Wednesday - June 16, 2010
The Understated Influence of Loggins & Messina
Billy Midnight is gearing up to play a wedding this weekend. At the groom's request we'll be playing  "I'm Alright," Kenny Loggins freewheeling hit from the 1980 Caddyshack soundtrack. Of course, we're stoked to be playing this mythical song from our youth, which conjures images of Caddyshack's teenage protagonist, Danny, blazing down Midwestern streets on his bicycle. However, our connection for this song goes much deeper than an ironic appreciation for the movie and the other catchy tunes that Loggins was known for contributing to soundtracks throughout the 80s (Over The Top and Top Gun). In fact, Billy Midnight's connection to Loggins goes way back to the mid-70s when our dad introduced us to the honest, funky, country-rock sounds of Loggins & Messina on his turn table - specifically the album, "Sittin' In."

In the 1970s, Kenny Loggins was so much more than a pop singer with a great voice. Depending on which musical circles you hang out with, he could be deemed a pioneer of country rock - er, at least a second generation immigrant. Loggins got his big start in the music world while writing songs with Jim Messina. Messina's a legit connection. He was a member of both Buffalo Springfield (alongside Neil Young and Stephen Stills) and eventually Poco (a pioneering country-rock band featuring folks that would go on to play with the Eagles). You can hear these influences in the music that Loggins and Messina eventually played together. As a duo, they combined country-rock with blues, funk, reggae and pop. Their sound was a lot more polished than some contemporaries who combined similar genres (The Grateful Dead, Little Feat, Allman Brothers and The Stones to name a few). However, cherry-picking numbers from each of their studio albums, you can find some seriously awesome song-writing, great grooves, finger-licking guitar and sweet harmonies that stand the test of time.

Our appreciation for Loggins and Messina is quite cyclical. As toddlers, my dad played Billy and I "House On Pooh Corner." It's a lullaby-like acoustic song that literally tells the story of Christopher Robin and Winnie. We were fascinated and soothed by its tale and the lilting melody. My dad played it so well. At one point, I actually believed my dad wrote it. I can remember Sunday mornings sitting around in my pjs drawing cartoons, eating Cocoa Puffs and listening to the album that featured this song, "Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In." As kids, the Pooh song was pretty much our favorite, but other songs like "Danny's Song," "Vahevela" and "Back To Georgia" caught our ear too. The album cover (pictured above) depicted an old-timey, alcohol soaked, card game. It was a scene from an untold country-rock myth. Back then we didn't have cable t.v. or the Internet, so we would often sit and stare at the LP cover while listening to the songs, imagining that Loggins and Messina were rambling and gambling across America while making their music.

As teenagers Billy and I got into other music. Loggins and Messina took a backseat as we explored the irony and sarcasm of groups like the Smiths and Nirvana (although "House On Pooh Corner" always held a special place for me - even in the depths of our teen cynicism). It wasn't until the late 90s when we got back into our musical roots - the cornucopia of American and country-rock - that we discovered the Loggins/Messina connection with the music we were digging - Neil Young, Poco, The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers. With a new found appreciation for 70s country-rock we were able to listen to "Sittin' In" with new ears.

I remember when I got back from living in Mexico and Billy and his wife had recently moved into their first house near SDSU in Rolando. Billy was into spinning a bunch of old records he'd acquired from our dad. He had rediscovered "Sittin' In." One day, I walked in the front door and he was standing there by the turn table, with a shit-eating grin, ready to let the needle drop on "Lovin' Me" on side one of the LP. When the first chicken-pickin' notes on the telecaster sounded we both said, "Wow!" in unison. This was right around the time that we were writing songs for our 4th album, "Don't Get Your Hopes Up." Right then, Billy and I knew we had to write a song that paid homage to Loggins/Messina's country-rock groove. We would go on to record this new tune with Jason Hee (our bassist) at his home studio.

On the night that we debuted our song, "Lay Back Lady," we dedicated it to our friends Kenny Loggins and Jimmy Messina. The drunken crowd at the Ould Sod looked up from their pints of Guinness, baffled by the statement. Who? They weren't quite the same rambling and gambling crowd as the one pictured on the cover of "Sittin' In," but the song sounded sweet and lifted us into our yester-years, just the same.

Loggins & Messina albums to check out:
1971: Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina - Sittin' In
1974: On Stage
1974: Mother Lode

Loggins & Messina: House On Pooh Corner