/acoustic fusion. Dan recalls their version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird,” in which he fingerpicked his 12-string, and then switched to banjo for the contrasting section of the tune. The Coachmen had a strong local following, and even produced a few of their own records (with Dan in charge of the sessions). Pretty innovative for a bunch of high school kids from Peoria, back in the mid-Sixties.
The Coachmen had a perfect benefactor. The local music store owner served as their manager and gave them the run of the store. It was a veritable playground for the adolescent music addicts.
“On the night of a gig,” Fogelberg recalls, “we’d go into his vault and haul out a different guitar, a new PA -- whatever struck our fancy. We got to demo a lot of equipment, and I really got to know what it was like to play different guitars. We spent a lot of afternoons there just trying out new guitars. That was the first place I played a Martin. I strummed my first chord on that thing and just couldn’t believe how beautiful it sounded. It was really a revelation.”
The Coachmen lasted until their high school days ended. Dan headed for the University of Illinois to study art (painting); but music was his real passion, and it wasn’t long before classes took a back seat to coffeehouse gigs and jam sessions. At that time he was back in an acoustic focus, writing songs and playing solo with his 12-string.
One experience that gave him new food for thought was a Joni Mitchell concert. “I was sitting next to this girl who had binoculars and was constantly writing stuff down as she watched Joni play. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me, ‘I’m trying to cop Joni’s tunings.’ Tunings! I’d never thought of that. So I started playing around with alternate tunings, and that really opened up my songwriting. It took me out of the simpler folk compositions and into a more sophisticated place.”
Dan’s solo performances gained him a solid reputation around town. He recorded some of his tunes and got them on the local radio playlists. They caught the attention of Irving Azoff, who at that time was a moderately successful regional booking agent for REO Speedwagon, Michael MacDonald, and other now famous musicians.
(Irving “Papa Bear” Azoff has done pretty well for himself. He’s a founder of Frontline Management, a company whose clients include Fogelberg, the Eagles, Stevie Nicks, Jimmy Buffet, Steely Dan and others. Azoff is also president of MCA records.)
In September, 1970, a mutual friend got Azoff and Fogelberg together. The meeting was to take place at a local fraternity bar. Dan plays his memory tape: “I didn’t want to go there but my friend dragged me over to this crazy place. It was wild - the walls were being torn down by a bunch of fraternity jerks who were going nuts on a Friday night. Glasses breaking, fights. It was insane. Irving was a hip capitalist and I was a radical; we were really from opposite sides of the tracks.
“So Irving had an upright piano set up and I took my acoustic guitar. I sat there in the middle of this din and played five or six songs I had written. Irving and his partner were the only two people in the place who were listening. I just hated being there.
“When I finished playing Irving came up to me and said, ‘Yeah, you’re the one.’ We started making plans right there. Irving was ready for the big time, and he was going to take me and REO Speedwagon along. We were each other’s ticket into the LA scene.”
There were still lean times ahead, while connections were being made. “Lots of canned chili and lots of waiting for phone calls,” says Fogelberg. Eventually a contract came through with CBS’ Columbia Records division.
Dan moved to Nashville, where he made his first record (Home Free) and got into the studio scene as a session guitarist. During his tenure as a session player, his Red Shea concept of guitar playing was reinforced. “It became even clearer during that time, it’s not what you play that counts, it’s what you don’t play,” he says. “For a young guitarist, that’s a very important distinction to make.”
Initially, Fogelberg’s first LP didn’t catch on. (It later went gold.) Things were still coming together in a career that had long been fueled by patience, persistence, and enormous talent. In a business move that really laid the foundation for what was to come, Irving Azoff, Joe Walsh, Fogelberg and the Eagles formed Frontline Management. Azoff and Fogelberg also formed Full Moon Productions, says Dan, “so that I could make records without a record company breathing down my neck. It was protection for me.”
Under the new business arrangements Fogelberg made his next LP (Souvenirs), which was his first million-seller, and which included his first hit single (“Part Of The Plan”).
From that point, Fogelberg has proceeded to carve out one of the more secure niches in the entertainment industry. He writes and records songs that move him, and they seem to move the public as well. Perhaps the best example of the Fogelberg phenomena - and the song which he points to as his favorite - is “Leader Of The Band,” (a tribute to his father). That hit single from 1981 is essentially an acoustic guitar/vocal mix, and it was released at a time when hark rockers and disco drivelers ruled the charts.