December , 1979
By David Huff
A Solo Flight To The Top
It is a big step for any artist to strike it out on his own after walking away from a tremendously successful past.
There are images to be cast off and there is pressure. Pressure not so much from the outside, but inside yourself to prove that the decision you made was the right one. Kenny Loggins can tell you all about that. He called it quits with Jim Messina after six successful years to pursue a solo career. It wasn't easy.
"There is always, always pressure on me to prove myself as a solo performer," said Loggins. “You have got a long time, six years of history that people are going to say, 'Messina was the leader of Loggins and Messina,' or, 'Loggins was the main force of Loggins and Messina.' I keep trying to tell the press right from the beginning of my solo career that Loggins and Messina was Loggins and Messina. It was two people.”
"I wrote half of the songs and Jimmy wrote half of the songs. We arranged them together, we worked them out together. Jimmy produced the albums. The sound of the albums was a lot of his doings, but I was there and he was there. We shared very much equally in the success of the duet. I don't think that either one of us should be singled out as the driving force of Loggins and Messina. That's the past, it doesn't really matter anymore."
Loggins knew that after he split the next few moves he would make would more than likely determine whether or not he would be accepted as a solo performer by the public. "There were a lot of important things that happened to me after the L & M days," said Loggins," and one was that I continue the momentum of my career. I went right from L & M right into my solo career. I kept writing, and I put a band together to go on the road.”
"I think that one of the important things that happened to me was being an opening act for Fleetwood Mac my first year out. As a soloist, I saw about four months on the road with Fleetwood doing about 30,000 people a day. That had a lot to do with breaking me."
Despite three albums in the last three years, Loggins says he still finds it hard to break away from the image he seemed to project to audiences from his days with Messina.
"I still have that problem," professed Loggins. "People still expect me to wear flannel shirts and moccasins. And it seems real important to the rock audience today. Maybe now more than ever, that you type yourself, you type your music with your clothes. There is a real soft folky image that still exists. It exists from the sitting in days of Loggins and Messina, tough never existed with L & M.
"L & M were always classified as country rock and I think that maybe in our entire six years together, maybe five tunes maximum were country, country flavored. It was just a sort of twang in Jimmy's voice and a twang in my voice, especially in the beginning, that gave us that L. A. quality, like the Eagles and Poco in that era. But I never considered us country rock at all. We were always eclectic, always going wherever we felt like going.”
"It doesn't really matter to me trying to break away from it. People can think whatever they want. I think that the music holds up on its own. I changed the music considerably because I have changed. I do all sorts of things in concert. I will do some acoustic numbers, some electric numbers, some of the old things. I am putting together a really strong show, paced really well, because we have been out now for a couple of months. I have been changing and evolving a lot. I feel really good about it now."
If you have followed Loggins through his solo career, you know he is still an eclectic musician, drawing from many sources to write and arrange his songs. He has collaborated with many artists in the past to work on his LPs, and though there are many good points about it, he is aware that he could spread himself too thin.
“Well, there are some advantages and disadvantages, of course," explained Loggins, "but you try to do it only when there is an advantage. Every now and then it won't work out. But, for the most part, it works very well, I am working with Steven Bishop on this album, who's a very talented writer. Michael Jackson came in and sang background vocals along with Richard Page, who's also a very talented writer and singer. Of course there was Michael McDonald. I wrote a couple of tunes with my wife, and I wrote a couple of tunes with an old friend of mine who is a guitar player, Jeff Bouchard. It is a good way to grow.”
"You were talking about evolution awhile back. This is one of the fastest ways to grow. To find out how other people work, how other people think and how they put together a tune. You learn other artists' insecurities, about their careers or about their lives. You get to talking with guys who lead similar lifestyles. You see how they relate and how they think and you come to realize that you are not alone. You are feeling a lot like how other guys are feeling. The same insecurities and the same positives. And, you can share in each other’s careers.”
