A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg

The Coffee House Days

Dan’s first solo show was a fleeting, but auspicious, moment in his career. In March of 1969, students at the Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois started a coffee house in the Campus Religion Center on Mulberry Street. Dubbed the Inner Ear, it was touted as a place where students could gather for poetry readings, music, and discussions about current events. The General Telephone Company donated large wooden cable reels that the students painted to use as tables.

     Newspaper ads stressed that anyone in the community was welcome to come and play there. Seeing the ad, Dan was immediately intrigued. Forty miles from Peoria, this obscure new venue would be the perfect place to try out the songs he’d been working up for a solo act, now that his Coachmen bandmates had all gone off to college.

     One rainy night, Dan told his parents he was going to a local school event, so they gave him permission to take the car. He went out the back door with his 12-string guitar and hurried to the garage behind the house. Sitting at the wheel, heart racing, he wondered if he was ready to do this. Ever since the Cub Scout Jamboree, he had performed with other boys. The prospect of performing solo was scary. He decided he would go there and check it out; he could always just have a cup of coffee, listen to other players, and drive back home.

    When he walked into the one-room venue, it was empty but for the manager and two girls sitting at one of the cable reel tables. A tiny stage, with a microphone and amp, was just waiting for someone to step up. He talked to the manager and got permission to play a few songs. No one else was out and about on this wet night, so he ended up playing for half an hour to this three-person audience.

     The manager was engrossed in what he was doing and the two girls rarely looked up from their discussion, so Dan took the plunge and played some new original music. When he finished the last song there was no applause, but he was ecstatic. This was going to work; he could feel it. He packed up his guitar, drove home, and never told his parents about the performance that would mark the end of his high school band days and the beginning of his career as a solo performer and singer-songwriter.


Dan was working in the record department at Byerly Music in the summer of '69. He had read about Crosby Stills and Nash in Hit Parader Magazine and was intrigued. Here were three of his favorite musicians, from three of his favorite bands, playing and singing together! He couldn’t wait to hear their first record. When the album arrived in the store, Dan showed it to the department supervisor, Martha Sullivan. Martha was always kind to Dan, allowing him to listen to new records. He believed he sold her on the idea by saying that it would make him more knowledgeable about the music, which would enable him to sell more records, but she probably just liked him.

    Tearing the cellophane off of Crosby, Stills & Nash, he hurried to the back of the store. Putting headphones on, he set the LP on the turntable and dropped the needle. The first track, “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” blew his mind, as did the entire album. They had written folk-rock-pop-country songs and added barber-shop-quartet-tight harmonies; it was a new musical genre.


    CSN were going to be playing their first-ever live concert at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago on August 16th. On top of that, Neil Young would be joining them, and Joni Mitchell was going to be the opening act. It seemed too good to be true, and he bought tickets. Terry Walters, Dan’s friend and Coachmen bandmate, was attending nearby Bradley University and said he’d go with Dan - he’d drive them there in his corvette. Perfect!

    Three days after Dan’s 18th birthday, they were on the road to Chicago, listening to the radio. Amid news reports, one DJ said, “Things are getting freaky in White Lake, New York,” at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. Dan and Terry briefly debated heading to New York to check the festival out and, had they known the cultural phenomenon that Woodstock would become, they probably would have done it.

    As they got closer to Chicago, Terry said, “Here’s your birthday present,” and handed Dan a tab of strawberry acid. The Beatles had recorded Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band after doing acid; the Beach Boys recorded Pet Sounds. Dan had wanted to try it for ages - this birthday “trip” just kept getting better and better. Terry stayed straight, to be Dan’s trip-sitter, and Dan dropped acid for the first time.

    They got to Chicago with plenty of time to spare and began wandering around Olde Town. It had rained recently and the streets were wet as they wandered along the crowded sidewalks, marveling at the head shops full of drug paraphernalia. Dan saw Joni Mitchell standing in front of a cafe. She was wearing a pant suit and putting money in the case of a street musician playing the clarinet. “Terry!” Dan said, “There’s Joni Mitchell! I have to go meet her.” Terry looked, but didn’t think it looked like her. No, he said, that couldn’t be Joni Mitchell. Dan insisted, though, and started walking toward her. Terry led him away, saying “You’re tripping, man.”

