Rock star, pop star, country star, children’s recording star. What a long and successful career for Kenny Loggins, who just published his memoirs, Still Alright.
Loggins was also a 1980s film soundtrack hit machine, in addition to his solo album successes, then he began a slow fade as most every successful artist does. The difference is that Loggins successfully navigated the twists and turns of popular music.
For me, Loggins will always be half of the Loggins & Messina duo of the early 1970s. But obviously, there is much more to Kenny Loggins then my time-capsule memories. In his book, Loggins spends a lot of time peeling back the layers of the L&M relationship, the personality conflicts, the inner drive and how it propelled him forward in his career. Ultimately, L&M would regroup several times along the way, but the conflict was still there, until Loggins received some advice, and he saw the relationship in a different light. Loggins and Messina were very different people, what might have worked early in their relationship, pushed them apart and exposed friction points. Despite this, they were important to each other and the bond between them remains.
I wouldn’t say Still Alright is any kind of groundbreaking read, but it is an interesting journey through Loggins’ successes and failures. I learned more than a few things, like “Danny’s Song” and “House at Pooh Corner” being written by Loggins as a teenager. Those are songs of a mature and reflective voice.
I’m jumping ahead, but I’ll inject a few personal observations, then we will rejoin the book review. Loggins has usually stretched for meaningful songs, though he veered toward very commercial fare, including soundtracks, and hooked up with some successful, but hollow, songwriters/producers such as David Foster and Peter Wolf. I have to admit it, but I stopped listening to Loggins’ music after 1982, that’s 40 years! Not everything he’s produced since then has been awful, once he turned toward the redwoods and returned to Pooh Corner, he stripped away the 1980s goo and focused on writing songs, not chart hits.
In the mid-1960s, Loggins was interested in music and not getting drafted – Vietnam was on the minds of many young men of draft age. While attending community college, on a date with some other kids, Loggins felt like his life was on the wrong track. He bailed on the date, met some hippie kids at a coffeehouse, hitched a ride to San Francisco to attend a peace rally – all on a whim.
Whims and faith are frequent themes in his life. Often, he sounds like a wandering soul, not sure of direction or relationships. Happy go lucky, not a rock star ego, but certainly a rock star horndog. This was the early 1970s, love was pretty free and women available for the taking.
Loggins was quite the free spirit in those day on the late 1960s, bouncing between L.A. and San Francisco, soaking up the music and occasional drugs, watching Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, CSN&Y, The Who, Traffic, The Rolling Stones and other artists of the era. From The Fillmore West to Monterey Pop Festival to Altamont to the The Whiskey to The Troubadour – where the styles blended into what became classic rock. Loggins wanted to be on stage, commanding an audience the way Jim Morrison, Steve Winwood, Cat Stevens and James Taylor did.
From dreaming to actually being on stage, things happened very quickly for Loggins. The talent was there, but it was quite raw and he was very naive. Enter Jim Messina, late of Buffalo Springfield and Poco, was worked for Columbia Records as a producer. Columbia signed Loggins as a solo act, to be produced by Messina and it grew into a partnership. Loggins & Messina we’re hot right out of the gate, and Loggins suddenly was a rock star, learning as he went. It’s important to note how important Jim Messina was in Loggins’ career. These L&M days set him on his upward career trajectory.
“I never once felt like I wasn’t going make it. After I left college, I never even entertained a back up plan. Thank God I never needed one.” – Kenny Loggins
Loggins laments, but has no answer for why he and Messina rarely wrote together. “Watching the River Run”, “Angry Eyes” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” are three excellent examples of when they did. They usually wrote individually or with other musicians.
It wasn’t long before the L&M partnership developed strains and cracks. They had a six year commitment, and after that, Loggins went solo. What had begun as a solo career morphed into a highly successful partnership with Messina, with numerous hits and millions of records sold, until the pupil was ready to leave the nest. Messina was the senior partner, he was the producer and set the direction for their career. He also had a separate, and apparently better, contract with record company, something that continued to chafe Loggins.
After leaving L&M, Loggins seemed to class up his act. Somewhat shedding the pot smoking, earthy hippy vibe, now a more blow dry, collegial look. Loggins said he was preparing for his solo career long before the actual split, working on different styles of music, writing to embrace a more R&B flavor to his songwriting, which brought him to Michael McDonald’s door, literally. The two clicked instantly, two peas in a songwriting pod. Meeting McDonald, who a year before, had joined the Doobie Brothers, was the official crossover to Loggins’ solo career, leaving behind the country-rock of L&M.
Loggins and McDonald first wrote “What a Fool Believes”, which was rewarded with Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammys, and topped the chart for the Doobie. Later, they wrote “This Is It”, another Grammy winner.
Loggins actually credits the song he wrote with Melissa Manchester, and sang with Stevie Nicks, “Whenever You Call You Friend”, for breaking him as a solo artist.
Everyone knows Loggins was the movie song guy during the 1980s. He got invoked with soundtracks much earlier, but danced into the stratosphere with Caddyshack, Footloose and Top Gun. MTV ate up some songs and radio couldn’t get enough. He contributed songs to other films, but those were the huge hits.
Loggins was a rare musical artist from the early 1970s, able to leave a very successful duo and achieve chart success as a solo in the next decade. Music trends change like Midwest weather, the length of a contemporary musician is just a few years, not decades. Loggins evolved, writing with different partners, embracing other styles and being successful in film.
“I think that’s why so much of my music has been widely embraced: it’s based on issues we all struggle with. We’re confused. We’re alone. We’re afraid. We’re uncool.” – Kenny Loggins
Now in his 70s, Loggins’ career in the last couple of decades has slowed, and he’s returned to his earlier style, less concerned about getting airplay or filling arenas. Being a yacht rocker, a legacy act – no problem.