"I don't think that anybody has anything to fear from another artist. If you are genuinely good, I don't see how you can be hurt. If there is talent, I don't see how you can be hurt by somebody else. You can overdo it. That is my only qualification on that statement, that you can overexpose yourself. You can work on too many people's things and get a little too accessible, then you become like the girl in high school that was a little too easy. People lose their respect for you. You have got to remain special to a point."
Maybe to the audiences it seems a little unusual for a writer to collaborate with so many well-known musicians to produce material to put in their album. The music industry is a cut-throat business. There are those that will step on others to get what they want, to attain the so-called "superstar" status. Egos are at stake, yet Loggins has overcome those jealousies that plague many an artist to sit down and write some incredible songs, and continue to collaborate on songwriting.
"You can't make up rules about how the ego works," said Loggins. "Everybody is different on that level. You meet somebody that you are compatible with, then your egos will mesh. I know these people and I would work for them at the drop of a hat and have. They will do the same for me.”
"Have you ever met somebody that the minute that you met them you knew that you hated them? It is almost like two dogs. When they smell each other, they start to fight. It is like there is an instant chemical reaction. Sometimes it works the other way. You meet someone and the minute you meet them you feel as though you have known them forever. They are an old friend of yours and you start laughing right off of the top, talking, and immediately you feel comfortable. It is chemical. If you are open to that chemistry, it will lead you creatively."
Probably the best example of what Loggins is talking about was the collaboration between Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand in making the single, "Enough is Enough.” It proved that two incredibly talented people could combine their talents, swallow their pride and produce some fantastic music.
"I am a fan as much as a performer," Loggins said. "I appreciate the work of other performers. I always left that the really talented performers had nothing to be afraid of from other performers.”
"If you witnessed Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer, that duet there probably, logically has a strong ego clash. Yet at the same time, they have a lot of respect, a lot of musical respect and they can get together and do a duet together.”
"Whether they will ever do another one is another question, but that they could do it for one time shows an ability to recognize a talent in each other and to recognize a good thing. They saw that if the two to them got together they would have a big record, have an international hit record. When I was in Japan, it was a giant hit. It is a giant hit in Europe It is smart to pool talent." Loggins has worked with the Doobie Brothers' Michael McDonald to write two songs. The first one, "What a Fool Believes," became the Doobies' all-time best selling single. The other song is, "This Is It," which appears on Loggins' latest LP release, Keep The Fire.
"This is the first time that Michael and I have sung together on an album that he or I was involved in," says Loggins, "We have sung together on other people's albums, but never together on mine. That's why a lot of people said that "This Is It," has a reminiscent feeling of the Doobies. Michael played piano on it and sang with me, so I am not surprised that it has that feeling.”
"I definitely brought in an extremely-talented character in Mike McDonald. In the arrangement, I choose to have him come forward very much. It is a dangerous thing for a character that has just come from a duet, or still is thought of as half of a duet to do. It seems more important for me, than say Eddie Money, or somebody that has established himself as a soloist right from the top. It is very important for me to continuously establish myself in the eyes of the public as a soloist."
Anything can inspire a songwriter to sit down and write a tune. The words they often write can give a person a deep insight into the very thoughts and feelings that go on inside of them, it holds especially true for Loggins.
"I don't think that my music or anybody's music," continued Loggins, "would be necessarily valid if it was not expressing their own feelings. It is important in order to keep on creating something valid that you keep expressing yourself. If you continue to write things that you think that other people will like, but that you don't like or necessarily believe in yourself, you are going to burn yourself right out. No one will relate to them, including you. It is very important that you write things from your heart that have something to do with the way you are feeling, whether you are Randy Newman or Fleetwood Mac.”
“Rumours, for example, is a classic album of self-expression, according to the relationships that were going on at that time. If you listen closely to Rumours, you can hear the kind of thing that each individual was going through. The same with Keep The Fire. The feelings in "Keep the Fire," the title song, are feelings about perseverance and maintaining, hanging in. The whole album has something to do from moment to of my feelings in my life."
