Thursday, January 23, 2014

Login to Loggins & Messina

Some artists’ careers are defined by a particular song that makes them instantly recognisable in the eyes of the general public.  A signature moment that brings them to the conscious mind of even the most casual consumer of popular music.  For Kenny Loggins that song was ‘Footloose’, a pulsating boot scootin’ blast of pop rock which hit the top of the charts across the world during 1984.  But though a lot of people would identify Kenny Loggins by saying, “Isn’t he the guy who did Footloose?”, it would be a gross disservice to define his career by just that one shining moment.  By the time ‘Footloose’ got millions of toes-a-tappin’, Kenny Loggins had already been making hit records for over a decade.

Kenny Loggins was born into the world in Everett, Washington in January of 1948.  He moved with his family (as most kids do) to Seattle (his father was a travelling salesman), before settling in Alhambra, California during his formative years.  Music ran in the family (his cousin Dave Loggins went on to have a US#5 hit in 1974 with ‘Please Come To Boston’) and young Kenny took up the guitar in earnest during his teen years.  By the time he was attending Pasadena City College, Loggins knew with certainty that he wanted to pursue a career in music.  He played in a local band, Gator Creek (which recorded briefly with Mercury Records), alongside keyboardist, and future record producer, Michael Omartian (who was later a creative force behind Rhythm Heritage - 1976 US#1 hit with ‘Theme From S.W.A.T.’).  He went on to play with the band Second Helping (signed to Viva Records), all the while honing his skills as a songwriter.

By 1969, the skills honing paid off when Loggins was employed as a professional songwriter with Wingate Music, a publishing outlet for ABC Records.  Loggins continued to play live, touring with one time psychedelic rock outfit, the Electric Prunes, briefly, but was more regular as a songwriter.  It was during this period that he penned ‘House at Pooh Corner’ (seriously no pun intended there), which was offered to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to record, becoming a hit for them during 1971 - Loggins in fact penned four songs for the band, all included on their ‘Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy’ album.

By September, 1970, burning the midnight oil as both performer and composer brought the reward of a recording contract with Clive Davis’ Columbia Records label - it didn’t hurt that Columbia A&R staffer Don Ellis was a Loggins family friend.  It was Ellis who soon introduced Loggins to another recent Columbia recruit, a young performer, songwriter, and producer by the name of Jim Messina.  Messina had been born in Maywood, California just a month before Loggins was born.  He was raised in Harlingen, Texas and had been playing in bands since he was 13.  By 1965, Jim Messina was also working as a recording engineer and producer for the likes of Sunset Sound.  He was a member of Neil Young’s band Buffalo Springfield during 1967 (‘For What It’s Worth’ - US#7), and during the late 60s was co-founder of the hugely popular country rock outfit Poco (who later also featured the likes of Eagles’ Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmidt in their ranks).  Messina left Poco after three albums (around the time he met Loggins), and was also contracted to Columbia as a solo performer, but it was his skills as a producer that would initially lead him to work with Kenny Loggins.

Loggins asked Messina to ‘sit in’ on some of early recording sessions, happy to pick the creative brain of someone with considerably more studio experience (as both producer and engineer) than himself.  And with his experience with Buffalo Springfield and Poco, Messina brought some serious credentials to the table.  In addition to his production work, Messina too had been signed to Columbia as a performer.  As the sessions for Loggins’ debut album wore on, it was clear to both he and Messina that their musical styles, playing, and singing complimented each other.  Messina started to spend as much time in the recording booth as at the producer’s control desk.

It was a case of happenstance that Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina ended up recording an album’s worth of material, essentially as a duo - Loggins would later claim that his and Messina’s creative partnership was more of an ‘informal union’ as each was formally contracted to Columbia as solo artists.  Regardless, Kenny Loggins’ debut album, released in the first half of 1972, ended up being credited to Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina: Sittin’ In’ - makes sense as producer Messina had also ‘sat in’ on so many of the recording sessions as a performer.  He also contributed to writing 6 of the album’s 11 tracks, contributed ‘first guitar’, and shared lead vocals on several tracks, including one of the album highlights, ‘House at Pooh Corner’.  The album introduced listeners to a laid back and engaging brand of country/folk rock.  Loggins and Messina soon hit the live circuit in support of the album, with their live debut at the Troubadour, in Los Angeles billed as the Kenny Loggins Band with Jim Messina.  The debut set sold slowly initially, but as word of mouth got out it climbed the U.S. charts to a respectable #70, and went on to be platinum accredited.  Another track from the album, ‘Danny’s Boy’, was recorded by Anne Murray in 1973, and became a U.S. Top 10 hit.