    Arriving at the Auditorium Theater, they took their seats in the nose-bleed balcony section. Dan was enjoying himself immensely, tripping on the beautiful architectural details of the gorgeous Victorian building. Then the lights were lowered and Joni Mitchell was introduced. She came out on stage, wearing the pant suit, and Terry’s mouth dropped open. “I told you, man,” Dan said. 

   The girl sitting next to Dan had binoculars and a notepad. She was watching Joni’s chording hand, then writing something down. Dan asked her what she was doing and she said, “I’m copping Joni’s tunings.”

    Dan had only ever used standard tunings, in which the six strings are tuned to the notes E-A-D-G-B-E. In Alternate, or Open tunings, which Joni Mitchell used all the time, the strings are tuned differently. For instance, tuning the strings to the notes D-G-D-G-B-D creates an Open G tuning, meaning you can strum the guitar and, with no help from your left hand, a G Major chord plays. The girl briefly explained this to Dan, and it was a revelation. He’d never heard of alternate tunings. The other revelation was the guitar Joni was playing. Dan hadn’t heard a Martin guitar before, and it sounded fantastic.

    When CSNY came out they weren’t super tight; it was their first live gig together, but they still blew everyone away. After the concert, Terry and Dan drove back to Peoria in the Corvette. It had been a wonderful, life-changing day, filled with unforgettable sights and sounds, and revelations that would change the way he played music.

    CSNY gave their second live performance two days later, at Woodstock. Joni Mitchell’s manager felt she should keep her scheduled appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, so she missed the history-making event too. But she wrote “Woodstock,” which became a hit for CSN in the U.S., and an even bigger hit in the U.K. for the British band, Matthews Southern Comfort.

Webster’s Last Word Folk Theatre & Coffee House was a basement performance space in Pekin, Illinois. Started in 1966 by Chuck Perrin of the brother/sister duo Chuck and Mary Perrin, Webster’s was located in a side street basement beneath the old Arcade Building. It was so off the beaten path, the address was: “on Elizabeth near Capitol Street,” which only added to the bohemian vibe Chuck was looking for.         

     In high school, Dan had been considered “a hippy” because he grew his hair over his ears, Beatles-length, but Chuck and Mary Perrin were the real deal. They were flower children who drank tea and did yoga, and Dan thought they were very cool. 

    Webster’s reflected the times, overlapping the jazz/beat/poetry genre with folk music and herb teas. The walls and pipes were painted black and graffiti covered the walls, with sayings like:


“God Is Dead.” ~ Nietzsche, 1889

“Nietzsche Is Dead, ha ha ha.” ~ God, 1900


    There was a small stage for performers and the audience sat on the floor on cushions. Cinder blocks supported eight-foot shelf boards to create communal tables with restaurant candles. It was a whole new scene for Dan and he really dug hanging out, listening to poetry readings, and snapping his fingers instead of clapping. He wanted to perform there, so he started learning Gordon Lightfoot and Simon and Garfunkel songs.

    He taught himself to play “Embryonic Journey,” the acoustic guitar instrumental written by Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane, from their album, Surrealistic Pillow. It went over very well and became one of his featured songs at Webster’s. This was when Dan began to establish himself as a fingerpicker and acoustic guitarist, and by the time he left for Champaign, he had honed his solo act. 

Dan talking about Webster's

  The University of Illinois (the U of I) was “the beginning of life” for Dan. Donna was there, as well as some of his friends, and he was on his own, away from home. He was trading the provincial confines of high school for the intellectual freedom and big sports of a major college, and it was a thrilling new beginning for him. 

     His first day at the U of I was spent at Freshmen Orientation. Thousands of kids were coming and going, enrolling in classes, getting their class schedules and lists of textbooks. As Dan left the building, he saw a “total freak” sitting at a little booth for The Red Herring Coffee House at the Channing-Murray Foundation. The freak’s name was Peter Berkow. He had a bushy head of curly hair, a pointed beard and John Lennon glasses, and he was the manager of the Herring. Dan stopped at the booth and asked about the music scene, and when Peter learned that Dan played guitar, he invited him to come and play.