Listen to Loggins' Keep The Fire album and the first thing you notice is the musical variation from song to song. And, behind those songs are a story, maybe fact, maybe fictional. Nonetheless, to listen to Loggias explain the circumstances surrounding the writing of those tunes just makes them that much more intriguing.
"'Love Has Come of Age” is from a scene in a movie called American Gigolo, '' Loggins said. ”I was reading the script when John Travolta was involved in it and there is a scene in the end where this fellow who makes love for a living, but never loved, finally realizes that he is falling in love with a woman that he can never have.”
"I felt that the natural song that they would want would be a sort of David Gates ballad, but I tell that it should have more a celebration feeling to it. Be more of a powerful thing. So I wrote "Love Has Come of Age" for the scene. I don't know what the scene in the movie looks like this was in the early stages of the script. But it was the script that moved me to write that particular tune.”
And then there is the lively island tune, "Junkanoo Holiday."
“Junkanoo Holiday is a holiday in Jamaica that was originally named John Kanoo. He was a political prisoner, and the day that he was let out of jail because of the pressure of the people. They spontaneously started dancing in the street. It was sort of a Guy Fawkes Day in England,” he said.
“This became a yearly day of liberation, of freedom. Once a year they have a day called John Karroo and they dance in the street and they tie bells to their ankles, hit pots and pans, whatever they can do to make noise. So the feeling of freedom and liberation of spirit was what I was trying to get out of that tune."
Probably the greatest tribute Loggins has paid to anyone has been to his wife, Eva. He co-wrote two songs with her on this album, and on the Nightwatch LP she inspired Kenny to write a song about her and her best friend that turned out to be a smash hit on the national charts, "Whenever I Call You Friend," recorded with Stevie Nicks.
"That particular song was written to be a song between two friends," recalled Loggins. "It doesn't have to be a man or a woman, a male-female relationship. It was originally written about my wife and her best girlfriend because I realized that no matter what happens to me and my wife, or my wife and anybody, she and her girlfriend will always be together.”
"It's like maybe you and one of your buddies that you grew up with through grammar school and high school. You are going to have close ties with that guy probably your entire life. Even if you don't see him for years, he is going to be close to you when you see him again. That was what I was trying to capture with the song. There are people in your life, maybe if you are lucky, one or two people, that are special to you that will be around forever. The tune works lyrically, and I think that it is more powerful now than ever because we have been playing it for two years." Loggins’ voice sort of moans when he talks about how he doesn't like people to describe his style of music as "laid-back."
He says that he is a performer that likes to get his audiences aroused and show a response to what he is playing.
"I am not a would-be Gordon Lightfoot," he said.
Loggins nixes the idea of trying to tailor his music to a particular audience in order to gain radio airplay or make the song(s) appeal to a specific age market. He calls it "suicide."
"Trying to customize your music to what you think anybody else wants is suicide. That is what I am trying to tell you; you can't do that. It you do, you are destined for the graveyard."
No matter what songs you put on an album, or how you write them, the possibility that you could have a hit single is definitely on your mind. Loggins hopes that "Love Has Come of Age" will be that single he is looking for off of Keep The Fire.
"I think that the power of the hit single can't be denied today," concluded Loggins. "Blondie is one of the biggest acts in the business right now. And I think their hit single ("Heart of Glass") is the reason why. Obviously, Deborah Harry's looks and the sexuality of her act is predominant for the group's success. But it was their hit single that brought them to the attention of the public.
"As I said, the power of the hit single cannot be denied. A strong album without a hit will sell well. A strong album with a hit will sell incredibly well. You think about the hit single to the extent that if you have a tune that you feel has got a good hook to it, in other words, a strong chorus, you are not going to make it a fifteen minute production. You are not going to let the guitar player solo f or five minutes, or structure the tune in such a way that it hurts its commercial potential. That is the compromise that a good producer will bring into the sound of the music. Without hurting the tune creatively, artistically.
That is where experience comes in."