Singer/songwriters Kenny Loggins, Georgia Middleman and Gary Burr have created the new band Blue Sky Riders, and were profiled by Huff/Post50 in February. The band will release their debut album, "Finally Home," on January 29, 2013 and will be chronicling their experiences as a band in this blog.
"People ask me, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is of no use.' ... If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of the mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy." George Mallory 1922
It happened again.
I've allowed myself this feeling only a few times in my life. It's a moment when suddenly, unexpectedly there is nothing to plan or do, and nothing to fear. All of life is distilled into here and now. I am no longer concerned about tomorrow. Everything I need is all around me.
And it's bigger even than Trust. It just IS. Pure freedom. Essence of joy. I am lighthearted, child-like, carefree. Everything is so simple. In this state of mind, I finally allow myself a well-earned day off. All the way off.
I felt it the night I fell in love for the first time. It also was a kind of grace I was washed in all day after my fourth child was born, holding him in my arms in our bed all that summer afternoon. Once, after I'd held my sick daughter all night, knowing that her fever had broken, there it was. I even experienced it for no good reason one Easter morning.
There's a kind-of, matter-of-fact "of course-ness" to it. Each time I've been in it, I'm positive it's my natural state of being and will, of course, be who I am from then on. And I'm always surprised and disappointed when it fades away, like mist in the moonlight, as elusive as love. Ephemeral, yet more real than the night, more real than pain.
But now that I know it, it has become my personal grail. Through time and experience, I suspect I may now know how to call it in more often. Or maybe it simply finds me.
It's the kind of freedom I imagine would come and get a climber after cresting Mt. Everest, or right after something that feels like climbing Everest.
Feb 1, 1980, London, Heathrow Airport.
"I've what?" I yelled into the phone over the din of people and planes.
"You've been asked to perform on the Grammys!" shouted Larry, my manager in LA. "I suggest you cut your trip short and come home early to rehearse. They want you to sing 'I'm Alright' on air. Live TV ... a few million viewers, you know. Paul Simon is hosting."
"Well, what band is Paul using?"
"His own," said Larry.
"Can I use them? They're the best players in New York. They'll learn it easily, and all I'll have to do is just step in and sing it."
"If that's what you want, I'll ask. But it's risky."
"Hell Larry, this is the first real trip Eva and I have had since we got married. We need this time together. And really, how hard can 'I'm Alright' be? No sweat."
My beautiful wife and I had had this vacation planned for more than a year, and I was determined to take it no matter what. So off we traipsed to Paris, young and in love, and I admit, for three weeks I didn't really give the Grammys another thought. Not until I arrived back in New York for rehearsal the day before the awards show. Then the thinking really began.
As I walked into the rehearsal hall somewhere south of Houston Street, I could hear Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Steve Conn, and some of the best jazz musicians in NY running over my song ... and I do mean running over, as in "by a car." I have the utmost respect for these guys, believe me, but the brainless simplicity of "I'm Alright" was like a foreign language to them. It's certainly not the kind of stuff brilliant music school grads are inclined to learn ... ever. Steve Gadd, one of the great drummers of all time, seemed to be even putting a bit of a jazz swing on it, as if he was playing Sinatra's version of "New York, New York."
I checked their faces to see if they were testing my sense of humor, but nope. This was just the way it went as far as they knew. Poor Eric was dumbfounded by that ultra-white guitar part on my record, and he just simply couldn't retain the damn thing. I had to sing his part to him each time we ran it down. Over the course of the only hour they had allotted to learning my song, the performance improved only slightly, and I'd swear I heard someone yell, "dead man walking," as I left the building.
That night I sat up in my hotel bed in a cold sweat till 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, trying desperately to come up with a plan. What could possibly be done to save the performance? This was going to be embarrassing, big time. Could I fly in my own band from LA? Too late. Pull out of the show? Not without disastrous consequences. It was my own darned fault for being so glib, and now I was just going to have to face the music, however strangely played, and deal with whatever the next day would bring. And as I finally melted into my sheets, defeated by fate, a calm settled over me and I fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next day, on my way to the Grammy's red carpet, I stopped at a liquor store and bought a pint of Jose, sneaking it into the festivities under my jacket. (I should mention again that it was 1980.)
That year the Grammys were broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall, so the NARAS production folks had decided that a really cool way to start the first musical number would be for me and the band to rise up from below stage level on the hydraulic stage normally reserved for the Rockettes. That left me and Paul Simon's guys under ground and out of sight for the first 15 minutes of the show, awaiting our cue. Plenty of time to pass the bottle around more than a few times. After all, "I'm Alright" is a sort-of Louisiana style groove, so I figured a little lubrication could only help, right? But by the time our stage started lifting up, I am perhaps just a bit too lubricated. So much so, I'm thinking I can feel the weight of gravity pushing me down to the floor as we start to rise up into the sound of 5,933 people applauding. And there I am, drunk as a skunk, just out of sight of the audience, running from player to player singing their parts at them, each man joining in on his instrument one at a time, as if I'm helping them cram for finals. First drums, then bass, then Eric Gale on guitar. "DUM DUM DA DUM," I sing at him at the top of my lungs. "THANKS MAN," he yells back to me. At long last we reach stage-level, and I step to the mic, center stage, to sing the ironic first line, "I'm Alright. Nobody worry 'bout me."
But something's wrong! My Spidey senses are suddenly at full alert. Somehow I realize I'm not hearing my voice in the house like I should be. No echo! Instantly I check out the front row, all musicians, and there's Dionne Warwick 20 feet away, front and center, lifting her hands palms-up in the air beside her head in the international signal, "We got nothin' m'friend. Nada. Zip. Zero!"
First panic ... then my survival instincts kick in. Just because I came here from Paris doesn't mean I'm willing to do a Marcel Marceau version of "I'm Alright" in front of a zillion viewers! I decide to run out from behind the security of my mic and get the audience clapping along. After what seems like thirty minutes out on the limb, I run back to the mic. Damn! Still nothin'. Okay ... Then back on out to the edge of the audience for even more clapping along. In my memory, I seem to be standing naked on that stage for about a day and a half.
In those 2 1/2 minutes of jogging back and forth, I must have lost ten pounds of water-weight, because when the song was finally over and I'd made my way back to my seventh row seat, I noticed that my shirt was ringing wet and, lo and behold, I was completely sober! And completely drained, in a kind of euphoric trance combat survivors must experience after a terrific battle. I was so out-to-lunch, I didn't even hear them call out, "And the winner is ... Kenny Loggins."
The next day I experienced that sense of time standing still, where there was nowhere else to be but right there, right then, floating on a rubber raft, alone in a friend's swimming pool somewhere in Florida. It was a transcendent moment. I had climbed my personal Everest just the night before, and this was my spirit giving me the day off. Nowhere to go, nothing to do.
And it happened again a few weeks ago...
In State College, Pennsylvania, after the last Blue Sky Riders' show of our very first headlining run on the East Coast. Sixteen shows, almost all full houses and standing O's. And I've gotta say, this run was even more successful than I had dared to imagine less than four weeks prior. It was as if everyone out there was already on our side, rooting for us to be as good as they hoped we'd be.
Later that night, decompressing from the most intense touring schedule I've done in years, I recalled Gary's final handshake before heading back to Nashville with Georgia, his parting words coming back to me, "You dreamed this into existence, buddy. Thanks." And I am once again immersed in that sense of peace that only climbing another Everest can give.
"...Risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing...has nothing. He may avoid suffering, but he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live...Only a person who risks is free." William Arthur Ward
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