July 19, 2006

Sittin' In With Kenny Loggins

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Kenny Loggins. For some, his name is synonymous with the number one hit "Footloose." Others might remember "Danny's Song," "Danger Zone" or "Whenever I Call You Friend," his duet with Stevie Nicks. He was half of the famed duo Loggins & Messina. And on Sunday, Loggins will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

Loggins' five-year, nine-album collaboration with Jim Messina, one of the most fruitful periods of his career, began as a one-shot deal. Messina, who had played with the bands Buffalo Springfield and Poco, was a well-established musician and producer when he and Loggins, a struggling singer-songwriter at the time, recorded Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina: Sittin' In in 1971. The album proved to be a success and the pair's subsequent efforts sold more than 16 million records.

Loggins described his relationship with Messina as something akin to a marriage. When they started in the '70s, they were both young and looking to create their own niche. "We came together as 21 year olds who were in search of individual identities," Loggins said. When the pair finally headed their separate ways in the late '70s, the parting was more of a divorce than an amicable separation, plagued with issues about competitiveness and Loggins' feeling that he was less than an equal partner to the more established Messina.

But more than 20 years later, when Loggins and Messina performed together for a reunion show, it was the music that reminded Loggins of what he had been missing. "When we started singing I thought, 'God, we sound good together,'" he said. Loggins had sung with other artists, but it was only with Messina that he achieved a sound he compared to "sibling harmony."

"No one ever blended with me the way Jimmy did," he said, adding, "The vocal blend is what really got us thinking seriously about doing a reunion tour."

Loggins wanted no part of a tour where he and Messina would travel on separate busses and avoid one another except when on stage. "We had to give each other permission to be ourselves," he said.

"It was a challenge. We had not broken up on the best of terms," Loggins continued. "We had to resolve some 30 year old issues before we could work together."

The duo put the issues to rest and together hit the road in the summer of 2005, as friends and equals, for the "Loggins and Messina: Sittin' In Again" tour. "We wanted to put together the best show possible. The original Loggins & Messina band had a number of great musicians," said Loggins, and it was no easy task to replicate the '70s jam band sound they had cultivated.

Members of the original group were like mini-bands in and of themselves. They included Al Garth, who, in an "amazing feat," said Loggins, played horns, woodwinds and fiddle, and Jon Clark who played all the reed instruments and the recorder. "Right there we had a problem filling those shoes."

But two musicians named Gabe really helped the 2005 reunion tour come together: Gabe Witcher on fiddle and keyboards ("I like the fact that he had a mohawk, too," Loggins noted) and Gabe Dixon, the keyboard player.

Loggins is currently touring solo; even when he was part of Loggins and Messina, the singer-songwriter still managed to be something of a solo artist. He often started the group's performances with a solo acoustic set, a practice that came out of the original dynamic between the two. "I went to Jimmy as a solo artist. Starting the show alone sort of flowed out of how we met," he explained.

After heading out on his own in the late '70s, Loggins "sort of lucked into" a job that paved the way for a steady gig of writing music for movies. He wrote "I Believe In Love" for Barbara Streisand for the film A Star Is Born. He developed a friendship with the film's producer Jon Peters, and a healthy diet of hit songs for big movies followed, including "I'm Alright" for Caddyshack, "Never Surrender" for Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and "Danger Zone" and "Playin' with the Boys" for Top Gun.

But it was with the Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated soundtrack to Footloose that Loggins found the perfect combination of screen and song. Footloose screenwriter Dean Pitchford came up with the "classic and brilliant idea to write the music first," Loggins said, allowing the musician greater creative license during the composing process.

Despite the fame that he achieved during "the movie years," as he calls them, Loggins prefers writing songs for his own use. In film, "emotionally, you are writing for something that already exists," he explained. "With my own stuff, it's more autobiographical."

His current tour includes material from his greatest hits, songs from the Loggins & Messina period and, occasionally, brand new pieces, including a song he recently penned called "How About Now?" Much of his new material is guitar-based, a result of the reunion tour with Messina. Returning to his earlier musical roots reminded Loggins "how much I missed the guitar," he said. "I was raised on folk music and rock and roll played on a guitar."

After many years and many hits, songwriting can still be a struggle for Loggins. "It's never that easy, but I've been doing a lot of writing in Nashville, so I have some great songwriters to bounce ideas off of," he explained. He draws most of his material from his own life. "I pull from journals," he said, calling those diaries "a core center" to which he relates.

Loggins said while it is very difficult for artists who made their name 20 or 30 years ago to get mainstream radio play, especially if the music can be put into specifically defined categories, he continues to use music as a form of artistic expression.

"I'm not just a pop songwriter - there is no such thing," he said. "I just write what I write - my music is about expressing myself creatively."

Loggins will perform at The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $175, $150, and $125; call 288-1500.

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