Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg
Photo by Henry Diltz.

The sociopolitical attitude of the American population is often said to be gauged in reference to a town in Illinois. But “How will it play in Peoria?” isn’t the only reason the city is notable; it’s also the hometown of singer/songwriter/guitarist Dan Fogelberg, whose plaintive voice, evocative songs, and prowess on guitar have resulted in platinum album sales. Fogelberg’s efforts ultimately took him (and manager Irving Azoff) from the Prairie State to California, where he forged a successful career that hit its stride in the late 1970s and early ’80s. He’s still touring and recording, and his most recent release was 2003’s appropriately titled Full Circle. In ’01, Martin marketed a signature model, the D-41DF, based on Fogelberg’s favorite acoustic.

Vintage Guitar: There are at least two reasons music fans might surmise you had some formal music training when you were growing up – you’re an accomplished pianist, and you saluted your father in “Leader of the Band.”

Dan Fogelberg: Well, my dad was an educator and a bandleader, and my mother was a singer, so we were surrounded by music. My dad was always teaching, and we would go to concerts. Taking piano lessons from age six to 10 was kind of a de riguer thing in the ’50s for a lot of kids. We suffered through it (chuckles). But my dad gave me a foundation for the instrument, and when I got interested in music on my own, it was Buddy Holly, the Beatles, and Elvis, but I had the tools to approach an instrument.

My grandfather gave me my first guitar, and old acoustic with palm trees and dancing girls painted on it. I found it in a closet in his house; he had no use for it so he let me have it. I got my first Mel Bay Chord Book, and around the time the Beatles were on “Ed Sullivan,” I was already in a band. I’d actually done some lip-synching of records at a Cub Scout Jamboree one night, and the kids ate it up. We thought, “This is cool!” and started to learn how to really play.
When I got to the seventh grade, we were playing, and by the time I got to high school, we were one of the more prominent bands in that area.

Would that have been The Coachmen? Gary Richrath and Bruce Hall both cited that band.

No, it was The Clan; a couple of the members were Scottish, including me. That was really my first band. That went on until I was a sophomore in high school, then I joined the Coachmen, which was really a professional band.

Were you attempting to be more of an electric or acoustic player in those bands?

I was an electric player. I’d had an imitation Strat – I think it was made by Kent – which I’d had to talk my dad into getting for me, because he was vehemently opposed to electric guitars. He did not look on that kind of music as legitimate in any way (chuckles). He agreed to buy it on the condition that I take lessons. So he set me up to take lessons at the local music store, and we were already out doing gigs! This went on for a few months, and then one night I saw a guitar player play the John Lennon riff from “I Feel Fine.” I thought “Cool!” And I went home and learned it. The next time I went to a lesson, the teacher walked in when I was playing that riff, and wanted me to teach it to him (laughs)! So that was the end of my formal guitar training.

And I had an SG early on; a buddy in the band had more money than me, and he bought guitars. But he wasn’t very good, so I got to play ’em. We were both playing through a single Silvertone amp… probably running our vocal mic through it, too.

The Coachmen was a more professional group. They were older than me, and when I joined, they were looking for a lead singer. So I quit playing guitar for about a year and did the Roger Daltrey thing with the mic. And I was constantly breaking tambourines. They were doing a lot of R&B before I got there – James Brown, the Temptations, the Four Tops. But I was getting into the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds, in addition to the Beatles; I wanted to play “West Coast.” So I picked up an Eko 12-string with a DeArmond pickup, and starting fingerpicking; I was learning (Gordon) Lightfoot songs and Paul Simon songs.

That’s when I “turned acoustic.” We did Neil Young’s “I Am A Child,” and Stephen Stills’ “Bluebird” – I played a banjo with a mic stuck in the back of it on that one; we did it just like the record, which was pretty cool for a Peoria band.

Right before I left for Champaign – my brother was in school there – Richrath called me, asking me to play guitar for a Bradley University fraternity party; he wasn’t in REO (Speedwagon) yet. He’d been in a band called Suburban Nine-to-Five, and he put together this one-nighter with no rehearsal; I can’t remember the other players, but it paid something like 500 bucks. I had an orange Gretsch, and I remember playing “Down by the River” about 12 times (laughs)!

Photo by Willie G. Moseley.

When you went to Champaign-Urbana, did you perform at venues like the Chances R, or the Red Lion?

That was Irving’s stuff, and I was at the Red Hen at the time. I got there in ’69, and I had gone full-on folkie; I’d had it with bands. I was there about a year and a half, two years. I kind of rose through the ranks, and became one of the preeminent folkies. The Red Hen was recording some of their acts, and releasing records, and suddenly I was a local celebrity. Irving heard me on the radio, and wanted to meet me, so I went to the Chances R and performed for him at the bar… and there was a fight going at the time (laughs)! He said “I’m goin’ to L.A. You want to go?” So the two of us dropped everything and headed out. I think at that time I had two Martins and a Gretsch.

