As a result, his return to the area in late June of 1971 was already newsworthy. A Daily Illini article wrote "a regular Red Herring performer until he made it big in Chicago, Fogelberg will return Wednesday at 9 pm for a benefit concert."
A few weeks after the show, while still in town, Fogelberg approached local musician and sound engineer Roger Francisco about using his studio to record some demos. Dan explained that his manager, Irving Azoff, wanted to take them to California in search of a record deal with a major label.
The RoFran Enterprises Studio would have been well known to Dan at that time. Some of his earliest studio recordings were done there as part of the Red Herring Folk Festival compilation albums. This includes early versions of his songs "Looking For A Lady" and "Hickory Grove."
Thanks to an interview conducted with Roger Francisco in 2015 by the Sousa Archives and the Center for American Music, we have a few details about how the 1971 demo session came about. Here is the story in Francisco's own words:
RoFran Enterprises sessions log book shows the exact recording date to have been July 21, 1971. What Fogelberg recorded that day however was not preserved in the ledger.
Dan Fogelberg ‐‐ he was always helpful for other people. He'd come in and play on sessions with other people. And then all of a sudden, one day, “I've gotta have this demo tape for Irv Azoff is taking it out to LA, and I'm gonna do that. I don't have any money to pay it.” “Okay.” “Come on, you can – you know, day at the studio, we’ll hold it for you.” So we spent a day in the studio and he took the album out."
Incredibly, a tape bearing that same date and Dan's name (misspelled as FOGELBURG) has recently surfaced. The tape contains three songs, all studio recordings, feature Fogelberg with a backing band.
The names of the other musicians playing on the session are not known at this time. The song titles, according to a handwritten note inside the box, appear to be: "Another Daydream," "There Is A Reason (Who Has The Time)," and "Little Miss Mindy."
Two days after the recording session, the Daily Illini, somewhat prophetically, ran an article about the impending success of some of the area's talent. "Don't be surprised if you walk into a record store one day and find an album recorded by a former Red Herring regular. It may soon be a reality."
The article tells of Mormos and their new album released in France. Members of the group, many of which were former Red Herring performers, included Jim Cuomo, Elliott Delman, Rick Mansfield and Annie Williams. Regarding Dan, the article proclaimed that he was "likely to be recording soon under a national record label."
In fact, Fogelberg soon left Champaign and headed to Los Angeles himself where he waited for months while Azoff worked on securing him the right deal. Fogelberg wrote about this period in his life on the Super Seventies Rock Site:
David Geffen had just formed Asylum, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel had just been signed to Columbia, and Irving was trying to sell me.
I was a big fan of Joni Mitchell's. She was a big influence on my songwriting. I'd seen that Geffen had set up this label for singer-songwriters, and I said, "What a great idea. This is where I want to be."
At the same time, Clive Davis had heard about me through Irving, and Clive was offering me a singles deal. I said, "No, I want an album deal, or we don't do it."
Geffen's label sounded like a haven for progressive artists, so I showed Irving an article about Geffen in Rolling Stone, and Irving said, "OK, I'll call the guy."
We got David's number and got him on the phone. He said, "I have no idea who you are, or what you're talking about, but if you send me a tape I'll listen." The rest is pretty much history. Irving went to work for David, and they hollered at each other across Sunset Boulevard.
But the ironic thing was, I didn't go with Asylum. It didn't feel exactly right, and Irving was saying, "Look, there are a lot of places to go here." He wanted to play the record companies, and for six months he just made the rounds. Every day I'd be sitting out in the Valley, in this little apartment, eating chili and waiting for a record deal.
Irving would come home and say, "Well, it's A&M, definitely." I'd say, "Oh, great. When do we start?" And Irving would say, "We'll talk about it tomorrow." The next day he'd come home and tell me about another record company.
He did this to me for about six months. Finally I said, "I'll believe it when I see it." In the end, we went with Columbia and Clive, but for an album, not just a single.
Fogelberg returned to Champaign-Urbana briefly in October of 1971 for a concert at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. He opened for REO Speedwagon and the All Star Frogs at the first ever rock concert held in the Great Hall.
In ads promoting the concert, Dan was bill as being "Back from California." An article in the Daily Illini mentions that he had been on the West Coast "studying with Neil Young."
A review of the concert in the Daily Illini a few days after the show was however less than impressed with the "new" Dan Fogelberg.
"Seeing Fogelberg perform used to be an almost mystical experience. He'd come on stage looking dragged out and sullen, say hardly an audible word during his entire set, giving nothing but his music and the feeling in it. The cheerful, clean, talkative Dan Fogelberg of Saturday night seemed like a different person altogether, and not necessarily a better one. The California experience polished him, but it took some of the mystery and appeal away from his stage personality."
The reviewer conceded that "neither his songs nor his playing lost any of their sensitivity or beauty during his stay on the West Coast."
Fogelberg would return to perform one last time at the Red Herring in January of 1972. That night he shared the stage with Elliott Delman and Annie Williams, both back from Paris. Like Dan, the two were only in town briefly. (Recordings of the concert appear to exist and it may have been broadcast live on WPGU. Later, the three went to the radio station and had a late night in-studio jam session.)
The Daily Illini review of the Red Herring performance was titled, "Fogelberg, Delman Unchanged." Despite the sentiment, things would never be the same again. In many ways the concert served as Dan's farewell to his "college years" and to his home state.