The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald and Others Record A Tribute to Dan Fogelberg
The Seventies was a golden era for singer-songwriters, as James Taylor, Carole King and Jackson Browne dominated the charts. One of the best was Dan Fogelberg, whose “Part of the Plan” was his first hit in 1974.
Over the next two decades, Fogelberg recorded multi-platinum studio albums that included Top 10 hits like “Same Old Lang Syne,” “Hard to Say,” “Leader of the Band” and the classic “Longer,” which was produced by his longtime friend Norbert Putnam.
Fogelberg was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2004 and died in late 2007 at age 56. The following year, Fogelberg’s wife Jean, a musician herself, embarked on a labor of love. “Dan loved the Concert for George, George Harrison’s tribute, and he watched it a lot. And listened to it. I could tell after the diagnosis that he was wondering whether anyone would ever do that for him when he was gone.”
After two years of working unsuccessfully to organize a tribute concert, Jean contacted Putnam, who had produced three of Fogelberg’s studio albums. The two worked diligently, contacting the many fans of Dan among the cream of rock and country music. The result is a new album, A Tribute to Dan Fogelberg, with performances of Dan’s songs by the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Michael McDonald, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, Boz Scaggs and others. The album was released Nov. 17.
Jean Fogelberg and Norbert Putnam talked with us about their journey to honor Dan — an effort that lasted more than seven years.
Rock Cellar: Why do you think Dan was such a favorite, not only to fans but to other musicians?
Norbert Putnam: It was quality on every level. He was a great writer, a great singer, a great player. And in the end, that wins out. He was possibly the best triple-threat artist I’ve ever worked with. Because he could do all three at the highest possible level.
Jean Fogelberg: Songwriting, singing and musicianship.
Norbert Putnam: I can’t recall if I ever worked with anyone else who could do all three. You know, Presley was a great singer but he couldn’t play well and he never wrote a song. Linda Ronstadt had one of the greatest voices, but depended on people to write material for her.
Dan never had to go looking for a song from somebody. He was very much like Joni Mitchell.
People couldn’t write a song for Dan Fogelberg because his music was very intricate and it wasn’t simplistic that anyone could pick up on. He was one of a kind.
Rock Cellar: What are some of your memories recording the albums you produced with Dan?
Norbert Putnam: I did the first record, Home Free. It was 1971 and he came down to Nashville. Of course, country-rock was happening – the fusion sound of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, James Taylor. We had the Byrds, we had Poco.
The first record really was more country-rock than the follow-up record. He and I both enjoyed classical music, and the sound became those two beautiful acoustic guitars. With some soft strings in the background and then beautiful harmonies.
And then by the time we got up there to Nether Lands, he did some pretty heavy rock tunes on Nether Lands. He wanted to do everything. There was an Antonio Carlos Jobim-type song he wrote and he could write a bluegrass song. His mind covered all genres of music.
Rock Cellar: How did the idea for the tribute album come about?
Jean Fogelberg: Dan loved the Concert for George, George Harrison’s tribute, and he watched it a lot. And listened to it. And I noticed that and then I could tell after the diagnosis that he was wondering whether anyone would ever do that for him when he was gone.
So I tried pulling together a concert, the same kind of a theme that a CD would be made out of. And I just was really struggling. And then Norbert and I got connected and he was thinking, how about if we do the CD first and then do the concert? That was April 19, 2010, our first conversation about it. So we started working together on it and then it took off.
Norbert Putnam: This record was like the Sistine Chapel if you had to paint it with watercolors and you couldn’t find any water. It just took forever, didn’t it Jean?
Jean Fogelberg: It did. It was a lot of pushing, a lot of asking, a lot of reminding and every once in a while we would talk and Norbert would say, “Now Jean, we’re never going to do another tribute CD, right?” and I’d promise, yes, we’re never doing another tribute CD.
Rock Cellar: What was the biggest challenge in putting the album together?
Norbert Putnam: You have to realize, when you call up an artist to do a charity record, the manager will usually say, “You know, he’s really busy. When he gets a break he’ll come and do this for free.” It’s a little different, you can’t really order them into the studio because they’re donating their time and talent to you.
Rock Cellar: Let’s talk about the songs on the CD. The Eagles did “Part of the Plan.”
Norbert Putnam: Joe Walsh produced “Part of the Plan,” which was the first big radio record that Dan had. So obviously he thought he should do that record and produce it. [Laughs] Unfortunately it was the Eagles and they were too busy to get it finished.
Jean Fogelberg: Getting the Eagles to do their vocals was the biggest challenge. They were on a world tour and Joe Walsh was taking the tape along with him. He’d already recorded the whole song. He’d be in London or Australia and he’d email us, saying “OK, I’ve got the tape, I’m gonna try and get the guys into the studio.” And they were just so busy, trying to get that. That was the last track that we were waiting on.
Rock Cellar: Michael McDonald did “Better Change.”
Norbert Putnam: He chose the song.
Jean Fogelberg: Michael McDonald said that originally he had gone to meet with [manager] Irving Azoff in L.A. and he was sitting outside of Irving’s office and heard this song being played in Irving’s office and he thought, “I’d like to record that song.” That was going to be on Dan’s next CD.
Norbert Putnam: I think Michael decided then and there that he could do more of a Memphis-Al Green-kind of version of it. And his arrangement of the song is brilliant. His piano parts that you hear on “Better Change” are genius. There’s only one Michael McDonald. I love the track he did.
