DAN FOGELBERG: Fogelberg Speaks Out On Today’s Music

Dan Fogelberg was born and raised in Peoria, Ill., where he began playing music professionally at the age of 13. His late father Lawrence, a versatile musician and teacher, was immortalized in his son’s song, “Leader of the Band.” His mother, Margaret, was a classically trained singer. Fogelberg is a private man with a deep love of the countryside. He lives on a Colorado ranch with is horses, chickens and four cats.

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Dan Fogelberg was born and raised in Peoria, Ill., where he began playing music professionally at the age of 13. His late father Lawrence, a versatile musician and teacher, was immortalized in his son’s song, “Leader of the Band.” His mother, Margaret, was a classically trained singer. Fogelberg is a private man with a deep love of the countryside. He lives on a Colorado ranch with is horses, chickens and four cats.

AS: When you started playing, were you writing songs too?

DF: Yeah, absolutely, since the beginning because the biggest influence on me at that point was The Beatles, 1962-63, and they write their own songs, so when I started playing I thought, “Gosh, they write their songs, so should I.” So I started writing very early, some real silly things.

AS: Do you remember any of them?

DF: Not very many, and I don’t really have anything on tape. Actually there’s one thing called “Maybe Time Will Let Me Forget” that was our first record. The Coachmen, my second band, recorded two of my songs. And it was a moderate hit in Peoria. Everybody thought we were stars because we were on the radio.

AS: What was the first song you wrote that you took seriously?

DF: There were a lot of them that never got recorded. I took all of them seriously. “Maybe Time Will Let Me Forget,” was a big song for us a kind of signature tune for us. A lot of stuff in college that didn’t make it into Home Free. Now, “To The Morning” was written in college and it made it there, and “Stars” and “Wysteria” and those were better songs that I wrote late in high school. I was just starting to understand serious songwriting, not rock and roll songwriting. “To The Morning” strikes me as the first one where I said, ‘hey this is really good, I’m gonna record this.’

AS: At such a young age (16) you were writing like someone 20 years older.

DF: Oh I don’t know. The Beatles were pretty young when they were writing their stuff, too. They were 21 and 22.

AS: Yes but it has that wise old man looking back at what’s happened to me feeling to it.

DF: I listened a lot to Joni Mitchell so I was really influenced by her. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just expressing –kind of copying her (laughs). That first album has a lot of her influence on it. And Gordon Lightfoot, Stephen Stills and Neil Young and The Beatles. That was really intelligent music, all of those people. I wasn’t going to write “Mony, Mony” or something, I aspired to higher art from the beginning.

AS: Did you ever write poetry?

DF: A little bit, not too much. I’m not a very good poet. I’m a good lyricist.

AS: If you take the music away from your lyrics you have very good poetry.

DF: Some of it is alright, some of it just lyrics. Great poetry is something entirely different, which I don’t do.

AS: A lot of it on Nether Lands and Innocent Age is great poetry. It can stand apart from the music.

DF: Those were two very lyrical albums. Those were a kind of high-water mark, as far as words, for me. It depends on what you’re dealing with. If you’re dealing with big themes like that you have a tendency to wax a little more poetic. Exiles album is very down to earth –just very basic lyrics, which to me are more effective ‘cause they’re really painful and truthful, very honest and simple. I almost prefer writing that way these days.

AS: How do you maintain the consistency that your songs have had for all these years?

DF: I don’t know that I do. The critics will say that I don’t. Sometimes you do good, sometimes you don’t do so good. That’s in every artist’s life. I think the consistency comes from keeping moving, not stopping. I try to break consistency. I am my own worst critic.

AS: You do not give in to the latest fad. When disco came it was like you were on Venus.

DF: I did The Innocent Age . (laughs) I like to make music that I’m interested in. Disco didn’t interest me. A lot of the things on pop radio have never interested me. I’m interested in different forms of music.

AS: You have the freedom. The record company lets you do what you want to do.

DF: (laughs) Yeah, gosh, I sell a billion records for them, why shouldn’t I! They say why knock a good thing. I’ve always had the choice and they’ve always known that I’m going to do exactly what I please. If they want to be my record company, fine. If they don’t I’ll go somewhere else. So it’s always been a really good relationship. They’ve always said, ‘we love what you do, continues doing it.’ Which is great. AS: What do you hate about the music business?

