The passing of Dan Fogelberg hit with quite a shock around here. I hadn’t followed his career in years and had no idea he was battling such a dreaded disease, but still had a very high regard for him. I remember when his first recording, Homefree, I believe it was called, came out. I had released my first solo CD only weeks before and I was quite stunned by the complete artist that Fogelberg was. He became an inspiration to me. Right from the beginning his writing, singing and recording sounded like he’d always been doing it. I didn’t feel that kind of confidence inside of me, so I was very impressed with what he did right out of the shute. He will be missed and his passing, of course, got me to thinking about other great musicians that have slipped away recently and it also sent me down the path of memory that leads to the mentors that have helped me, knowingly or unknowingly, along the way.
When I was sixteen, in the summer of 1963, I worked with a fake I.D. at a club in Virginia Beach, Virginia called the Shadows. It was a six hundred seat club and folk music was still the hottest music around though the Beatles were only six months away from changing that and everything else we knew about popular music.
In any event, one of the more popular groups and one of the first to come thru Virginia Beach was an act called the Gateway Trio, an off shoot of the Gateway Singers from San Francisco started by Jerry Walters, a banjo player. He then started the Gateway Trio wherein he played the banjo, Betty Mann played the first Martin D-28 I had ever seen in real life and the upright bass was played by a fellow named Milt Chapman.
Milt and I seemed to hit it off and even tho I was only sixteen, he took me under his wing, showed me how to finger pick, gave me my first set of national finger picks and encouraged me and my music. It was an amazing gift to give a teenager. Right from the get-go he made me feel like a peer, even tho I clearly wasn’t. I was hanging around music and music clubs and trying to learn every single thing I could from every act that came thru that summer and there were quite a list. Bud & Travis; Cass Elliot and the Big Three (Cass was later in the Mamas and Papas); the Halifax Three (Denny Dougherty was also part of the Mamas and Papas); playing guitar for the Halifax Three was a young Canadian named Zal Yanovsky, who later played lead for the Lovin Spoonful; the banjo player for the Phoenix Singers was a fellow named Peter Tork (later of the Monkees); solo act Donal Leace (he was the first solo pro I’d ever seen.) I mean the list went on and on. Through the years, I managed to stay friends with Cass Elliot til her passing. Peter Tork and I still record and tour together, and Milt Chapman, who started it all? We’ve remained friends all this time (over forty four years) and now in his seventies, lives in the Palm Desert area and still plays bass and sings, working several gigs a week.
As I pondered Milt, and Cass and Donal and Peter’s gifts of patience and encouragement and mentoring, I started wondering if I had given back to the music community the way they gave to me. And it is a question that I put to all of you. You know who helped you and how important it was. Have you done the same thing for anyone? None of us has gotten to where ever we are in music without the generosity and patience of some other musician who just decided to take some time with us.
I would like to suggest that sometime during this holiday season, when you’ve got some free time on your hands (like after that big Christmas dinner the second night), you sit down and think about who helped you. Make a list of those people and for starters, contact them and let them know how they helped you and how much you appreciated it. Then make a list of the people you know coming up that you could possibly help and make it a point to contact them and help them in some way. As Tom Robbins says, “we are all brothers on this crooked road to the other” Let’s give each other a little leg up this holiday season and stretch it right out thru the new year.