Dan Fogelberg’s bum rap began when the handsome singer-songwriter released Longer from 1979’s Phoenix. The song was part of a string of critical and commercial successes that made the guitarist a superstar after a decade of grinding out music and being regarded as a breakthrough artist with lots of potential.

Longer reached #2 on Billboard’s main singles chart, the biggest hit of Fogelberg’s career, but his story extends back when top manager Irving Azoff discovered the eclectic artist in the early 1970s. Azoff, who managed REO Speedwagon and would later manage The Eagles, brought Fogelberg to hitmaker Clive Davis, who carefully nurtured the young artist’s career.

Three albums gained acclaim but no hits, and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was brought in to produce 1977’s Souvenirs. Decades later, one might be surprised that the guitarist behind Life’s Been Good and iconic leads on The Eagles’ Hotel California was responsible for a pop-folk artist’s breakout, but Souvenirs had great songwriting with hit choruses. Part of the Plan, an up-tempo track in four chord pop broke into the Top 40 and helped drive the album to #31. Listen closely to hear Graham Nash and Eagles members Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner sing backing vocals. Walsh, a celebrated guitarist who remains unheralded for his session and production work in the 1970s, helped tap Fogelberg’s commercial viability without compromising the nuanced songwriting.

Two misses later, Fogelberg connected on his own, this time appearing in solemn relief on an album cover with jazz artist Tim Weisberg. The pair sported perfectly coiffed 1970s hairstyles complete with full neatly groomed beards and seemed an unlikely duo, but their collaboration on The Power of Gold drove that single to #24 and the album, Twin Sons of Different Mothers to #24. Weisberg’s musicianship were well matched for Fogelberg’s delicate melodies and folk-like stories.

Finally a commercial success, Dan Fogelberg reached deep inside and tapped his own experiences for songwriting. Phoenix‘s Longer reached #2 on the singles chart and spawned another hit with Heart Hotels. Nearly thirty years later, Babyface would cover Longer, an overplayed light rock staple, on his 2007 Playlist release.

With the success of Longer and the entire Phoenix project, Fogelberg brought West Coast pop into the studio for The Innocent Age. Super session drummer Russ Kunkel had played on all the albums to date, and Eagle frontman Don Henley had supplied many backing vocals.

Both returned with Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman and other Eagles singing backup. The Leader of the Band, written as a tribute to Fogelberg’s father, framed the entire release’s psyche and provided a bittersweet juxtaposition for the title, The Innocent Age. Hard To Say was another poignant hit about a failing love affair while Same Old Lang Syne, about meeting an old lover, seemed a continuation of Hard To Say‘s story. Meanwhile, Run for the Roses became an unofficial theme song of The Kentucky Derby.

The Innocent Age eventually peaked at #6 and spun off multiple top 40 and two top 10 singles before giving way in 1984 to Windows and Walls, which spawned the hit Language of Love. As with his other releases, Fogelberg brought top talent to the studio, tapping Eagle Timothy B. Schmidt and the Porcarros, brilliant session players who played on dozen of hit albums and later formed the nexus of Toto.

Fogelberg spent the next decade reinventing himself, raising money for causes and working on pet projects. After years of seeking commercial success, he reset himself as an independent artist once he achieved that success.

The nice things about being an independent artist now is that I don’t really have anybody breathing down my neck saying, “You’ve got to make a commercial record; you’ve got to make a studio record.” I’ve been free to do… and the things have comes on their own,” he told interviewer Natalie Davis in 2000. “And that’s nice, ’cause I’m following my heart and doing what I feel is fun and interesting. Whether it’s going to be as commercial as The Innocent Age or something… well, I don’t care. I’m just making music as it comes, as it happens.”

Four years later, in August 2004, Billboard announced that Fogelberg had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and was canceling an acoustic tour. Fogelberg seemingly had beaten the disease years later although he stayed out of the public eye except for a brief appearance at a tribute concert to the late Nicolette Larson. His web site thanked fans for their years of support and urged all men to be screened for prostate cancer.

Fogelberg passed away on December 16, 2007 after his cancer recurred. There was always more to Dan Fogelberg than the big hit single. There always is. In this case, most of the public didn’t learn about the deeper story until time had run out.

–G. Bounacos