Dan Fogelberg: Soft-rock singer/songwriter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Daniel Grayling Fogelberg, singer and songwriter: born Peoria, Illinois 13 August 1951; twice married; died 16 December 2007.

During the 1970s, Dan Fogelberg was one of several singer/songwriters living on the west coast of America who packed out arenas and had hit singles and albums in the United States. But, as with James Taylor and John Denver, his brand of soft rock was more attractive to American than British audiences. Critical reception to his work was often mixed: Rolling Stone once wrote that he was "best when he's mooning softly, which is often".

Fogelberg was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1951. His father, Lawrence, a music teacher, and his mother, Margaret, a fine singer, both encouraged their son's musical talent and he learnt the piano, guitar and other instruments. As soon as he heard the Beatles in 1964, he wanted to be a performer. He was drawn to the west coast sound of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and intrigued by the confessional songwriting of Paul Simon, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

Fogelberg described the late Sixties as his "river years" because he would go regularly to the same spot on the Illinois River to write songs. "I knew the river was a conscious metaphor for my escape from Peoria," he said. "I was 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."

Whilst studying at the University of Illinois, Fogelberg was introduced to Irving Azoff, who ran a booking agency. Azoff heard him perform at a rowdy bar and said, "I'm ready for the big time and I think you are too." Fogelberg abandoned his studies, much to his parents' dismay, and Azoff negotiated a deal with Clive Davis of Columbia Records.

Fogelberg's first album, Home Free (1972), was made in Nashville and Davis attributed its lack of sales to its country sound. The second, Souvenirs (1974) had a more contemporary feel and included the hit single "Part of the Plan".

After the third album, Captured Angel (1975), Fogelberg returned to Illinois because his father was ill. Following his recovery, Fogelberg spent a winter high in the Rocky Mountains, songwriting in solitude. This led to the mature reflections of Nether Lands (1977). Fogelberg often worked as the opening act for the Eagles but when he was scheduled to appear with them at Wembley that year, he did not turn up. At the time this was attributed to nerves, but it was tonsillitis.

In 1978 Fogelberg and the flautist Tim Weisberg made Twin Sons of Different Mothers. They had a Top 30 single with "The Power of Gold", and collaborated again on No Resemblance Whatsoever (1995). Fogelberg's most successful single, "Longer", a US number two, came from an equally successful album, Phoenix.

In 1980 Fogelberg had a hit with a true story of meeting an old flame, "Same Old Lang Syne", which he followed with the double-album The Innocent Age, which featured Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Glenn Frey and Chris Hillman. This included his most enduring song, "Leader of the Band", an affectionate tribute to his father. The 1984 album Windows and Walls included the hit single "The Language of Love", but by then, Fogelberg was suffering the same critical mauling for mellow sentimentality as Denver and Taylor. Undeterred, he wrote an exuberant bluegrass album High Country Snows (1985), and followed it with a bleak but liberating album about his divorce, Exiles (1987).

Dismayed with Ronald Reagan's response to environmental issues, Fogelberg wrote the albums The Wild Places (1990) and River of Souls (1993). His final studio album was Full Circle (2003), which returned to the countrified sound of his first album.

Spencer Leigh