Home Free At Last
by David Rensin
Rolling Stone Magazine
March 13, 1975
LOS ANGELES - For Dan Fogelberg, 1974 ended on a note of modest triumph. Though 6500 fans jammed the Shrine Auditorium to help the Eagles welcome in the new year, many also came to see the youthful singer/songwriter play his first local gig since illness cut short a Troubadour stay two years ago.
Perched at the piano, Fogelberg hushed the Shrine crowd with his standard opener, "The Show." An ethereal and moody parallel to "Hello Hooray" its evocative lyrics cast the author in his favored role of the lonely, frustrated musician. By mid-set, the tone was lighter and the pace livelier, with Fogelberg switching from piano to acoustic then electric guitar. Friend and producer Joe Walsh stepped onstage to lend a hand and by closing time even the most fanatic Eagles fans knew that Fogelberg was worth their attention.
Afterwards, the 23-year-old Fogelberg was all smiles as well-wishers streamed into the tiny dressing room to convey their congratulations. Privately, everyone from manager Irving Azoff (he also handles Walsh and the Eagles) to personal and business friends were patting themselves on the back for years of steadfast support. Everyone loves a winner -- even those who paid no attention to Home Free, Fogelberg's first Columbia album, can't ignore Souvenirs, the new Epic release.
Fogelberg's appeal is not surprising, since his music falls on the outskirts of CSN&Y-dom. Home Free was produced and recorded in Nashville by Norbert Putnam who lent a luxurious touch to material richly veined with echoes of early influences: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Richie Furay, etc. Even so, most critics agree Fogelberg's tunes far surpassed the confines of mere mimicry.
Unfortunately, the album debuted just prior to the demise of then Columbia Records president Clive Davis. Combined with the dissatisfaction of some senior A & R persons who were expecting lighter, more commercial pop fare, the Davis dismissal resulted in a serious dent in Columbia's desire to promote the record.
"It was quite a shot in the head to do the album and then have it shot down by nonmusical idiots," Fogelberg recalled uneasily, holding back what might have been harsher criticism. "It was my first good dose of reality and it hurt my confidence. But I'm glad it happened that way. I had to rebuild."
While Fogelberg was picking up the pieces of his professional life, a number of factors began working in his favor. Manager Azoff moved from a job with Associated Booking Corporation to a position coordinating tours for Elliot Roberts's G.R. Management. He acquired guitarist Joe Walsh as a client and by the time he left G.R., Azoff has taken the Eagles with him and formed his own Front Line Management with associate John Baruck.
Fogelberg, whose name had been appearing with increased regularity on albums by Jackson Browne, Eric Andersen, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Roger McGuinn, Alan Rich (Charlie's kid), Florence Warner and Walsh, began to reassert himself. Though still a mystery to all but a few knowledgeable pairs of ears and operating without a definite label commitment, he reentered the studio with Walsh to cut Souvenirs.
"It was a perfect match, working with Joe," Fogelberg explained, relaxing at Azoff's home prior to beginning a tour. "He got involved entirely on the basis of Home Free and proved indispensable throughout. Joe allowed me my freedom in the studio, but still supplied very capable direction."
Walsh also contributed guitar work on most cuts and brought some of L.A.'s best sidemen and musicians to play on the Record Plant sessions. They included: Eagles Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Randy Meisner; Graham Nash; Russ Kunkel; Paul Harris; Al Perkins; Kenny Passarelli and Joe Lala. The Illinois-born Fogelberg calls it his "L.A. album."
"It was something I had to go through," he admitted, noting the locale was not his conception of an ideal place to record. A third album, to be self-produced "now that I have a track record," is slated for a March 20th beginning at Caribou.
Souvenirs has borne out the critics, with Fogelberg more closely defining his own style. The lyrics, though still dependent on romantic vision, are "more concise, truthful and less rooted in fantasy" because of increased self-confrontation. But like Jackson Browne, whose first two albums were composed primarily of backlogged material, Fogelberg too slipped into a voluminous catalog. Of 11 numbers, only three were written after 1973 - two in Tennessee, where Fogelberg fled soon after the Troubadour cancellation.
Fogelberg recalled his reasons for leaving L.A.: "I wanted to be alone. Like contact with water and constructive relationships with women, I consider it essential to my life, to my well-being."
Fogelberg has a special fondness for Tennessee, but he recently gave up his farm there to purchase Chris Hillman's home in the Rockies near Boulder.
"I'm affected by my environment. Los Angeles makes me defensive and wary while Tennessee helps me to open up. I'm much more vulnerable there, more willing to talk about anything."
Colorado's effect is anybody's guess, but Fogelberg has no problem there in terms of a following. He's a Denver hero, as the lines of the people hoping to see him during a three-day stay late last year at Ebbett's Field made obvious. Backed by his band, Fool's Gold (Ron Grinel, drums; Tom Kelly, bass and vocals; Denny Henson, piano, acoustic guitar and vocals and Doug Livingston, pedal steel), Fogelberg presided in an atmosphere that mirrored the cosmic-country touches of his hit single, "Part of the Plan." The first two nights went well, but a sudden funk threw both Fogelberg and the closing show off balance. He recovered, however, and made an easy transition from club to concert stage for the New Year's performance.
Despite a reassuring votes of confidence from record buyers and tastemakers alike, Fogelberg still represents a dichotomy of sorts. One side of his personality is often reminiscent of Neil Young's "The Loner," quiet and constantly aware of his personal development. An artistic consciousness. But the onetime "naïve and enthusiastic" entrant into the music business has since assumed a protective coloration and admits to being less approachable as before.
"I've gotten wiser and more careful about who gets to my depths," he conceded candidly. "I wish I could have maintained my openness, but if you don't protect yourself from the shit that goes down on a personal level in the business, you'll be a cripple by 25."
He can also be quite charming, especially in the eyes of young, romantically disposed ladies who flock to his concerts. He provides a balance, since his live shows often revel what his artistic penchant hides on record - that he possesses great dollops of commercial potential.
Yet Fogelberg insists the music is merely a means to an end.
"It's only an interim trip. I love the music, but it's really giving me a way in which I can comfortably explore my art [Fogelberg sketched the cover for Home Free and painted the inside jacket for Souvenirs]. Actually, I may quit the music business someday, but never the music.
"I'm a child of the woods. I have that sort of sensibility," he added, recalling his teenaged years when he sat on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River near Peoria, playing guitar and "dropping an anchor." He recaptured those days in "Illinois," a 1971 California effort included on Souvenirs:
Illinois - I'm your boy
Flat on the prairies
Soil and stone
Taking me home *
Now he wants to own some land, and the cheers of his delighted Denver fans were barely muffled by the club's thickly carpeted interior when he announced his Colorado move.
But later that evening, land and Illinois were the furthest things from his mind. Instead, yielding to yet another facet of his personal vision, Fogelberg casually interjected the name of his hotel and room number between the lines of the chorus to "Looking for a Lady" - the final encore number. Whatever his artistic intentions for the future, Fogelberg seems to be enjoying the present just fine.
*© 1974, Hickory Grove Music