I was in Los Angeles about a year and a half, and I went to do my first album in Nashville, and I fell in love with Nashville. I got lots of work – I not only got to make my record, but I was a session player, working with some top guys, and learning so much about a studio. I lived in Nashville for about three years, from ’72 to ’75. I did sessions and went on the road solo, playing places like the Bitter End in New York and the Troubadour in L.A. Things started happening; Irving managed the Eagles, so we toured together a lot.

You ended up in Colorado, and purchased a house from Chris Hillman (VG, October ’02).

I was in Denver with a band called Fool’s Gold, that I put together in ’74. My road manager knew Chris; Manassas had split up and Chris was moving; his wife was having a baby. (The house) was way out in the middle of nowhere; I drove up to look at it and fell in love with it.

Most probably thought of you as a singer/songwriter. Was the 1978 album, Twin Sons of Different Mothers, with Tim Weisburg, supposed to be a statement regarding your instrumental abilities?

Absolutely. I felt like some people thought of me as a singer/songwriter of the John Denver type. Nothing wrong with that, but I was frustrated, because I’m also a guitar player, and it’s been the most frustrating thing in my whole career.

What instruments were you using in that era?

When I moved to L.A., I had this great (Martin) D-35 that a friend gave me, and a (Martin) 000-18, both of which I still have, and I had that orange Gretsch Nashville. I used those through Nether Lands. A recording engineer, Jack Stronach, who’d worked with me on Captured Angel and Souvenirs, found this amazing (Martin) D-41, which is still my main guitar. He brought it to me and Joe Walsh; we were both rehearsing our bands in L.A., and (Stronach) said, “Who wants it?” Joe wasn’t interested, but I went “Oh, my God! I want this guitar!” And ever since, I’ve played D-41s; I played a lot of ’em, but that is one of the greatest-recording guitars I’ve ever heard.

You went out on another tangent in 1985 with High Country Snows, a bluegrass album.

I grew up playing some Doc Watson, and I ran into Hillman and Al Perkins in ’84; they were going to play some of that kind of music and needed a high tenor. We played in Telluride, and it was so much fun playing simple American bluegrass. I got to meet Doc Watson, and saw Emmylou (Harris) who I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’d written a lot of those kinds of tunes but had never recorded them, so I figured why not make a bluegrass record. I had a “dream list” and they all said yes. Doc Watson, Chris Hillman, Herb Pederson, Dave Grisman, Russ Kunkel, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs.

How could I not make that record (chuckles)? It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have all of those people available at the same time. And we had the time of our lives. I’ve never enjoyed making a record more. The stories never stopped; it seems like bluegrass people have more great stories to tell than other musicians.

I’m really proud of that record, even though the record company fought me tooth and nail over it; they tried everything short of an injunction to stop it.

When you’ve taken an activist bent in your career, it’s been almost exclusively environment-oriented.

Yeah; it’s a very important issue to me, trying to wake people up to the fact that we’d better take better care of our planet.

You played at some of the No Nukes concerts but weren’t on the album.

That was recorded in New York, and I wasn’t there. The biggest one I did was in Washington, and there were about 100,000 people there. We did shows in L.A. and elsewhere.

Let’s talk about some of the instruments you’re using in concert these days.

About all I use is a D-41 with a Sunrise pickup in the soundhole. I have some D-45s, but I don’t take ’em out – those are only for recording. I’ve always used Sunrise pickups, and I don’t use any pre-amp; it goes straight into a direct box, then the board.

There’s a 12-string on “The Reach.”

That’s a Guild. Also with a Sunrise pickup. I use the Guild on “The Reach” and “Nexus,” and an Ibanez for “Part of the Plan.”

There are two small Music Man amps, one on top of the other, for your electrics.

A 2×10 and a 2×12; I use the 2×10 most of the time and the 2×12 is a backup. For years, I used 50-watt Marshalls, but over the years we’ve come to realize you don’t need that much power. The Eagles have one of the quietest stages you’ve ever heard. If you’re playing blues and rock and roll, though, Marshalls are great amps.

When you play electric onstage, most of the time it’s a Fender Stratocaster.

Strats are my favorite electric guitars, and I’ve got quite a collection; they go back to ’59. I’ve a ’62, a ’63, and on up. Those instruments usually don’t travel, but I did take my ’63, “Old Ratty,” on tour last year. It’s been with me since the late ’70s; it’s all over Twin Sons and The Innocent Age and Phoenix. It got really trashed and felt worn out, so I retired it. But last year, as I started revisiting some older material, I got it out, as well as the old orange Gretsch. Ratty is my blues guitar.

The encore on the 2002 tour was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone,” and you played a Fireglo Rickenbacker 12-string, capo’ed on the seventh fret, just like Harrison.

I’ve had that a long time; it’s an original ’60s Ricky. Sometimes I forget about where I got some of the guitars I have, but I’ve got some other Beatles guitars, like a Höfner bass. And I got those before that Broadway show (Beatlemania) premiered. After that, you couldn’t get ’em. I wanted a blond one, like a (Roger) McGuinn model, but I couldn’t find one. It’s really fun to play onstage.

The title of your newest album, Full Circle, implies you’re back to the type of music with which you’re most associated.

