July 15, 2009

Back to the Days of Loggins & Messina

by Jim Newsom

Four summers ago, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina reunited for the outdoor shed tour of the year, Loggins & Messina Sittin’ In Again. Reviews were great, crowds were large, but the closest they came to Hampton Roads was Columbia, Maryland.

This summer it’s a different story. Having had so much fun in 2005 playing together for the first time since the mid ‘70s, that era’s most popular duo has just headed back out on the road for another go-round. Their fifth stop is Portsmouth’s nTelos Pavilion on Tuesday, August 25.

The Loggins & Messina story reads like a fairy tale: In 1971, Jim Messina was already something of a legend on the folk-influenced side of rock and roll. Having performed with Neil Young and Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield (and producing their album Last Time Around), he joined founding Springfield member Richie Furay to form a new band in 1968. Taking the name Poco when cartoonist Walt Kelly got a court order to prevent them from using their original moniker Pogo, they created a lasting template for country rock with their first three albums.

By the end of 1970, however, Messina had left Poco and the life of a traveling musician to try his hand as a full-time producer with Columbia Records. His first assignment was a little known songwriter named Kenny Loggins, whose “House at Pooh Corner” had been a minor hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The album was called Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In, and the idea was to introduce Loggins to an audience that was already familiar with his producer by including the Messina name on the cover.

Surprisingly, that album took off quickly after its release in January of 1972. Record company president Clive Davis suggested the duo form a permanent partnership and put a band together. For the next five years, Loggins & Messina rode high with their blend of rock, folk, country and jazz. Hit singles like “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” “Thinking of You” and “My Music,” and extended album cuts like “Vahevala,” “Sailin’ the Wind,” and “Angry Eyes” poured out of stereo speakers on campuses across the country. Anne Murray’s country-pop crossover hits with “Danny’s Song” and “A Love Song” helped fuel the fire.

Their band was hot and their live shows memorable; their use of saxes, flutes, oboe and bass clarinet in a country rock setting was unique and exhilarating. Both were superb guitarists and gifted songwriters. For a couple of years they were constantly on the road, playing Hampton Coliseum and Norfolk Scope just three months apart in 1973.

It all came to a halt, though, with an acrimonious split in 1976. In an interview four years ago, Loggins explained the situation:

“In our original relationship, I came in and auditioned for Jimmy… [He] was the producer, I was the artist. I’d never made a record. I’d never put a band together. I’d never found a manager or an agent. So Jimmy was the lead and in that way, he became my mentor.

“The inevitable thing when you grow through a mentor is you have to leave and go off on your own. Our relationship had become teacher-student, father-son, big brother-little brother and eventually it was not healthy for me. I had a lot to prove to myself and, subconsciously I think, I had a lot to prove to Jimmy too.”

After L&M broke up, Loggins achieved success on his own with a solo run that included Top Ten hits “Whenever I Call You Friend,” “I’m Alright,” and the number one “Footloose.” Messina branched out in different directions, coming to the Boathouse with a reconstituted Poco in 1990 and doing a solo gig at Town Point Park in 1993. But the once-best friends had little contact with each other.

The situation changed when the twosome sang together at a benefit concert in October, 2004.

“As soon as we hit the harmonies,” Loggins said, “it hit me like The Everly Brothers hit me the first time they got back together. There was something that in thirty years I had not been able to duplicate with anyone else.”

That experience led to the 2005 reunion tour that missed our area. But this year, they’ll spend an evening with us, the first time Loggins & Messina have come to town together in 36 years. As the 61-year olds reprise their distinctive harmonic blend, their mix of quiet beauty and extended hard-rocking jazz-inflected jams, the optimism of the early ‘70s and their refound sense of brotherhood, the time gone by will melt away and the Portsmouth waterfront will sparkle in the night to a setlist filled with magical musical memories.

copyright © 2009 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.