With such a promising start it was logical that Loggins and Messina establish a more formal creative union.  And so it was that late 1972 saw the release of the first ‘official’ Loggins & Messina album, titled appropriately enough, ‘Loggins & Messina’ (US#16/OZ#65).  The album featured the duo’s first, and ultimately biggest’ hit single.  ‘Your Mama Don’t Dance’, penned by Loggins and Messina, was a raunchy, rocking little number that quickstepped its way to #4 on the U.S. Hot 100 (OZ#30), late in 1972 (the track was later covered and a top 10 hit for hard rock band Poison during 1989).  The Messina penned ‘Thinking Of You’ was beautifully engaging and engaged with the U.S. top 20 early in ‘73 (US#18/OZ#65).  The duo called on some old friends to contribute in studio, with keyboardist Michael Omartian, and Poco steel guitarist Rusty Young playing on the sessions.  The platinum selling album featured a gamut of track lengths, from the one minute country jaunt of ‘Just Before The News’, through to the seven minute country rock epic of ‘Angry Eyes’.

By late ‘73, Loggins & Messina revealed their nautical side on the ‘Full Sail’ album. The lead single was ‘My Music’ (US#16/OZ#65), a rock and roll pastiche not a million miles away from ‘Your Mama Don’t Dance’ (why change a winning formula).  Another highlight was the opening track, the island-rock anthem ‘Lahaina’ (reminds me of Harry Nillson’s ‘Coconut’).  The album ‘Full Sail’, in keeping with its album cover motif, navigated its way into the U.S. Top 10.

As prolific as the duo was proving in-studio, Loggins & Messina had become a major drawcard on the live circuit, impressing audiences with an invigorating blend of folk and country rock numbers.  A live album was warranted, no….make that a live double album was warranted, and it was released in mid ‘74.  ‘On Stage’ had been recorded from a series of early ‘74 concerts and featured all the hits and crowd favourites to date, including a 21 minute version of the psychedelic rock edged ‘Vahelava’, which took up an entire side on the original record release.  ‘On Stage’ went on to sell platinum numbers and found its curtain call at #5 on the U.S. charts (OZ#97).

For studio album #4, Loggins & Messina delivered a ‘Mother Lode’ of ten new songs.  On casual listening, the album was more low key and introspective, both in sound and theme. It was also unusual in that there were no Loggins/Messina writing collaborations.  Highlights included ‘Be Free’, a mandolin etched marathon at seven minutes, and another seven minute epic with the slow tempo country rock number ‘Move On’.  And speaking of moving on, ‘Mother Lode’ moved comfortably into the U.S. top ten (#8/OZ#89) early in ‘75.

As if to remind people they were capable of delivering more than grandiose seven minute tracks, Loggins & Messina dipped into their childhood memories to retrieve 14 hits from the 50s which they could rework to their liking.  1975’s‘So Fine’ (US#21/OZ#83) offered up presentable covers of the likes of Don Gibson’ ‘Oh, Lonesome Me’, Gene Pitney’s ‘Hello Mary Lou’, and Bobby Darin’s ‘Splish Splash’.  Though an admirable tip of the hat to some of their rock and roll and country heroes, ‘So Fine’ proved a dip of the sales chart for Loggins & Messina.

Perhaps looking to reinvent the wheel, the duo employed a new backing band, and an accent on lush string arrangements for their 1976 studio album, ‘Native Sons’ (US#16).  The title track simply dripped with nostalgia, whilst the Messina penned ‘When I Was A Child’ did the same albeit lyrically.  The highlight for mine was the more contemporary soft rock sounding ‘Wasting Our Time’.  The album went gold but further confirmed a slide in commercial trending for Loggins & Messina.

The second half of ‘76 saw Columbia release a compilation album titled ‘The Best Of Friends’ (US#61), though it was apparent that Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina had moved past the status of ‘best friends’, at least creatively, by that stage.  As it was confirmed that the duo of Loggins & Messina had officially parted ways, the record label saw no reason not to cash in one last time with yet another double album of live material.  ‘Finale’ (US#83) was far less engaging than its predecessor ‘On Stage’, but that was probably more reflective of being the after taste of the Loggins & Messina creative brew.

Though selling albums in respectable numbers, critical plaudits largely eluded Loggins & Messina.  Regardless, they established a place as one of the most successful duo’s of the 70s.  But given they were originally signed as solo artists, it seemed entirely logical that Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina pursue what a six year creative partnership had interrupted.  Jim Messina recorded a number of solo albums, including ‘Oasis’ (1979), and ‘Messina’ (1981), before rejoining Poco for the 1989 reunion album ‘Legacy’.  But the majority of his creative endeavours have been focused on production work, with some touring thrown in for good measure.

In 2005, Columbia release the compilation ‘The Best Of Loggins & Messina: Sittin’ In Again’.  The good reception for the album inspired the duo to reunite and embark for a nationwide tour during the summer of 2005.  The tour spawned a DVD and album release titled, ‘Loggins & Messina: Sittin’ In Again at the Santa Barbara Bowl Live’.  Subsequent Loggins & Messina tours took place over the next few years.

In between times Kenny Loggins embarked upon a solo career of seemingly limitless possibilities.

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