But “Full Circle” is a track written by Gene Clark, of the Byrds. I’d cut it for no reason whatsoever back in the ’90s. I didn’t think I’d ever use it, because I did a lot of other projects; other CDs, including a Christmas record, a box set, a jazz record, another live record. I realized I had a lot of acoustic-type songs I wasn’t using. I needed to get to them, but was so busy I couldn’t. I finally made time to concentrate on them.

Some of them date back to the ’70s and ’80s; the oldest one, “Drawing Pictures,” was picked right at the very end of the project. I needed one more pretty ballad that might have been on Home Free or maybe Souvenirs, and “Drawing Pictures” was written around that time; it was one that could have been on Souvenirs, but for whatever reason, wasn’t. So I thought it’d be cool to include it instead of a contemporary ballad. It was a good song that had been hanging around in the wings for 30 years.

As it progressed, I realized I could include the track “Full Circle,” because that’s what we were doing – I was using my D-35s and old Gretsches and old amps. That’s why I thought it would make a good title track. The Gene Clark song really didn’t inspire me to go that route, but it seemed to fit in.

Full Circle continues your penchant for opening an album with a brief instrumental (“Half Moon Bay”).

That was written specifically to open the record. That’s kind of a signature of mine.

Is it fair to say that when it comes to acoustic, the way you play isn’t just “strumming,” but that you play chords in a manner that “propels” the song?

Yeah, I suppose so. I strum more in a band setting, of course, but when I’m playing solo, I have to support the song with something that I feel will keep it interesting. Usually, it’s fingerpicking – that’s the style I prefer.

Reportedly, you used an old Gretsch on “Reason to Run.”

That was my Country Gentleman. There’s a picture of me with that guitar in the album that my wife took in the studio. That guitar is gorgeous, and again, I don’t take that on the road; it’s just for the studio. It has an old Buffalo Springfield sound.

There have also been reports that you own a rare Gretsch White Penguin.

It’s the jewel of my collection. I used it for a video of “The Language of Love” back in ’84… white set, white suit, white guitar! Randy Bachman called and wanted to know if I wanted to sell it (chuckles). But I really didn’t know what it was worth, and that’s when I started looking into the value of my collection.

But the ones I’ve got that went on to become valuable, I bought to play. I was never an investor. I got the White Penguin in ’72 from Gruhn Guitars… for $200.

“Whispers in the Wind” on the new album is a tribute to Gordon Lightfoot.

The acoustic ballads, which some people know me best for, really came out of Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell, but especially Gordon. His melodic sense was unforgettable, staggering. And he still comes up with that kind of material!

The final track, “Earth Anthem,” is the other non-original, and has an environmental theme.

I’ve had that song around since I was in college; I think it’s one of the very first environmental songs ever written. It was on an album called Battle of the Bands, by the Turtles, in 1967. It’s really a clever album, and I don’t know why they put that song on there in the first place. It’s kind of out of character for the album, but what a beautiful song!

I originally cut that for an environmental group in Colorado that was putting together a charity CD. But the group apparently went belly-up, and the CD never came out, so I was sitting on that track. It could have just as easily gone on an album like River of Souls. I thought it would be a nice way to end the new album.

How much of the new album’s material are you doing on tour?

Two or three songs; we worked up more than that, and some worked better than others. I don’t want to overload the audience with new material; they’re coming to hear the hits. I can’t be so self-indulgent that I’d try to play Full Circle start-to-finish (chuckles). We’ve got a 30-year track record to cover, so we try to say, “Here’s your favorites, but check this out, too.”

You’ve done a bluegrass album, a jazz album, a Christmas record. Are there any other projects you’d like to add to your portfolio?

I’d like to do a guitar instrumental record. I’ve got all kinds of material I could do on something like that, and it would be very diverse – I’ve got some classical stuff, some Bossa Nova/ Brazilian stuff, some blues, jazzy stuff. If I ever do a guitar record, it’ll have a little bit of everything! But I have to say that Full Circle is a thank you to fans who’ve stuck around for all these years.

“I’d like to do a guitar instrumental record. I’ve got all kinds of material… some classical stuff, some Bossa Nova/ Brazilian stuff, some blues, jazzy stuff.”

Martin’s D-41DF Dan Fogelberg Signature Edition

Issued in 2001, the Martin D-41DF Dan Fogelberg Signature Edition was inspired by the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s favorite instrument. It’s a classic dreadnought style, with a tight-grain, bookmatched Sitka spruce top (with 5/16″ bracing underneath), East Indian rosewood back and sides, African ebony fretboard and bridge, and mahogany neck.

“Green select” abalone surrounds the top and soundhole, and is also found in the vertical headstock logo. The hexagon fret inlays are also made from the same type of abalone. A Style 45 mosaic backstrip is found on the two-piece back. The snowflake inlays on the bridge are made of pale gold Agoya pearl.

Other features include a 111/16″ neck width at the genuine bone nut, and gold Grover tuners.

Fogelberg’s signature is inlaid between the 19th and 20th frets, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this series was donated to the World Wildlife Fund.

This article originally appeared in VG’s February 2004 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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