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Published: Sunday, 2/13/2005

Still a top gun

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"If Daddy stops singing, he'll die."

Kenny Loggins had been planning to quit the music business four years ago until he heard his 7-year-old son, Luke, speak those words to Loggins' wife, Julia.

"That was my first major wake-up call," said Loggins, who will be in concert Saturday night with the Toledo Symphony.

"When he said that, it went right into my body. That was the beginning of me getting back at it," he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "I was thinking of retiring, but I realized the problem wasn't making music, the problem was why I make music, how I make music.

"I had to reassess my motivations, which happens in a man's life from time to time. Otherwise you fall asleep and you start sleepwalking."

In his 30-plus years as a recording artist, Loggins had charted 12 Platinum Records, with sales of more than a million copies each, and 14 Gold records, with sales of more than 500,000 copies each.

His long list of hit songs included "I'm Alright," "Danger Zone," "House at Pooh Corner," "Forever," "Footloose," "Your Mama Don't Dance," and "Heart to Heart."

But by the end of the 1990s, Loggins, now 57, was feeling out of step with the prevailing industry trends.

"Radio had moved well beyond anything I was doing," Loggins said. "It was all about alternative rock, hip-hop, and rap. I hit a level of depression because I'd been forcibly retired when I had no intention of retiring."

Yet his son's teary-eyed comment snapped him out of his depression and inspired a creative surge that led to the album, "It's About Time."

When he released it on his own independent label in August, 2003, it was the first album of new material from Loggins in over six years.

"It's been going well, and as an indie release it went really well," Loggins said. "But I spent way too much money making it and I did not have a war chest big enough to promote it."

After being on Columbia Records for 30 years, he said, he did not realize how much money it takes to generate publicity for an album and to get the songs on radio, even though his friend, former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, had warned him.

If he self-releases another disc, he said, he first will seek a 50-50 partnership with a major retailer, mentioning Wal-Mart or Starbucks as examples, to help foot the bill.

"You have to have enough money to get it on the radio, and radio is a closed syndicate. I can understand why record companies are so tight-fisted with every act they promote. They're going to spend $1 million to promote them, and they spend half a million to sign them. They have to have really deep pockets to promote an artist."

A native of Everett, Wash., Loggins moved to Southern California with his family during childhood. As a teenager, he landed a job as a songwriter for Wingate Music, a division of ABC Records, earning $100 a week.

When his song, "House at Pooh Corner," became a hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a talent scout for CBS Records decided to give Loggins a try as a solo artist.

CBS executives matched Loggins with one of their hot young producers, Jim Messina, a guitarist and songwriter who had been a member of the groundbreaking country-rock bands Buffalo Springfield and Poco.

"When Jimmy and I met, he was in the role of producer and I was in the role of young artist. I was 20 years old. We started working on my tunes, and then, when we would hang out and have dinner and were showing each other stuff, he would start showing me tunes he didn't get to perform for Poco.

"I couldn't understand why Poco didn't let him do those tunes, they were amazing. I grabbed 'Peace of Mind,' I wanted that for my record, and he showed me other tunes."

Eventually, Loggins said, they devised a plan: They would both perform on Loggins' solo debut and use it to launch separate solo careers.

But when they brought their idea to Columbia's president, Clive Davis, he balked.

"He said, 'I'm not going to release an album by a duo that's going to break up,' " Loggins said. "He wanted a six-year commitment, and that's what we did."

The first album, "Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In," spent 113 weeks on the Billboard album chart and produced the hit singles "Vahevala," "Danny's Song," and "Nobody But You."

They continued to release hit songs and albums, including "Loggins & Messina," "On Stage," "Mother Lode," "So Fine," and "Native Sons," but split up in 1976 when they'd fulfilled their commitment to Davis.

Loggins and Messina have remained friends, he said.

"We're on better terms now than ever," Loggins said. "He lives about 30 miles up the street from me. We've started going to shows together. I've gone over to his house for barbecues. It's great to reconnect with old friends."

