Singing is Arne Fogel’s thing: 40 years and counting

On April 4, 1968, 18-year-old Arne Fogel walked into Dove Recording Studios in Bloomington to cut his first track, a Beatles-influenced pop single called “I Once Had a Dream.” On May 2 of this year, he’ll walk onstage at the Medina Entertainment Center to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame.

Arne Fogel is still crooning.
Arne Fogel is still crooning.

What has Fogel been up to in the meantime? Hundreds of recording sessions, countless live performances, decades of radio shows, several CDs, lectures, presentations, advertising jingles, TV commercials and a small role in the Kevin Smith slacker movie “Mallrats.” Plus, raising a daughter (with wife Lori Leder-Fogel) and an ill-tempered Bichon.

Forty years is a long time to be in any business, especially the singing business. And Fogel shows no signs of slowing down. An email he sent in March had this subject header: “A TIMES sleep-over?” He had been scheduled to perform at the Times on Saturday night and again the next morning at Sunday brunch.

He has several gigs booked for April and many more through mid-2009. His latest CD came out on Wednesday. Fogel, an old-style, fedora-wearing crooner with a mellow baritone, has his website and a presence on MySpace and YouTube, where you can see him perform. He’s learning PowerPoint for workshops he’s leading at high schools through the Minnesota MusiCares Foundation.

Jazz critic Bob Protzman once called Fogel “one of the Twin Cities’ most interesting people.” Phone Fogel for what you think will be a 10-minute interview and you’ll end up talking for almost two hours — about singing, singers, radio, advertising, kids, dogs, music history, and other topics I’ve forgotten because I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

Inseparable: music and the man
So what’s his secret? “I don’t feel as old as I am some days,” Fogel says, “and I haven’t the vaguest idea how to do anything else.” But seriously: “All I ever wanted to do was to be a singer in a recording studio, or be on the radio, and those are the things I’ve spent my entire working life doing. It’s something I reflect upon often, and it gives me a feeling of satisfaction.”

Singer Lucia Newell has a different take on Fogel’s success. “Arne Fogel is so true to his essence that one cannot separate the music from the man,” she says. “His swing, sweetness and sense of humor are integrated so naturally into his style and deep knowledge of the music that he is the special genre of jazz he sings.”

I can’t think of anyone else around here who does what Fogel does. Neither can he. (We batted this topic around for a few moments and came up empty.) There’s a dearth of male jazz vocalists in general, and none in this area who has mastered Fogel’s unique style of pop/swing. It’s accessible, danceable, romantic and fun.

More often than not, it’s laced with history. When Fogel sings a song, he tells you who wrote it and when, and usually something else interesting about it. His grasp of music history has served him well on his many radio programs, most recently “The Bing Shift,” an all-Bing-Crosby show that airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on KBEM (88.5 FM).

“Arne is probably one of the foremost authorities on Bing Crosby,” says singer Rhonda Laurie, who is impressed by “the combination of his knowledge and his passion on the subject.” The Crosby family agrees. The official Bing Crosby Web site features a link to KBEM and a special thanks to Fogel.

Lately Fogel has been filling in occasionally for Kevin O’Connor on “The Afternoon Cruise,” KBEM’s drive-time show. “It’s so wonderful to have a part-time announcer with his kind of knowledge of composers and musicians,” says station manager Michele Jansen. “He always has a way of teaching you a tidbit about a song you just heard, and you don’t realize you’re learning something.”

Fogel has been plumbing his own history during the past few years. A CD with his first recordings came out in 2006. “Candy Floss: The Lost Music of MidAmerica” is a compilation of 1960s rock, pop, and bubblegum by local bands including the Shambles, the Seraphic Street Sounds, the Puddle, the Avanties, and Longman & Fogel (Steve & Arne).

Fogel went on to become part of the Puddle and later Batch, who stayed together for seven years. “Transistor,” a CD of basement recordings by Batch, is Fogel’s new/old CD, and it will surprise many of the regulars who show up at the Times to see him.

