By Mike Greenblatt
Kenny Loggins has joined forces with Georgia Middleman (hit writer for Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney and Reba McEntire) and three-time Songwriter Of The Year Gary Burr as Blue Sky Riders. The group’s “Finally Home” album, available now on the Three Dream Records label, is self-produced, self-financed and self-released (www.blueskyridersband.com).
With three lead singers and shared compositional credits, the music sounds fresh, inspired and invigorating. These two Nashville cats have unleashed the country that’s always been hiding deep within Loggins, a side that hasn’t peeked out and said hello since Loggins & Messina. Burr and Loggins recently gave Goldmine the lowdown on this new adventure.
GM: Kenny, why this? Why now?
Kenny Loggins: This is something I felt I needed to do. I wanted to light a fire under my creativity and push in a different direction, have it be fresh, new and exciting. I met Gary four, five years ago while working on “How ’Bout Now.” We started writing for it, and, in the process, half-jokingly talked about forming a band. A few months later, I called him and told him I was serious but that we needed a third, a female third. Gary knew just who to call, and I think we got incredibly lucky that the voices blend as well as they do. She’s sung with Gary. Gary’s sung with me. I knew I blended with Gary. Gary knew he blended with Georgia. So that became the cornerstone of the sound of the band.
GM: Gary, do you concur with that assessment?
Gary Burr: Yes! It was a lovely perfect storm of writing and singing. Kenny came to Nashville in the first place, because after you’ve made so many records, you don’t want to keep repeating yourself. As for Georgia and I, we’ve always been the people behind the people, and it was kind of nice and cool to — here in the cocktail hours of our careers — step out front and sing our songs instead of sitting backstage watching somebody else sing our songs.
GM: The sequencing is perfect. After three morsels of modern radio-friendly country-pop, the album kicks into high gear with “Just Say Yes,” like a countrified Fleetwood Mac, and keeps the chunky guitar rock goin’ until track No. 7, the beautiful Beatlesque “Another Spring.”
GB: Wow, we should take you on the road with us!
KL: The sequencing is always mostly luck. We write everything together, and, as we were recording it, it just sort of laid out for us. “Just Say Yes” was the last thing we recorded, and it just fit right in that slot. It was Georgia’s idea. The songs are placed in a way where each song sets the next one up. As far as the songwriting is concerned, we didn’t want to be Crosby, Stills & Nash, each bringing in their own songs and teaching it to the other two. We wanted the three of us with guitars in our laps, staring at each other, writing songs together. And that’s just what we did.
GM: What’s up with the studio party going on at the end of “I Get It”?
KL: It was a “be on the record” auction for 50 winners back in Kansas City.
GM: I love the futuristic Southern Rock soul of those horns on “Say I Like It.”
GB: Kenny put that horn arranger through the paces, all right! Those are Kenny’s horns.
GM: The track “Feeling Brave” is part of a larger “Portraits Of Bravery” promotion.
GB: When Georgia came up with the idea for the song, she had it as a guy working up his courage to ask out a girl at a bar. But as we wrote it, it turned into something so much more, and we wanted to try to do some good with it. With Operation Soldier At Ease, we put together a campaign where people could send in pictures and acknowledgments of those in their lives who showed bravery. What is bravery? It’s not always just the soldier running into battle or the fireman climbing the stairs. It’s people battling disease, or helping other people battle things. And so it was just really important to us to do something with a little social consciousness.
GM: Kenny, you’ve been doing this so long, and I know there’s always a bit of anticipation, trepidation about how any project is going to be received. At this point in your career, do you still have that angst about how big this thing could possibly be? Or has that nervousness about its acceptance leveled off after recording a few hundred albums?
KL: Actually, about 150 albums in the last 100 years. Y’know, honestly, I don’t really have that kind of trepidation about how it’s going to be received, because I feel very confident about the music. Believe me, I have had albums where I haven’t felt confident at all. This isn’t one of them. Mostly, though, I just want it to be heard. Finding a way to get people to be aware that it even exists, and be curious enough to want to tap into it, is my concern.