Loggins and Messina perform together occasionally for benefit concerts, including three shows last fall in California.

As a solo artist, Loggins' 1977 debut, "Celebrate Me Home," produced by studio legend Phil Ramone, spent 33 weeks on the charts, although it did not get off to good start.

"That album did not get one good review," Loggins said. "Nowadays, it's probably considered my most classic record, but at the time it was badly received. People wanted more Loggins & Messina. What I've discovered with an audience is that change comes hard.

"It took quite a while for 'Celebrate Me Home' to kick in and be embraced by audiences. The same thing happened with 'Leap of Faith' [in 1991]. That album took four years to sell a million copies."

Ironically, Loggins said, he was dropped by Columbia Records for recording the 1994 children's album, "Return to Pooh Corner" "against the wishes" of the label's then-president, Donnie Ienner.

Ienner's successor, Will Botwin, recently asked Loggins to return to the label and record another children's album.

"I was dropped for doing a children's album, and now I'm asked back specifically to record a children's album," Loggins said wryly. "Most record labels are run by accountants."

After "Celebrate Me Home," Loggins' next solo album, 1978's "Nightwatch," reached No. 7 on the album charts and yielded the hit singles "Whenever I Call You Friend," a duet performed with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, and "What a Fool Believes," written and performed with his pal McDonald of Doobie Brothers fame.

Loggins also experienced success writing and performing songs for Hollywood films, including "I'm Alright," the bouncy closing number from Caddyshack that gets the mechanical gopher dancing, "Danger Zone" from the 1986 Tom Cruise film Top Gun, and the title song for Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon, in 1984.

While he is confident he can still create music to fit the emotions of a movie, Loggins said, "you have to remember that my soundtracks happened in the '80s, and music was very different back then. That was a breakthrough time for movies and rock and roll - a honeymoon time. Since then, most action movies use metal or rap they have to use the youngest, hippest, edgiest stuff."

In 1998, Loggins and his wife, Julia, co-wrote the book, The Unimaginable Life: Lessons Learned on the Ways to Love."

Some reviewers called Loggins "courageous" for revealing so much about himself and his marriage.

"Yes, I think it took courage to write it," he said. "And it was also one of the happiest times of my life. That book just poured out of me, and I think there's a lot of truth in the book overall. But it's basically two fallible people's story, and it's just a love story written by two people who were in love. It doesn't mean there's a guarantee that their relationship is going to last. We're all human, we do the best we can, and everything changes, as the Buddhists say."

Most recently, Loggins appeared as a guest judge on the smash TV show American Idol, joining regular judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson in evaluating amateur contestants in Las Vegas.

"That was a love-hate thing," Loggins said. "Some moments, it was kind of fun. But mostly it's not the kind of thing I would want to make a living out of. The worst thing is to sit in judgment of people's talent, as if I had any say on anything. If you listen to the radio, you'd have to admit that 50 percent of what you hear sucks. If I had told those people to quit, they never would have stuck around and had their hits."

Loggins said the "prejudges" who screen the talent on American Idol seem bent on finding singers who sound like Luther Vandross or Whitney Houston.

"This show is so stuck in time, they never pick anybody who sounds like anything that has happened in the last 20 years," Loggins said. "I suggested they bring in some younger prejudges who are more open to new music."

He also said a lot of the judges' heartfelt advice to the contestants never makes it on the airwaves, making room for Cowell's snide remarks.

"Simon feels he's on a holy quest to take all the people who are deluding themselves into thinking they're going to be an overnight success and telling them to quit and get a life. If you look on the high side, he thinks he's doing them a favor. But he revels in cutting people apart. That's his act. That's what sells the show. He knows what he's doing."

Kenny Loggins will be featured in the Toledo Symphony's KeyBank Pops Series concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Stranahan Theater, with Chelsea Tipton II conducting. A limited number of tickets, priced from $20 to $45, are available from the symphony, 419-246-8000.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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