A nod to the days of hair and sideburns
“I think my fans will be intrigued,” he says. “It’s how I began, 40 years ago, when I had hair and sideburns. … It was literally recorded under the most miserable circumstances on a plastic Panasonic tape recorder. People looking for profoundly moving sonic experiences will be disappointed. People looking for the feel of the late 1960s and early 1970s will be thrilled.”

It was the break-up of Batch in 1975 that nudged Fogel in the direction of jazz. His heart was no longer in rock rock ‘n’ rock. Plus he wanted something with more staying power. “Pop singers don’t age well,” he says. “With jazz, you can be venerable.”

In the early 1980s, he was one-third of Lieberman, Fogel & Bey, who became regulars on “A Prairie Home Companion.” Fogel remembers, “It was my first chance to do the type of music I had grown up with and loved. … I was a Bing and Frank fan before I even heard of the Beatles.” He was also working as a studio musician, in radio, and in advertising.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that he performed at a real jazz club. “Debbie Duncan had a Sunday night thing at the Dakota [in Bandanna Square], not exactly open mike, but you didn’t have to be a pro. I knew one or two musicians who said to come on down and sit in. I got up and sang, and she paid me the utmost compliment: ‘You don’t look the way you sing.’

“By that time I had been singing professionally for about 20 years. I thought I knew it all. I particularly thought I knew a lot about jazz because I knew about swing and great singers. But there’s a lot of space you have to fill in a jazz room. I had so much to learn and I’m still learning.”

And teaching. He doesn’t have students or give lessons, but he mentors young singers. Rising star Maud Hixson credits Fogel with deepening her knowledge about the singers she loves.

“People may know that Arne has served as both mentor and collaborator in my short career,” she says. “What they may not know is that I’ve also enjoyed some 20 years of on-air education from Arne’s radio shows…. His contribution to my career development, in just this one way, is incalculable and irreplaceable. He is one-of-a-kind.”

What: Arne Fogel with the Wolverines Trio
Where: The Times Bar & Café, 201 E. Hennepin Ave. in Northeast Minneapolis
When: Every Wednesday in April, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. No cover.

Upcoming picks
Beyond Category: The Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn Songbook: Wonderful music, top-shelf performers: singers Maud Hixson, Lucia Newell and Dennis Spears with the Rick Carlson Trio and Gary Schulte. Bloomington Center for the Arts, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12 ($19; $17 students/seniors; $16 Twin Cities Jazz Society members). Call 952-563-8575.

Peter Lang: Finger-picking guitar master Lang dropped out of the professional music world for two decades. He’s back with a new CD, “Testament,” which draws on traditional blues and folk. Boomer fans may recall an awesome piece of vinyl called “John Fahey/Leo Kottke/Peter Lang” that came out in 1974 on the Takoma label. Lang’s band will include Dave King, drummer for the Bad Plus and Happy Apple. The Dakota, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday, April 12 ($25/$20).

Delfeayo Marsalis
: A Tribute to Louis Armstrong: Props to Lilly Schwartz, the Minnesota Orchestra’s director of pops and special projects, for making Orchestra Hall a great place to hear jazz. Trombonist Marsalis curated the show and will play. Phil Schaap is the host. The concert also features trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Bill Charlap, vocalist Kermit Ruffins and the Twin Cities’ own Charmin Michelle. Orchestra Hall, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17 ($45/$65 VIP).

Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top.


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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 04/11/2008 - 10:34 am.

    In the early days of Arnie’s career, I owned an ad agency, and Arnie came to work for me as a copywriter, and generally all around creative type to supplement his singing income. The usual adminishon is: “don’t give up your day job”. With Arnie, it was “don’t give up your night job”. He was a delight to have around, and as a jazz buff myself, we had many a pleasant conversation. My most vivid memory is visiting his house where he had hundreds (perhaps thousands) of old 78s boxed in his basement (wonder what ever happened to those?) I am pleased to see Arnie still has his career on track.
    Myles Spicer

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