Bringing it all back

Jim Messina performs at Tupelo Music Hall

There’s not enough time in a Jim Messina concert for all the music he’s been part of, so selections from his early 60s surf band won’t be included when he plays Tupelo Music Hall on August 2. His show does include cuts from seminal folk rock band Buffalo Springfield, along with Poco, which doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves for helping create what’s now known as Americana. Messina also dips into his eponymous 1981 solo album, another overlooked gem.

Of course, fans can count on hearing “Angry Eyes,” “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” “My Music” and other hits from his time  with Kenny Loggins. Interestingly, the decade defining duo came together more out of professional necessity than musical kindredness, Messina explained in a recent phone interview.

Though it’s not obvious from the many Top 10 hits he’s played on, Messina began as a sound man who happened to play guitar and sing. In 1965, still in high school, he took a job at Ibis Records in Los Angeles. A few years later, an imploding Buffalo Springfield asked him to produce their final album. In a trend to be repeated with Loggins & Messina, he joined the group, replacing bassist Bruce Palmer when he was deported for drug possession.

Following the release of Last Time Around, he and Springfield  singer/guitarist Richie Furay formed Poco with pedal steel player Rusty Young, future Eagle Randy Meisner and drummer George Grantham. Messina lasted three albums, growing tired of hearing radio stations say either the band was too rock for country or too country for rock.

“Poco could sell out a show no matter where they went,” he said, but airplay and sales didn’t follow. “Those two areas are like part of a line going through New Mexico and Arizona to California… to make that journey, you have to cross through different environments.” The record company loved Poco, but couldn’t close the deal where it counted, on the air.

So Messina headed back to the studio, signing to do artist development and produce at Columbia Records. He turned down Dan Fogelberg as a client because he was too interested in recreating Poco’s sound. He chose instead the raw but clearly talented Loggins, who’d shown up to his first session with Messina with some great songs – and no guitar.

Undeterred, Messina grabbed a catgut six-string from his closet and handed it to him with a “show me what you got.” He  heard “House at Pooh Corner,” “Danny’s Song” and “Vahevala” in reply and decided he wanted to work with Loggins, but wasn’t sure how the green performer would fare once an album was done.

“Kenny was not yet a boss; he didn’t know how to set up rehearsals or give direction,” he said, adding promotion, label relations and tour logistics to the list. Further, as producer, Messina’s success was intertwined with Loggins. “I thought, who is going to do this for Kenny, and really for me? To get a hit record, I gotta know this band’s going to be performing and working, and everybody’s got the confidence that they need.”

He poured himself into the project, offering songs like “Peace of Mind” and “Same Old Wine” to help un-folk Loggins’ sound; gradually, a solo effort became a duo album, though Messina insisted to label head Clive Davis it was temporary.

“In order to make Kenny and his band work, someone has to be there to help direct it, and at first Clive did not want me doing that,” Messina recalled; Davis had experience with one and done groups. “I explained to him this isn’t a band that is going to break up, this is me sitting in with Kenny… just like Leon Russell did with Delaney & Bonnie.”

The album’s title – Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In – made this intention clear, he stressed to Davis. “I said my object is to get him out on the road performing, and help promote this album in a way so he can get consistent… and then I’m out of there.”

Happily, that’s not what happened.

Five more studio albums followed, and a pair of live discs, before the two parted in 1976. Reunion tours in the 2000s and a one-off benefit last year help keep the fire alive; Messina hints more shows could happen. Loggins’ health is an issue; a sore neck makes touring difficult. “When Kenny and I play together, it’s there… it all depends on Kenny,” Messina said, adding a pun and a laugh, “When the stars line up, all planets are somewhere away from Uranus; we’re okay.”

When: Friday, August 2, 8 p.m.

Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A Street, Derry

More: $45-$50 at tupelohall.com

This story appears in the 1 August 2019 edition of Hippo Press

One thought on “Bringing it all back

  1. Nice story. I have always wondered about what the two were about … And now I know (albeit without Loggins sittin’ in, of course).

    Bill Kruissink

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