Monday, December 17, 2007

Singersongwriterobit: Dan Fogelberg

The death of songwriter, singer and instrumentalist Dan Fogelberg has been announced.

Growing up in 1950s Peoria, Illinois, the young Fogelberg nearly dodged his destiny by trying to get out of piano classes:

"I used to fake injuries, even taping up my finger and saying I jammed it playing baseball. But it wasn't a trick you could use a lot."

While not keen on the learning, the music he did enjoy, and it was that which led him to persevere - that, and the influence of his father, Lawrence. He was a High School band leader, and it was his support and inspiration that Dan would acknowledge in the hit Leader of the Band.

A further inspiration would be the Beatles. He claims that it was hearing Beatles songs that made him realise that songs were constructs, something written rather than that arrive fully-formed. It seemed to be natural, then, to have a go at creating his own songs.

As the focus of American music turned away from Merseyside to the West Coast, Fogelberg followed, developing a love of The Byrds and others. Having performed music all the way through High School, at University he would flirt with other forms of expression, acting and the visual arts, before finding his way back to music through radical politics and the Red Herring Club.

His big break came when he was discovered by Irving Azoff. Azoff had already taken to REO Speedwagon to Epic, and he saw even more promise in the young Fogelberg. Dan quit school, against his father's advice but with his support ("thank you for the freedom when it was time to go", as Leader of the Band put it), and set out to follow Azoff to Hollywood.

Unfortunately - or, perhaps, fortunately - Dan's travel money could only take him as far as the supremely beautiful Estes Park in Colorado, where he passed a week with free lodging from a hotel owner. Azoff rescued him, and after a period of shipping demos around the labels, Fogelberg signed with Columbia, during a period when Clive Davis was building a powerbase also featuring Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.

He set about - somewhat slowly - making his debut, Home Free, and setting off on a career which would see him swap labels, release a slew of hit albums, and play Carnegie Hall in front of an audience including his parents - his proudest moment, he would say.

The early trip to Estes Park and Colorado left an impression on Fogelberg as deep as that on John Denver; he moved to Pagosa Springs in 1982 and remained there until shortly after his diagnosis with prostate cancer in 2004. Colorado loved him back - he was one of the first ten artists added to the Red Rocks Performers Hall of Fame.

Although Fogelberg declared himself free of cancer in 2005, it was the disease which claimed his life this weekend. He died in Maine; he was 56 years old.