Rock Cellar: Richie Furay recorded “Run for the Roses” with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Norbert Putnam: Richie’s voice is so sweet and smooth. It was great to have him in there with the Dirt Band. I did that record up in Nashville and we did the whole record in about three hours. Of course, everyone knew the song. And the drummer of the Dirt Band, Jimmie Fadden, played the harp. He actually played the harp on Dan’s original recording on “Run for the Roses.”
Rock Cellar: It’s great to hear Boz Scaggs on “Hard to Say.”
Norbert Putnam: Boz did a very unique version, I think. But typical Boz Scaggs. The thing that you’ll find when you listen to the record is a lot of the arranging is surprising the first time through.
Rock Cellar: Jimmy Buffett did “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler.”
Jean Fogelberg: That was a surprise that he wanted to do “Gambler.” We originally had recorded “Gambler.” Norbert went ahead and produced it in the studio, just the music, because we wanted to make it like a finale, like a “We Are the World” with everybody doing parts or maybe just the Eagles doing it with all their parts but then we couldn’t dissuade Jimmy. He absolutely wanted to do that song so we had to chuck that track. And then Jimmy and [guitarist] Mac McAnally did a great version of it, kind of unexpected for Jimmy.
Rock Cellar: When you produced “Longer” for Dan, did you know it would become this monster hit?
Norbert Putnam: I don’t think either of us thought it would be what it has become. It’s the number one wedding song in all of America now. And it’s just Dan’s guitar and a string quartet. And then of course the brass band in the middle of it, which Glen Spreen wrote.
You know, the third member of our team, going all the way back to Home Free, was Glen Spreen. Since Dan and I loved orchestral music, we brought in Glen. And he wrote some of the most magnificent music in his career backing Dan Fogelberg. And the best example is possibly “Longer.” The trumpet solo in the middle of it, which is played by the great Jerry Hey. Jerry Hey wrote charts for Michael Jackson. So there were a lot of people involved who brought a tremendous amount of wealth to these records.
When you’re producing a record, you love everything you’re doing. And you wonder, will this song stick out? You never know what the public will latch onto, quite honestly. Usually when we get the record to the record label, it will be the young people there and the A&R department who point out to us, “This is the one.” And we’ll say “Really.”
Because as musicians we had a tendency to go with the most complicated musical part of it. And at times we would overlook the lyrical content. And it was such a simple, beautiful love song.
Rock Cellar: How did Vince Gill and Amy Grant come to record “Longer”?
Norbert Putnam: You are going to love the way that Vince and Amy do that song. It’s one of my favorites off the tribute album. Vince did the record two, three years ago. I’m out at the Opry House on a Saturday night hustling Alison Krauss once again to come to the studio. I’m leaving her dressing room. As I’m walking out I bump into Vince and I just grabbed him. I said, “Vince, would you and Amy consider doing a duet on Fogelberg’s ‘Longer’?” You know, Vince appeared on High Country Snow and he loved working on that. And he said, “Well, let me think about it.” The next thing I know I get a phone call from Larry Fitzgerald, who’s his manager, and he says, “Vince wants to do it.”
Jean Fogelberg: At first you didn’t ask about “Longer” or Amy, you asked Vince if he’d be on the CD and he said yes. And then every time you ran into him, you were like stalking him. Every time he was at an event you were at, you would go over: “So Vince, when are you gonna be on the CD?” And we could never get him until you finally thought, “Well how ’bout we ask Amy to do a duet with him?” And then it came about.
Norbert Putnam: When your wife tells you to come to the studio, you go to the studio [laughs]. That’s the power of a woman again.
Rock Cellar: With so many different artists recording in different studios, how did you make the album sound cohesive?
Norbert Putnam: We didn’t make any attempt to make the engineering cohesive. When Train agreed that they would do “Old Lang Syne,” they did ask me if I wanted to come to San Francisco. And I said no because I didn’t want to influence them to do it the way we had done it before. I said I want it to be a Train arrangement. And I would never have directed them the way they did it. At first I didn’t know what to think about it and I fell in love with it by the second time I played it.
When you hear Michael do “Better Change,” Michael just changed it to Michael McDonald music. And they changed it to Train music. So there’s quite a bit of different sounds on there.
I would say to them, “Use your producer, use your engineer. Do it like your record.” And then we said you have to make it sound like something Dan did. And I think it worked in the end.
Rock Cellar: What are your favorite Dan tracks – and why?
Norbert Putnam: I’ll tell you about one of my favorites. And I didn’t produce it, Dan did it with Marty Lewis. It was on The Innocent Age – “The Reach.” It’s just a brilliant piece of music. And he called me to put a bass part on it. And it’s one that I occasionally go back and play because it’s so emotional and it’s just full of great playing, great singing and great writing.
Jean Fogelberg: That’s really so hard. If I did give you my ten top tracks, each track would be my favorite not so much because of the song itself but because of the story behind it or the emotional connection to it.
“River of Souls.” I was a musician and when Dan came in to hear me play, I went back home and the next day I went out, I didn’t have any of his albums so I wanted to see what he was about and I bought River of Souls. And that’s the first track I put on of his. Other than that I just knew a bunch of the big hits.
And when River of Souls came out I loved gut string guitar. And when that gut string starts in, I loved it. It just really struck a chord in me. And for that reason, that’s one of my favorites. And I think the gut string guitar is really sexy and so in our life together there’d be times when Dan was sitting, just kind of noodling on the guitar and he’d go into the intro of “River of Souls” and give me this randy smile.
So that song is one of my favorites.