Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Dan Fogelberg - The 1971 RoFran Demos

While attending the University of Illinois, Dan Fogelberg became a popular performer in the Champaign-Urbana area, especially at the Red Herring Coffeehouse.   The Daily Illini once described him as "astounding audiences with his versatility and magnetic stage presence as a folksinger in the David Crosby-Neil Young mold."  

By the summer of 1971 however, it was clear that Dan Fogelberg had outgrown the local folk scene.  He had dropped out of school earlier that year and was starting to perform in Chicago more than Urbana.

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:

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."

The 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.

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.

Still, Fogelberg shared a new song that night proving he had not forgotten where he came from:  "Three thousand miles east / I may miss the harvest / But I won't miss the feast."  The chorus adds: "It looks like your gonna have to see me again / Illinois, oh, Illinois / Illinois, I'm your boy."

Other Early Fogelberg Recordings

 
 

Monday, January 29, 2024

Bill Keen And The Tradewinds (Bloomington-Normal)

Bill Keen and The Tradewinds were a Bloomington-Normal quintet that included three Illinois State University students.  Members of the group were:

Bill Keen, 19, of Urbana, a music major at ISNU and vocalist for the group
Jerry King, 18, of 910 S. Summit, Bloomington, an ISNU student, guitar
Jim Griner, 19, of Cheneyville, another ISNU student, bongos
Don Abbott, 35, 523 N. Main, Bloomington, organist at the Hi-Do-Ho
Neal Kenny, 22, of Louisville, KY, the drummer

In the summer of 1961 the group released a single on Lesley Records out of Louisville, Kentucky.  An article in the Daily Pantagraph from August 6, 1961 mentions that their record was the first on the new label.

The a-side, "Summer in the Lowlands," was a ballad written by Keen (which was actually a stage name used by Lawrence William Ostema Jr.).



The flip side contained a rock n' roll number, "Don't Call Me," which was written by Al Jones of Bloomington (616 S. Clinton).  According to the Pantagraph, Jones, who was not a member of the group, "has been writing music for about eight years and said he got most of his inspiration for tunes while working in the noisy Eureka Williams plant where he's a machine operator."

Curiously, the article mentions that the Kentucky label, Lesley Records, would be opening a talent office at 614 S. Clinton in Bloomington (next door to Jones) in the near future.   

It is unclear whether or not that office ever opened but at least one other group from central Illinois, Mike Brewer and the Galaxies from Champaign-Urbana, recorded for the label.   Also, between 1961 and 1962, Lesley Records had a bowling team in the Bloomington area.

As for Keen and Tradewinds, their record was reviewed in the September 11, 1961 issue of Billboard magazine with the ballad, "Summer In The Lowlands," receiving three stars or "moderate sales potential."

The group however does not appear to have lasted very long.  Ostema dropped "Keen" and performed under his own name in the years that followed.
 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Bill Warren And The Country Wildcats (Tiskilwa)

Bill Warren and the Country Wildcats from Tiskilwa, Illinois.     The group, also known as the Tiskilwa Wildcats, recorded just one single in 1960 for Fire Records.

The a-side, "Heart Stepping Stones," was written by Warren.  The b-side, an instrumental track called "Redwing Bongo," was arranged by Warren and the group.  Both songs were published by Poll-Bart Music of Glendale, CA which appears to have been the publishing company of country singer-songwriter Billy Barton.

The Fire record label, which was also based in California, appears to have been closely associated with Barton as well.  All of the known singles on the label have some connection to him including two released by Barton himself.

In a March 30, 1960 article in the Wyoming (IL) Post Herald, Warren's single is mentioned as being released by B & B Enterprises.  Again, this suggests a possible connection with Barton.

How exactly Warren and the Wildcats ended up being in business with Barton is however still a mystery.  Curiously, another north-central Illinois group, the Nite-Caps from LaSalle, also released a single on Fire Records around the same time. Their single was produced by Barton.

As for Warren and the Wildcats, they performed in and around Bureau County and western Illinois throughout the first half of the 1960s.  For several years in a row the group provided the entertainment at the "Annual Kentucky Reunion & Picnic" held in Wyanet, Illinois. 

If you have any more info, photos or memories of Bill Warren and the Country Wildcats please reach out to us at: downstatesounds@gmail.com