Song of the Day: 'Leader of the Band' by Dan Fogelberg

Earlier this month, September 1 to be exact, would have been my grandfather’s 93rd birthday. This year, his passing hit harder than it had in recent years. His presence has been one of the most significant and influential throughout my life. As a musician, act promoter and manager, he instilled a love for music in my siblings and me, early on. 

Hot summer days would be spent outside with his car radio cranked up as he played the latest tapes of either his own recordings or another artist. He was a rambunctious soul with as he loved to put it “a lot of living to do”.

As a musician, he always had a song he was working on, finding napkins to scribble them on. He said that it kept his ideas purer than writing on paper. He always had a gig around the corner.

His deep baritone vocals would resound in his country melodies. “GJ” had a distinct idea of what country music was and what it stood for. What would now be referred to as folk or Americana was closer to his style. He played the upright base and was sad to see it go out of fashion with country’s changing approach. He’d be thrilled to see the current crop of Americana artists bringing it back to prominence.

He was a wanderer, always searching for something, a song, a rhyme, the meaning of life in general. He’d danced with Ava Gardner when he was in military school and later served his country, a trying experience for him.

His life was fraught with ups and downs; though he never gave himself enough credit for making it through the latter. Leading such a colorful life and one filled with compassion, he was a lover not a fighter, GJ never quite found peace with himself or the world surrounding him. 

Growing up I would listen to the “Delilah Show”, a radio dedication program and it’s through her show that I heard Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” for the first time. It would be a song of great personal resonance as it almost perfectly describes GJ, relationship with my father and his life, in general.

I was blessed to finally have the song play on the radio during one of his visits when our family had gone out for ice cream. It was meant to be, a kismet of sorts, I turned up the volume of the car radio so we could all listen to the music. I told him that the song reminded me of him and we listened closely to it. After the song was done playing, he gave me a nod and his signature smile, he agreed.

Fogelberg is a master storyteller and this song will forever carry a piece of history with it. The soft melody, serene vocals and moving horn section, make for a spellbinding piece of music. Mr. Fogelberg wouldn’t know it but he brought me a little closer to my grandfather that day. Though it wouldn’t be the last; it was the first time I played a song for him that he liked.