    Located in an old church, the foundation had become a hotbed of radical activity and left-wing politics. Then, in 1967, they decided to put a coffee house in the basement. Like Webster’s, the Herring was a small room in a low-ceilinged basement where there was a stage and chairs, and coffee and tea were sold. Unlike Websters, though, the Herring didn’t feel like a college hangout; it had a subversive feel that Dan liked.

    Most of the musicians who played there were amateurs, and by now Dan had been a pro for six years. Customers had been used to hearing folk tunes like “We Shall Overcome” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” but Dan brought in songs by Buffalo Springfield, CSN, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. As more musicians began playing there, word got out and The Red Herring changed from a political gathering place to a great music venue.

    Soon, it was the cool place to be, and they were packing people in on a nightly basis, often to standing-room-only capacity. As Dan’s popularity grew, so did his confidence. He was writing lots of songs, influenced by the new music he was listening to. During a visit home, he wrote “To the Morning,” on his parents’ piano. It was the first song to make him believe he could do this for a living. He wrote “The Actress and the Artist” for Donna, which became a Herring favorite.

    A music festival was organized, featuring the regular Herring players. It was a great success, and Peter Berkow decided they should record it. This was done at a recording studio close to the U of I campus called Rofran (an abbreviation of Roger Francisco.) When the album, Folk Music from the Red Herring Coffee House (Fall Folk Festival 1969) was released, it became a modest hit, getting airplay on the campus radio station, WPGU-FM. Two more albums would follow: The Red Herring Fall Folk Festival 1970, and The Red Herring Bootleg Album.

    The folk festivals were peaceful events, but anger and unrest had reached a boiling point at campuses across the country. By 1970, students at the U of I resented having the National Guard on campus, and were pushing back. Most of the protests were held in “the quad,” the main campus quadrangle. The Red Herring was just to the east of the quad, so Dan frequently walked through protests on his way to play gigs there. Eventually, the campus was put under martial law and a curfew established. 

    Dan hurried home late one afternoon after waiting for a paper to be typed. Running past armed National Guard members his own age, he was struck by the surreal image of kids with guns enforcing governmental policies. When the Kent State shootings occurred on May 4, 1970, he realized it could just as easily have happened at the U of I, or any other American university.

    The power of music was never more apparent. The peaceful protest songs of the folk festivals had people holding hands and talking about peace and love. At the same time, top local band REO Speedwagon was working kids into a frenzy with their covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Gimme Shelter.”  By the time they got to the lyrics, “War, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away,” kids were ready to riot, kill, and die.

    In the midst of all the chaos, The Red Herring was a musical oasis from which a lifelong friendship would spring. The first time Elliott Delman heard Dan singing, he was walking down the stairs to the basement club. He heard some chick singing and was surprised to find it was actually a dude.

    Elliott was “the guitar guy,” playing classical and flamenco guitar and doing sessions backing up other folkies. A grad student who was teaching Spanish, he and Dan were coming from completely different musical places, and yet, when they played together, their prowess on guitar and love for all types of music made for some fascinating jams. The thing that awed audiences, though, was the way they shifted musical gears. 

    One of them would start playing something with a bossanova beat, and the other would join in until they had a good groove going. Then, almost simultaneously, they would move into the blues, and it was hard to tell who had initiated the shift. It was like watching a flock of birds, changing direction in mid-flight. Throughout their jam sessions they would burst out laughing for the sheer joy of this strange, intuitive connection.

    The basement could no longer contain the crowds, so they began holding concerts upstairs in the church, which seated a lot more people. Elliott would go on stage and play Spanish guitar, then Dan would come out and play pop and blues, then they would sit down together and go crazy. They each had a goofy, irreverent sense of humor, so comedy often entered into their act. Audiences loved them, and they became a popular duo on campus.


    During his freshman year Dan read an interview with Eric Clapton, in which Clapton talked about Robert Johnson’s influence on his playing. Dan had played some blues, but it was mostly Muddy Waters and B.B. King - electric Chicago blues. Now that he was playing acoustic guitar exclusively, he was drawn to the Delta blues of Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Howlin’ Wolf.

    A world of music and ideas were opening up to him and he absorbed them greedily. His natural aptitude on the guitar, combined with his big vocal range, meant he could play any musical genre he cared to, and he loved them all.

