KENNY LOGGINS: THE TEST OF TIME
By Paul Freeman [2006 Feature Story]
The wineries make ideal venues for Kenny Loggins. After all, his music ages so well. The singer-songwriter has created hit songs in four consecutive decades, racking up 12 platinum albums in the process.
At his concerts, audiences will hear a wealth of Loggins’ golden tunes. “It’s a great atmosphere there and the audience is usually in a good mood, ready to have a good time,” he says.
Putting together such a show gives Loggins an opportunity to contemplate his impressive songbook. “I look back and see what would be a good surprise, that maybe I haven’t done in a long time, that through the retrospective eyes of history, we can see is a song that held up, like a ‘Keep The Fire,’ that was never really a hit, but considered a theme song. ‘Celebrate Me Home,’ for that matter, was never really a hit record.”
His career spans a surprising spectrum, from country-rock to soundtrack pop to smooth jazz to children’s music. “I was always looking to see what I could do to stretch. The low side of that was I never stood still long enough for the audience to figure out who I was. It’s an amalgamation of years and styles.
“I have two big brothers. One of them was deep into rockabillly, early rock ‘n’ roll and folk music. My other big brother was deep into R&B. They both turned me on to their favorite stuff. I sort of became a composite of those styles. They’ve been pulling and pushing on me to try to marry them, for my whole career.”
Loggins began as a guitarist for psychedelic rock band the Electric Prunes. After becoming a successful songwriter, an early 70s collaboration with Buffalo Springfield veteran Jim Messina launched him as a top-selling artist.
A recent Loggins & Messina reunion drew full houses. “The audiences were really happy to see us. It was a fun time. I was glad we did it.”
It gave Loggins a new perspective on those early days. “With the possible exception of ‘Danny’s Song’ and ‘House at Pooh Corner,’ my best songwriting was yet to come. My sense of Loggins & Messina was that it was a stronger vehicle for Jimmy than it was for me. His stuff was definitely matured at that time. I think much of his best stuff happened during Loggins & Messina.”
Loggins continues to grow, musically. “I’ve seen my music move in and out of different phases, some stronger than others. I’ve had periods where I felt a strong inner sense of direction and periods I felt I was just wandering, looking for something to hold onto. That shows up in the music. That’s part of the process of being an artist. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other to see where the music goes.
“It’s interesting to see where it’s evolving now. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing and recording in the last month. I’ve been writing with Nashville writers, leaning towards an acoustic guitar record that has a country flavor, much like Loggins & Messina did, but rocks in a way that ‘Footloose’ and my early upbringing in rock ‘n’ roll would let me do.”
Though he’s had massive commercial success, Loggins hasn’t let that dominate his creative process. “As an artist, I try to write things that move me, that matter to me. So I keep a lot of notes. On my lyrics, I try to follow where my melodies want to go. At its best, it’s a heart-driven medium.”
Or brokenhearted. “I’ve gone through a really rough couple of years, with the divorce and all. A number of writers I know use all that emotionality, bringing it to their writing. But I found that it was very difficult for me to write at all. The best I could do was write poetry and journals. I’ve been leaning on those journal entries a lot, in my songwriting, the last couple of months.”
Will his new songs reflect emotional struggles or the light on the other side? “I’ll have to let the music answer that question. It’s not, ‘You bitch, you ruined my life!’ But it’s not ‘Oh, everything’s fine now and I’m not feeling anything.’ It’s sort of a balancing act between expressing the truth of all those emotions and also looking to move on.”
His five children, including three from earlier marriage, help him make the transition. “I’ve really focused a lot on how to be a single dad.”
Loggins looks forward to writing songs with his eldest son Crosby. Both of the Loggins singer-songwriters are currently seeking a recording home. “There aren’t a lot of labels out there that focus on legacy acts. Being 25 and gorgeous and a great writer and singer, Crosby’s actually in a much better position to get a record deal than I am.”
Lack of radio support translates into reluctance on the part of major labels to jump at distributing a new Kenny Loggins album. “They don’t want to take any gambles. If they can’t get airplay, they can’t sell records. It becomes a vicious cycle. Radio’s not going to play me, no matter what I try. The best I can hope for is to get some support from satellite.”
Mainstream terrestrial radio is all about the flavor du jour. “The frustrating thing about this business is that you get retired at a very early age, because it’s advertising-driven. So radio is leaning very heavily on the young audience, because that’s the marketplace that their advertisers want. They focus on certain aspects of rock ‘n’ roll or hip hop that reach the customers. My audience is a different audience.
“It’s ironic that shows like ‘American Idol’ have shown that their is a whole other audience out there that pop radio has been ignoring. It’ll be interesting to see what evolves from that.”
Approaching the end of the millennium, Columbia, his label of nearly 30 years, unceremoniously dumped him. Loggins pondered retirement. “The children’s record was at two million. ‘Leap of Faith’ was at one million. The next record came out and did 200,000 and I got dropped from the label. There were no singles released from that record, so how the hell could it sell anything?
“I found myself having to go into my life savings to make my own record and to gamble on myself. I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the sign. It’s a young man’s game. Maybe it’s time to get out of the way.’ I got incredibly depressed, then realized that my thinking had to change. Why I was doing what I was doing had to evolve to support a man of my age. Who am I now? What am I doing and why am I doing it?”
Airplay and chart triumphs weren’t the answer. The greatest satisfactions had always come from the way songs like “This Is It” touch people’s lives. “That’s what keeps me alive. People get married to these songs, have births and bury their loved ones. They associate certain songs with the raising of their children or a love affair. All that stuff matters and keeps an audience true.”
