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.
Willy Wonka: But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Charlie: What happened?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.
I was raised in a semi-Catholic home, so when things start to go too right, I've tended to look for the other shoe to fall. For some reason, when it comes to Blue Sky Riders, I haven't even considered that possibility.
I've been making music for a living for 40 years now, so I know what it feels like when I'm swimming upstream, and "this ain't then." These days I'm watching the bumps in the road melt before we even get close to them. I guess that's how you know if you're in the flow: Heaven paves the road.
It's Saturday night in Kansas City, MO. Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman and I are about to play our first headlining gig ever as Blue Sky Riders. It's a benefit concert at the 1,200 seat Folly Theatre, downtown. There are 120 people in the audience. Let me run that by you again, in case you missed it. Yes, 120 butts in seats! Out of 1,200!
Standing together backstage just before we go on, Gary whispers to me, "Kenny, I should tell you this before you go out there... there's... well... not a whole lot of folks tonight. I don't want you to be too disappointed."
"You sure they're not all hanging out in the lobby?" I reply, as I peek tentatively around the curtain. Sure enough, the place is damned near empty. Hmmm...
Now consider this: Just the night before, I'd played an outdoor show for 10,000 smiling, dancing, singing footloose Kansas Citians, all acting like my closest friends. So will only 120 folks potentially be a culture-shock come-down for me? You betcha.
At this moment, as I am appreciating Gary's warning, I am eerily reminded of Quincy Jones' now famous sign over the entrance to A&M studios back in 1985, "Check your ego at the door!"
"Hmmm..." I think to myself, "I'd better get that engraved on my luggage tags right away."
As I walk out onto the stage tonight I feel as if I'm in a dream, adrift on a first-show-jitters sea of adrenaline coursing through my body, sinking down through time, landing on wobbly wet feet in Pasadena, 1965.
I am 17. My band, The Second Helping, is about to open for The Association at the Civic Auditorium. Two hours before we go on, the stage manager finally tells us the terrifying truth: "For some reason The Association's manager booked two shows for them today, so they have to go on first here and then head on to Hollywood in time to close their other gig tonight. You guys will have to close the show here." Us? Closing? You mean headlining? Holy crap.
A decision needs to be made, so I make it. I decide to do something constructive while I wait. I spend the next two hours vomiting. (Somewhere, in some hidden box in my storage locker, I still have the photo of us right after that show: my long hair matted to my head, my shirt stuck to my body with sweat, my skin as pale as a blank page, but with a shit-eating grin on my face as if I'd just crested Mt. Kilimanjaro.)
I don't recall much about that actual show really, but I am still proud of my pre-show stress management technique. But truth be told, for me there's never been a feeling like the rush of that first "headlining show."
It was everything I'd ever wanted.
Flash forward: I'm on stage at Uncle Alfie's Lighthouse Carnival in Montreal. It's 1968 and I'm in the psychedelic rock band, The Electric Prunes. Actually, I'm a second-generation Prune. I was hired to stand-in for the original members who just up-'n-quit a few weeks prior, but nobody taught us any of the original Prunes' material, so we're dazzlin' the audience with our own BS, or so we think. I'm supposed to play "Danny's Song" and "House at Pooh Corner" to a bunch of 60s acid heads waiting impatiently for "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night?" Really?! Suffice it to say it's not going all that well. After our set, after the spotlights aren't blinding me, as we're leaving the stage, I look up to realize most of the audience has left while we were playing! And suddenly, like in a David and Goliath story where David loses, I am made aware for the first time of my mortality; "bombing" will be a terrifying possibility from that day on. Did I want or need that too?
It's 1971. Loggins and Messina takes the stage at the Troubadour in Hollywood for the first time. That is to say, I take the stage! Jimmy's mama didn't raise no fool. He convinced me that the best way to start the show was to send the kid out alone: "Go on out there and wow 'em with 'Danny's Song' and 'House at Pooh Corner.' I'll be right behind you." So I march out to the lions, humming "Onward Christian Soldiers" to myself, blissfully unaware of the bare fangs glimmering just inches away in the darkness.
(I mean really...our first gig ever is as an opening act for Curtis Mayfield! Here we are, an unknown, very white, way too young, country-rock act opening for an R&B icon! Oh yeah...that makes sense. But somehow, magically, this time those tried and sometimes-true chestnuts work.)
Inexplicably, they love us! And I remember how that felt, that energy encircling L&M back then. How every wall that presented itself evaporated in the light of our indefatigable naïve optimism. It was all as if I were dreaming it.
And now, as Gary, Georgia and I step into the big spotlight in Kansas City, I'm feeling the rush of adrenaline, the fluttery stomach, even the hyper-emotional feelings surrounding those past experiences and the coming unknown ones; the completion of a circle and the beginning of yet another. But instead of wishing I could calm it all down, this time I can appreciate the rush. "Fear is just excitement without the breath," so I take a big breath and head for my mic. This is what I signed up for really, and this time I want to dig all of what this experience has to offer. Bring it on.
So if you ask me what perspective I might have this time that I never had before, I'd say this: I finally understand what I wished for as a young man in Pasadena, as a rock star in the '80s and again as a grown man starting over again in 2012... It's the whole enchilada: nerves, tears and all. This is exactly what success feels like. It's what living "happily ever after" is all about. I'm getting everything I ever wanted.
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