    While singing the blues, his pain was authentic; he was still hopelessly in love with Donna, but their worlds were diverging. Dan was hanging out with subversive hippies and Donna was a sorority girl. Their connection was tenuous at best, but Dan’s persistence had always made up for Donna’s lack of interest. Although Dan was being hyped around campus, she never came to hear him play - the Herring wasn’t her kind of place. One winter day, though, she said she was going to come by that night. 

    Dan was thrilled. He’d always played new songs for her in private, but she had yet to see him perform in front of an audience. He hoped the spotlight would work its magic; that she would see a new side of him and fall madly in love. He played his heart out, to great applause, and approached her after his set. “That was lovely, Dan,” she said, “I’d like to stay longer, but I have a date.” He was crushed.

    For the next hour, he sat around and moped, looking heartbroken. Finally, someone handed him a barbiturate. He took it with a beer, hoping it would help to dull the pain. It didn’t help much, it just made him lethargic and he sat there until closing time. It was snowing heavily and temperatures had fallen to below zero, but he only lived six blocks away, so he set out on foot, carrying his guitar case on the deserted sidewalks. 


    Somewhere between the Herring and his apartment, he passed out.


   Luckily, a good samaritan drove by and saw Dan lying in the snow. He stopped, loaded Dan and his guitar into his car, and managed to get an address out of him. He delivered him safely home, most likely saving his life. Dan never learned the name of his late-night benefactor, but he would always believe that angels had appeared throughout his life when he needed them most. 

    Dan was born with a cheerful, optimistic disposition, but after that night he sank into a period of deep despair, writing songs like “Be On Your Way,” and “The River,” so full of raw anguish you want to check your hands for blood after taking the CD from the player.

The River
00:00 / 07:01

The River 

I was born by a river rolling past a town 

Given no direction, just told to keep my head down 

As I took my position, a man fired a gun 

I was so steeped in tradition I could not run 


I was raised by a river weaned upon the sky 

And in the mirror of the waters I saw myself learn to cry 

As the tears hit the surface I saw what had been done 

I gave feet to my freedom and I did run 


Someday later I saw the writing in the dust 

It told me how I should travel 

It told me who I was 


I ran far from the river, far as I could see 

And as the sun hit my shoulders, I felt it burning me 

How I longed for the waters as the fire raged 

How I longed for the river as I aged 


I will die by a river as it rolls away 

Bury me in the nighttime, do not waste the day 

High above the waters that roll on to the sea 

All the angels in heaven will laugh at me 

They will laugh at me, they will laugh at me 

They will laugh at me 


My life was naught but a river rolling through my brain 

Made of so many teardrops, made of so much pain

Be On Your Way
00:00 / 03:26

Be On Your Way


Be on your way 

Don't try to say that you love me still 

If we couldn't find our right dream by now, then we never will 

We paid our dues at the door, and never once saw the stage 

We wrote our share of love's lore, and never quite filled the page 

So be on your way


Be on your way 

Maybe someday we will meet again 

Try not to cry, tears make me think how it might have been 

We loved as strong as we could, but love only got in our way 

We took our time to be free, there's nothing much more to say

But be on your way 

     It's striking to think that both of these songs came from the same nineteen-year-old. Back to back, they show Dan's songwriting and vocal versatility, as well as his proficiency on piano, keyboards, and acoustic and electric guitars. I love his acoustic guitar riffs on "The River" and his Moog synthesizer parts on "Be On Your Way."

    The scene at The Red Herring was changing. It was losing its intimate coffee house ambience and Dan was playing there less frequently. Most of his time was spent jamming with Elliott, writing new songs, and seeing where he could take his guitar playing. Throughout his freshman year he had kept his grades up and maintained his scholarship, but now, in his sophomore year, he was missing a lot of classes. He was getting warnings from the college, and soon he would have some big decisions to make.


From The Miami Student ~ Miami University, Oxford, Ohio ~ April 10, 1979

The Biggest Coffeehouse

Dan Fogelberg, who began his career in coffeehouses, called his performance here "the biggest coffeehouse I've ever played in."


Posted August 22nd. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020