GM: And Gary, what are you going through just prior to this release?
GB: I’m worried we’re going to throw a party and nobody’s going to come. We had a pleasant surprise: We went and did a headlining tour in October. In advertising the tour as Blue Sky Riders, a new band, we were definitely afraid we were going to walk out there and see 11 people all thinking they were going to a Riders In The Sky concert. But every show was just about sold out and enthusiastic. It really felt very promising. We’ve done enough shows now in the two years we’ve been together where even if we just walk into a room with our three guitars, I know we’ll kill. So I’m not worried about that aspect. All listeners have to do is hear it, give it a chance, and we’ll have fans for life. I’m totally confident about that. And even though Georgia and I were never frontpersons, per se, we are a band with three frontmen, so to speak, and we all take turns with the songs, and we pull it off.
KL: I have to say that in all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve very rarely played new music for an audience that’s been this well-received upon first listening. Standing ovations and encores from audiences who haven’t heard 98 percent of the music is amazing.
GB: We could play a whole night and they don’t know one song, and they’re more enthusiastic at the end than at the beginning. It’s incredible.
KL: We had one show where everyone in the audience — I’m talking about 500 people — stayed to buy an album. We had a line all the way to the back of the theater.
GB: Yeah, we were there for two hours after the show saying hello to everybody. Hey, we’re well aware we’re a startup band, and we have to build an audience one handshake at a time.
GM: Yeah, but your reputation precedes you. There’s a history at work here, as well. It’s not like you’re three jamokes off the street corner hoping for a break.
KL: The history doesn’t guarantee this kind of response. I’ve come up with two or three solo records that were largely ignored. It’s just the right music at the right time.
GM: Where do you see Blue Sky Riders fitting into modern country music? There’s precious little country music on country radio these days. I, for instance, love country music, but can’t stand country radio. There’s something wrong with that equation.
GB: We’re treating it like country radio would be a great ballfield to play on, but if we don’t get to play on it, it’s still going to be a hell of a good game. I mean, sure, it would be nice to be embraced by them, especially after the years and years that Georgia and I have given Nashville, trying to do our best to put out quality work in an effort to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I’m just a little afraid that the problem [of country radio] is a little bit bigger than the solution these days. But I think we could sound smart on the radio …melodic, the kind of stuff radio could use a little more of. But it’s like selling a striped shirt when paisley is in. You can talk about it all you want but people are still just going to buy paisley.
KL: Brad Paisley? Listen, we haven’t aimed this music at any particular market. This is us writing from our own individual sensibilities and how those sensibilities — those aesthetics — combine as one. Where the music goes and how it gets there — once it’s been created — is beyond us. I felt early on we had to make the music we hear the way we hear it and not try to fit into any format. In a perfect world, the genre comes to you. If you’re true to the music that you hear inside yourself, something new could happen. I see us as a melding of our three histories. Georgia brings her Texas roots. Gary brings that Beatlesque flair via Connecticut, combined with all his country music expertise writing for Conway Twitty, Wynonna and so many others. I’ve never really been a country artist. Loggins & Messina was as close to country as pop ever got from a Poco and Buffalo Springfield root. I haven’t even bothered to think that I could be embraced by country radio. I’m not trying to do that. It would be great, but I don’t hear a lot of stuff like us, so something would have to give, or there’d have to be a curiosity about who we are or what we’re doing to push it forward.
GB: Everything about this is self-designed and self-imagined. There’s no corporate honcho telling us what to do. So when you talk about the mechanics of how the industry works, it costs a lot of money to get a song on the radio. We’re not even sure that radio is the best place to spend the money anymore to reach our demographic. It might be better to concentrate on the Internet. If radio happens, it’ll be a really nice surprise.
GM: Isn’t it usually the case, though, that you make the music and other people decide on a lot of that other stuff?
GB: Absolutely. At some point, it’s out of our hands.
KL: It’s a crazy business. If you’re making widgets, you know there’s an “audience” that’s going to want what you make. In the music business, it’s like you’re running for office.