Dan Fogelberg, a singer-songwriter whose story-dominated songs were defined by lyrical sensitivity, tender balladry and gentle rockers, died Sunday at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer for three years. He was 56.
Fogelberg was born in Peoria, Ill. His father was an established musician, teacher and bandleader. Fogelberg led high school bands that leaned on the repertoire of the Buffalo Springfield and acts that influenced the Beatles before he attended the U. of Illinois, majoring first in drama and then painting.
While at college, he started performing solo and eventually attracted the attention of Illinois grad Irving Azoff, who began managing Fogelberg. Clive Davis, who was nearing the end of his run at Columbia Records, signed Fogelberg, who also drew interest from A&M and Geffen.
His first release, 1972’s “Home Free,” developed an ardent, cultish fanbase, but mainstream success was several years off. His albums were celebrated for their cohesiveness, but that meant no break-out singles. His sound — built on elements of folk-rock, country and bluegrass — was too country for rock radio, too rock for country radio and too complex for the adult, soft-rock stations. In the 1980s, however, he was a top 10 mainstay of adult contemporary radio.
“Souvenirs,” recorded two years later with Joe Walsh producing and an army of L.A. heavyweights backing him, brought him considerable success as the album went double platinum, buoyed by the single “Part of the Plan.”
While peers such as Jackson Browne and the Eagles celebrated a laidback lifestyle in Southern California, Fogelberg wrote about a more organic and simpler life, influenced early on by Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. Throughout the 1970s, he often recorded in Colorado — he moved there in 1975 — and his songs reflected the thoughts of a man more connected with the natural world than with city life. (In the 1990s, he recorded an album, “River of Souls,” of songs concerning the environment.)
“Captured Angel,” which he mostly recorded in Peoria, Ill., and for which he played most of the instruments, expanded his audience further, especially among college-age females.
One of the few artists who defined the soft-rock movement of the decade and received positive reviews along the way again hit the top 20 with “Twin Sons of Different Mothers,” his 1978 disc with flutist Tim Weisberg, and with 1980’s “Phoenix.” But it was his 1981 album “The Innocent Age,” with the hit singles “Leader of the Band” and “Same Old Lang Syne,” that pushed him to superstar status. “Leader of the Band” had added poignancy as it was widely reported that he had written it as a tribute to his father.
Through the rest of the 1980s, Fogelberg experimented with several musical styles that did not resonate with the public the way his ’70s recordings did. The advent of the MTV era and the discarding, commercially and critically, of artists with ’70s folk-rock pedigrees dimmed Fogelberg’s accomplishments and potential. Epic Records, which had issued all his albums, remained his label up through his second disc with Weisberg in 1995.
His last album was 2003’s “Full Circle,” his first album of original material in a decade.
Fogelberg was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2004.
Survivors include his wife, Jean.