For their first studio recording in more than 30 years, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina couldn't have picked a more appropriate vehicle to celebrate their reunion than an updating of the Beatles' classic "Two of Us." A charming, countrified version is featured on a new CD by Loggins, "All Join In," aimed at children.
"My co-producer came up with the idea and it felt really right," says Loggins. "I thought what a perfect song for Loggins and Messina, and that's why we did the whole country jam thing at the end."
About to close their 2009 tour in Hawaii, besides enchanting audiences with memorable hit songs, Loggins and Messina will include their new cover of the Beatles' song.
Kenny Loggins (left) and Jim Messina last played Maui in 2005.
Creating an up-tempo album for kids and their parents, Loggins has expanded his catalogue of music for little ones, which began with the lullaby collection "Return to Pooh Corner" (which has sold 2 million copies) in 1994, followed by "More Songs from Pooh Corner."
"All Join In" features a number of inspired covers including the Beatles' "All Together Now," Randy Newman's "You've Got A Friend In Me" (from "Toy Story"), Traffic's "You Can All Join In," Donovan's '60s classic "There Is A Mountain" and Harry Nilsson's "The Puppy Song."
Adding a Cajun flavor to "You Can All Join In," Loggins was able to recruit the song's composer, Dave Mason, to add vocals. "I was looking for songs that were appropriate for an up-tempo record and my brother had the idea," he explains. "I brought it up with my producer and he said, 'Dave lives just around the corner, let's call him and see if he will do it.'
Loggins and Messina perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Food and beverages are available from 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $45, $65, $75 and $125 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"We wanted a gumbo to run through the record, and I had been reading a book on recording the Beatles, so I leaned heavily on my Beatles' roots. We bought a Rickenbacker bass, and I worked on the Lennon and McCartney kind of music hall sing-out."
And then there's Leon Russell singing along and playing his distinctive bayou piano on a updating of Loggins' "Long Tailed Cat," with Kenny's sons, Cody and Luke, also joining in. "He was passing through Santa Barbara on tour," Loggins continues. "So I asked if he would be willing, and he said, 'yes,' and we flew to Nashville to record it."
Unfortunately this wonderful record will not see the light of day until next March because the Disney music label is still trying to figuring out appropriate marketing.
"I'm very proud of it, I think it came out really well," he says. "The hardest part is trying to figure out how to market it. It's a hard audience to reach. With 'Return to Pooh Corner' I had a young parent audience which was already my audience, but with this one the parents are not my audience. So we're trying to reach the grandparents. It's a little frustrating, I can't believe it's destined for obscurity."
Loggins' L&M partner has also produced a new recording, a six-song CD, "Under a Mojito Moon," which reflects a Latin/Cuban influence. "Jimmy has always had a Latin approach in his guitar playing, you'll hear it in the show," says Loggins.
Acclaimed for their buoyant sound, tight harmonizing, broad stylistic influence and creative production, Loggins and Messina were one of the most successful duos of the 1970s, selling 16 million albums, and creating a string of memorable songs including "Your Mama Don't Dance," "Angry Eyes," "House at Pooh Corner" and "Danny's Song."
The two musicians first collaborated in 1971, when Messina signed on to produce Loggins' debut album.
Messina's engineering skills had earlier led him to work with the seminal rock band Buffalo Springfield on the legendary album "Buffalo Springfield Again." In 1967, he started work on their third album, "Last Time Around," and ended up joining the band. One of America's most important wellsprings of rock talent, Buffalo Springfield spawned Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay and Messina, who both went on to form the influential country rock band Poco.
After recording and touring with Poco for two years, Messina was invited to work with a young musician who had composed some songs for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In the midst of this new collaboration, Messina felt drawn to increase his participation, and the resulting "Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In" became a huge hit.
"I remember getting a call from Clive Davis (of Columbia Records) because I had to convince him to put the record out," Messina recalled in a 2005 Maui News interview. "He said, 'I don't want a record with a band that breaks up after the first record.' I said, 'I'm just sitting in like Stan Getz and Charlie Parker, they didn't tour all the time.' "
In five years, the duo amassed two platinum and five gold albums. And then, because Loggins felt creatively constrained, he quit.
In 1976, he set off on a successful Grammy-winning solo career. Breaking away from the country rock-influenced sound of L&M, his debut solo release, "Celebrate Me Home," featured a remarkable array of top jazz players including Lee Ritenour, Harvey Mason, Hiram Bullock and Steve Gadd. His first three albums sold platinum, and recording popular theme songs for movies such as "Caddyshack," "Footloose" and "Top Gun," Loggins' many hits included "Whenever I Call You Friend," "This Is It," "I'm Alright" and "What a Fool Believes."
In contrast, Messina pursued a quieter life, releasing a handful of recordings that pleased his fans but didn't duplicate the chart success of his former partner.
After decades apart, in 1999, Messina invited Loggins to contribute wordless vocals to an instrumental, "The Island," a duet with slack key master Led Kaapana, featured on the Windham Hill album "Sounds of Wood & Steel, Vol. 2."
Then came their highly anticipated reunion tour in 2005, which closed with a superb concert on Maui. Before launching their tour, the duo compiled songs for a new 18-track collection, "The Best: Loggins & Messina Sittin' In Again," and subsequently released a DVD/CD, "Sittin In' Again at The Santa Barbara Bowl."
"Not only was there camaraderie, chemistry and joy between the players, but the musicianship was first-rate," praised a Minneapolis Star Tribune review. "Crosby, Stills & Nash, L&M's contemporaries, would be thrilled these days to sound half this good."
As this year's tour winds down, Loggins reports audience reaction has been as enthusiastic as in 2005. "We've had some incredible audiences; they're so happy to see us. I see people swooning, listening to us with eyes closed, lost in time travel. It's a sweet communing. The audience's love makes it really rewarding."
Known for crafting pop gems and more ambitious, complex extended works, their classic live album, "On Stage," demonstrated their ability to rock hard with extended, jam out versions of "Angry Eyes" and "Vahevala" (clocking in at 21 minutes). That spirit is still evident today.
"Loggins and Messina was a jam band, so we do a lot of improvisational stuff live that allows us to keep it fresh every night," he notes. "We have some amazing musicians we work with, great soloists."
They include keyboardist/vocalist Gabe Dixon, who was hailed by The Nashville Tennessean as: "a classic pop songwriter who deserves to join the ranks of Jackson Browne and early Elton John in the pop pantheon."
Drummer Stevie Di Stanislao toured the globe with legendary Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour on his "On An Island" tour, and has performed with David Crosby and Graham Nash, and Jackson Browne.
Bassist George Hawkins played on L&M's album "Finale" and toured for years with the Loggins band, plus gigs with Mick Fleetwood, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald.
With the passage of time Loggins and Messina have patched up past conflicts, and are continuing to enjoy working together as friends and equals. "There's no difficulty, but partnerships are tricky,' says Loggins. "I have my own solo career, and Loggins and Messina is really Jimmy's creative vehicle. It helps us reconnect as friends and drop the competitive thing we had going and the anger that I left that band with."
And so could a new L&M CD result?
"Jimmy would like to do that," he says. "We've talked about it, but we're still very different musically. That's what made Loggins and Messina good. I brought my R&B roots to Loggins and Messina, and he was all about country, and there was an inadvertent fusion of the two. When I do 'Peace of Mind,' it's like going to a gospel church. For Loggins and Messina to be successful in the studio, we're going to have to work with an outside producer, otherwise we'll go back to knocking heads. My goal is that each time we come together we have a good time, make some money and remain friends."