The fire still burns within Loggins. “What drives me is that I’m a singer-songwriter. That’s who I am and what I do. I’m not a happy person when I’m not doing that. I need my creative outlet to feel whole.”
So he continues to move forward, hoping to find backing. “It’s sort of like running for office. I’ve got to go out, kiss the babies, shake the hands and see if I can get somebody to vote for me.
“When you’re a young man, you go to the gym to get all buff, so the chicks will look at you. When you’re an older man, you go to the gym, because you know that, emotionally, you feel like s--t, if you don’t. So the motivation changes, but the action stays the same. That’s the same with the work. I began to see that my music was an integral part of who I was and I needed to do it to keep myself sane.”
Loggins’ vintage material has withstood the test of time... and his new songs can do the same, given the chance. “I think I can express the things that people go through when they’re not 25 anymore... and somebody’s got to. I’m hoping that there are patrons of the arts who are willing to gamble on that.”
KENNY LOGGINS TALKS LOGGINS & MESSINA
By Paul Freeman [Sept. 2009 Interview]
Loggins & Messina enjoyed vast popularity in the early ‘70s. When they split, Kenny Loggins achieved solo superstardom. Jim Messina’s own albums didn’t have that sort of commercial success, but he remained creative, painting and offering his services as a songwriting coach.
Messina, veteran of folk-rock-country pioneers Buffalo Springfield and Poco, was slated to produce Kenny Loggins’ 1971 album. They meshed so well, they teamed up as performers.
“Our vocals together caught our attention immediately,” Loggins told The Daily News. “For some reason, we were singing what they call ‘sibling harmonies.’ There was a very Everly Brothers vibe to our blend when it was at its best. I’d never really had that with anybody.”
Messina assumed a mentoring role with the less experienced Loggins. “He sort of took me on as his student, which made it a very complicated relationship, because you can’t have your partner be your student. Honestly, I feel that Loggins & Messina was more Jimmy’s vehicle than mine.”
It was inevitable that Loggins would outgrow the duo. “By the sixth year, Clive [Davis] was keeping us together. I was chafing at the bit, needing desperately to get out there. I was writing songs that were totally not Loggins & Messina. These songs would later become ‘Celebrate Me Home.’”
“In Jim’s eyes, I was killing the golden goose. Loggins & Messina was still doing very well. We were still playing stadiums. So why was I so impatient to leave? But because of the writing I was doing and how exhilarated I was with the idea of making my own record, I knew I had to go my own way. I was young enough and stupid enough to not realize that I was killing the golden goose.”
There was plenty of gold and platinum in Loggins’ future, but acceptance wasn’t instantaneous. “It just blew my mind when I read the reviews for ‘Celebrate Me Home’ and they were all bad. I can’t remember it getting one good review. Everybody went, ‘This is not Loggins & Messina. We don’t know what the hell this is.’ But I knew what I was doing. I had a vision for where I wanted to go. So I just kept going.
“Looking back, it takes naivete. When you’re on fire with a sense of purpose, you just do it, because you have to. I had no doubts. I was completely pumped up on self-confidence and I loved my new material, which was merging pop and smooth jazz.”
Loggins had discovered the strength in writing about what really mattered to him. “Gradually I learned, by the time I got to ‘Leap of Faith,’ that the more I could touch the heart of the matter, the more it would touch people’s hearts.”
In 2005, fans were touched when Loggins & Messina reunited for a tour. “That came from a period in time when I was really down,” Loggins said. “I was recovering from a rough divorce. I did a benefit concert in Santa Barbara and Jimmy came and sat in and sang on a couple classics with me. And I heard that harmony again. It struck me on stage, ‘Wow, all the years I’ve been doing ‘Danny’s Song,’ it’s never sounded like this, not since Loggins & Messina.’
“Then I went to Santa Ynez to reciprocate at a benefit he was putting on. It was so fun and we laughed so much. He turned to me and said, ‘Buddy, I know what you need right now. I’ve been through it. You don’t need to sit at home. You need to go out on the road.’ So that’s what we did. Tthe road was the most healing place for me to be.”
They’ve reunited again for a summer tour that stops at Mountain Winery on Monday and Tuesday. The duo will play their hits, as well as “Two of Us,” their first recorded duet in 30 years. The song is featured on Loggins’ delightful new, uptempo family album, “All Join In.”
Loggins & Messina’s tour is not just a musical reunion, but a renewal of friendship. “The mentor-student thing, thank God, is gone,” Loggins said. “We’ve begun to work together as equals. There are times when I find myself helping him out in things that he now recognizes are my strengths, that I can now bring to him.
“For me, it’s learning how to communicate again, to let go of some of those old, automatic childish responses. You have to remember, we were 22 when we were together - two kids with budding egos, trying to figure out who the hell we were. Now we know much more.”
Acceptance is the key. “When you’re young, you’re trying desperately to figure out who you are and then you want everybody else to be just like you. And that’s why marriages fail, when husbands and wives try to turn each other into each other.
“This is working now is because Jimmy and I have accepted each other for who we are, what our strengths are, what are weaknesses are. We’re brothers who’ve grown up.”
Many people grew up with such Loggins & Messina tunes as “Your Mama Don’t Dance.“ “When we play it now, it’s evocative of a time in their lives that was simpler, no responsibility, nothing but fun. For a moment in time, we take them back. We don’t jazz it up. We try to keep it the music of that time.
“To me, the most gratifying part is when I can nail an emotional situation so well that it becomes a part of someone’s life... and is adopted as the soundtrack to their lives. I’ve been lucky in that way.”
For the latest on Kenny Loggins, visit www.kennyloggins.com.