Singer/songwriters Kenny Loggins, Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman recently formed the new band Blue Sky Riders, and were profiled by Huff/Post50 in February. They are finishing their first album and will be chronicling their experiences as a band in this blog.
So I'm in Alabama, backstage at a show getting ready to perform with my boyfriend at the time, Gary Burr, when Gary checks his email and says, "Georgia, get this: Kenny Loggins just wrote me about that band idea. Instead of a duo, he wants to form a trio by adding a girl to the mix ... one who's not only a great singer but can write as well. Isn't that interesting?"
Interesting, it was. Kenny Loggins, the guy who wrote "Danny's Song" and whose music I grew up listening to ... holy crap. I didn't want to get too excited at the prospect of that girl being me, but how could I not have gone there? And by the twinkle in Gary's eye, I knew that he was thinking the same thing.
The duo had been such a great idea. Here's why: Gary had introduced me to Kenny backstage at a Loggins & Messina concert in Nashville a year before, and that night when Gary said something hilarious and unexpected (as he's known to do), Kenny was right there with him, matching him joke for joke. I knew I was witnessing two guys who GOT each other. Plus, the thought of hearing those two voices singing together ... pure gorgeousness. Kenny and Gary are also masterful storytellers in the songwriting arena and, to me, a man's intelligence is the sexiest thing there is. Yeah, independently, these two guys had all of that. But together? Fuggetaboudit. That duo would have had the ladies lining up ... so, hell yes, of course they needed a girl.
And now back to the story: Kenny flew to Nashville to test the waters and that day, the three of us wrote our first song called "I Get It." (It was the first of many, as the three of us actually wrote most of the songs on our record together -- a rare feat for most bands.) As we worked, it became clear right away that our voices blended exceptionally well. Riding high on the energy from the day, we all met at a restaurant in downtown Nashville and toasted to our new band, Blue Sky Riders.
By the way, I'm 44 years old. I'm originally from San Antonio, Tex., the third of four girls. I've been making music since I was 10 years old, writing and singing in honky-tonks throughout my teenage years. After graduating with a drama degree from New York University, I promptly packed my bags and headed to Nashville to try to make it as a songwriter. I waited tables, did temp jobs, and wrote songs any chance I got while trying to pay the bills.
After slugging away for years, I caught my first break at age 29 when I got signed as a staff songwriter for Polygram Music. Keeping my job depended on getting songs recorded, and since I didn't feel like artists were recording them fast enough, I decided to try to be a recording artist myself. Songwriting was my first love, but singing was a close second and the thought of having it all sounded pretty dang good to me. I'd be lying if I said I didn't go to Nashville secretly hoping I could clinch one of those ... I just didn't know how! Call it fate and/or a lot of hard work, but one year later, I signed a record deal with Giant Records.
It seemed like everything was lining up just as I had dreamed. I made my record, and four years went by while I waited to be released. Then, one week before my project was to come out, Giant was sold, and just like that, my dream of being a major label recording artist was kaput.
I tried to get another record deal but to no avail.
So what do you do when your dreams don't work out? You redefine those dreams. You reframe them. Make new ones.
I grew up always waiting for the "next big thing" to come along and take me to the next level so that maybe THEN I'd be happy. But one day, it finally hit me: The way to be happy is you DECIDE to be. So I decided to be.
I've never been rich and famous. But I try to follow my heart, and while most of my life it's been difficult financially and emotionally, there was never any other choice for me. After my record deal went belly-up, I gave up on the artist life and focused solely on my songwriting. Soon the publishing business started letting songwriters go due to the economy and I couldn't get another publishing deal. I kept writing because that's what I do and soon I was getting calls from publishers saying, "Georgia, we're not looking for writers, but will you write with this new young girl who just got to town? She could really be something."
While I was happy to have the opportunities, it also really hit home that I was no longer viewed as a viable artist in my own right. My new job in the industry was to work behind the scenes to help the next, younger generation. I love mentoring younger talents ... I feel I can offer wisdom and experience because of my age, but that doesn't mean that creative-artist part of me just up and dies. It was a tough thing to realize I was now officially "too old" for the system.
But the truth of the matter was that that creative artist in me WAS still there; it would just have to be nurtured on a smaller, independent, more personal level. As a result, I did shows wherever I could and continued to write behind the scenes for the industry. It was scary not knowing where the next paycheck was going to come from, but if independent was how it had to be, then independent was how it was GONNA be.
No one was going to give me a weekly paycheck, so it was up to me to figure out how to use my talents to create one. Ironically, just as I was running out of money and was sadly contemplating a career change, Keith Urban recorded and released one of my songs and I had my first big radio hit. I've come to realize that there's great freedom in going the entrepreneurial way ... the risks are enormously high, but I am no longer at the mercy of a potential merger that's going to lay me off at any given moment. I finally have some control over my own destiny. And that feels wonderful.
I thought I was content being behind the scenes. I figured if I was lucky enough, that's how I would spend the rest of my musical life: writing songs for others. But then I met Gary. And Gary introduced me to Kenny.
And now I am an artist again performing in front of thousands of people and about to release an amazing new record. Every night on stage, I look to my left and see Gary, the man I love and admire, who selflessly brought me into this project. I look to my right and see Kenny, one of my musical heroes and now the man who is giving me a second chance at an artist life.
And I feel so grateful. Some people say the best years are in the past. I would strongly beg to differ.
Which leads me to my next point: Maybe you can have it all.
Follow Georgia Middleman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@gmiddleman