DF: That it’s become so narrow and mechanical. As a songwriter I’m outraged by what is on the Top 40 radio these days. The demographics of Top 40 radio have gone really young, which is fine, I guess it’s always been that, but in the last year or two it’s gotten…unless you’re 13 there’s really not much on that you want to hear, and that’s too bad because the artists that are doing really good work are not getting on Top 40 radio, myself included. They wouldn’t play any of Exiles on Top 40.

AS: The wouldn’t even play the title cut?

DF: No, it wasn’t released as a single. They’re in a thing now where it it’s not machine funk they don’t program it. And there’s only about 20 songs they play on every rotation in Top 40 radio, and the only ballads they play the same as MTV, are from a movie. Because the movie companies put up big bucks to promote those songs. I’m being played on adult contemporary. I always joke tat I’m the King of AC. My records still get a lot of airplay on AC, and there are a lot more AC stations than Top 40 stations which reach the young record buyers, and that’s where you sell mega albums.

AS: You know you’re old when you start complaining about the music kids listen to.

DF: I find myself doing the same thing, but it’s not just kids listening to it. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere in this country and that’s what drives me crazy. You can’t walk into a shopping mall or a clothing store without this drum beat going on in your head. It’s like noise pollution. I don’t even like that stuff. And there are no songs involved. It’s a producer’s medium. They come up with a trick of engineering with the drums out front and they put a very minimal amount into what the song’s about. The songs are just garbage. What are you going to remember as the great songs of the 80’s, like you did in the 60’s? Are there going to be oldie stations for the 80’s? I doubt it. ‘Cause they all sound alike and it’s just trash. All the heavy metal bands sound alike, they’re just so homogenized. It’s become such a commercial medium I think people are more interested in the money than the music. And it started out as a kids’ medium for expression for music. And now it’s become another business. It’s run by corporate lawyers and accountants.

AS: How did you write “Tuscon, Arizona (Gazette)?” Did you read about that in the paper and then write it?

DF: No, actually it was very strange. I was going to sleep after working one night real late, about three, and this who first verse just flashed into my head: “Tony keeps his Chevy locked up like a virgin in his garaged.” And I thought, ah, I ain’t sleepin’ tonight! (laughs) So I got up and wrote most of the poetry to it, which I don’t do a whole lot, usually I do music first. And I worked on that songs for years after that, but it just flashed into my head and the story started developing as I imagined it. “Tucson, Arizona, rising in the desert like a mirage,” and I thought I’m onto something here. I finished it over about a two year period. Some of them don’t come easy. When you try to force them you write bad songs. Somebody says we need this by tomorrow…but generally I do pretty well. “Run For The Roses” was written for a specific instance, for the Kentucky Derby. They just asked me to come and perform, and I said, well as long as I’m going’ down there, why don’t I write a song? It was live on television. I just wrote the song in two days and went to L.A. and recorded it about two weeks before the Derby. I like it a lot because I love horses.

AS: Do you write songs when you feel terrific?

DF: Oh absolutely. A lot of them. I feel great when I write a song, because I’ve gotten one done (laughs). Every time you write a song you think, oh God, is that the last one? Is it gonna dry up? “Leader of the Band” –I was feeling terrific when I wrote that –it was a tribute to my father. It was wonderful; there was nothing sad about that.

AS: It was very poignant.

DF: Yeah but it’s not sad. It’s a strong statement of love. There are a lot of love songs; they’re not all about failures (failures).”Beggar Game” is a wonderful song about love, and so is “Longer.” There are a lot of them, and there will be more.

AS: Who are your musical influences apart from the people you’ve talked about?

DF: Eric Clapton has been a great influence on me a guitarist. My guitar playing is directly attributed to him and B.B. King. Classically, Aaron Copeland, Greig, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Debussy.

AS: If you could be remembered by one song or album, which would it be?

DF: The Innocent Age album. I just think that’s a real good piece of work. All of the (songs) on that album.


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