Singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg died Sunday (Dec. 16) at his home in Maine after fighting prostate cancer for several years. He was 56. Although he made his biggest impact in pop music — via such hits as “Longer,” “Same Old Lang Syne,” “Hard to Say” and “Leader of the Band” — he had strong ties to Nashville and country music.
Daniel Grayling Fogelberg was born Aug. 13, 1951, in Peoria, Ill. His father, whom he would immortalize in song, was a band leader, his mother a classically trained singer.
Fogelberg dabbled in art and acting at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana but drifted inexorably toward singing in campus coffee houses. He was discovered by U of I alumnus Irving Azoff, who was then just starting his own show business career. Under Azoff’s encouragement, Fogelberg dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles, where he eventually signed a deal with Epic Records.
Impressed by the music of an ad hoc band of Nashville session players called Area Code 615, Fogelberg chose its bass player, Norbert Putnam, to produce his debut album. The singer even moved to Nashville while he was making the album and established enduring relationships with some of the town’s top players. Home Free was released in 1972 to scant critical attention. Ultimately, however, Fogelberg would record all or parts of three other albums in Music City.
Over the next several years, Fogelberg experimented musically, working with a variety of producers and co-producers, including rocker Joe Walsh. One of his more musically adventurous forays was his 1978 collection, Twin Sons of Different Mothers, which he recorded and co-produced with flute player Tim Weisberg.
In 1980, Fogelberg experienced his biggest single, the wistful “Longer.” It stayed two weeks at No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart and went No. 1 on the adult contemporary list. During the early ’80s, three of his singles also reached the lower niches of the country chart.
While living in Colorado, Fogelberg began listening to bluegrass music and even sat in with Chris Hillman’s band at the 1984 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The following year, he recorded the bluegrass-saturated High Country Snows in which he drew on the singing and picking talents of Hillman and Herb Pedersen (later to form the Desert Rose Band), Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Emory Gordy Jr., Charlie McCoy, Al Perkins, David Grisman, Jim Buchanan and Doc Watson. By this time, his career as a popular artist had peaked.
While often compared in sound and lyrical sensitivity to James Taylor, Fogelberg had a substantially shorter chart life, scoring all his hit singles between 1975 and 1987. After High Country Snows, he continued to release albums — 10 of them — until 2003, but none achieved the notice and stature of his earlier works. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.