Songwriting with Kenny Loggins
In the early 90's I interviewed pop icon Kenny Loggins on his songwriting technique for the Northern California Songwriters (Now The West Coast Songwriters Association.) It was a great interview and had some terrific insight into his songwriting process and some great stories on how some of his classic hits came about like the Grammy winning song "What a Fool Believes". Unfortunately back then we didn't have digital versions of anything so I am unable to reprint the interview here as I only have the first page. However, I thought it would be fun to tell the story of how that came about and some of the behind the scenes of that interview.
A friend of mine introduced me to his music in 1981 and I instantly became a fan and began to follow his career and buy his albums. At this point I didn't even know that he had already had a huge career with Loggins and Messina but I remember that as I kid I was familiar with one of his songs. Danny's song. I remember I thought the song was clever and really liked the line in the chorus of "Even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with you Honey." This was even before I had any inkling that I would be writing songs some day.
After writing songs for about 12 years I decided it wanted to know how one of my idols approached songwriting and what enabled him to write great songs while most other mortals wrote good songs. So on a whim I decided I would interview him. After all I was part of a songwriting group so why not. I had no idea how to get a hold of him or if he would even be interested but as the saying goes sometimes ignorance is bliss. I looked up his management company on the record label and wrote a letter to them expressing my interest in interviewing Kenny for the Northern California Songwriters Association. I wrote that I had been a huge fan of his and he was my inspiration for wanting to be a songwriter and I knew he was going to be in town in concert and would it be possible to interview him bla bla bla. I probably said I would name my first born Loggins. I figured it was a long shot and didn't expect to hear back from anyone so I didn't get my hopes up. To my surprise a couple of weeks before he was scheduled to be in town I got a call from his assistant and she said Kenny had read my letter and would be happy to do the interview. I would get free tickets to the venue and meet him before the concert and I would have about an hour for the interview. I couldn't believe it. I was actually going to meet my Idol and get to talk about songs with him. This was like a young actor getting to meet Al Pacino and interviewing him about acting. It was a dream come true.
Suddenly a bit of panic set in. I had never done an interview in my life. How was that done, what was the protocol - what would I ask him? Would I be cool or would I act like a monkey trying to screw a football. I figured I would have some set questions that related to songwriting and a couple about specific songs and then just wing it from there. My friend was a huge Kenny fan as well and I agreed she could go with me as long as she played it cool. She promised she would and then told me she was so excited to "meet Jesus, I mean Kenny."
The day finally arrived and I went to pick up my friend and she looked stunning. I had never seen her look this good before but of course this was no way a reflection of how she wanted to look for me but for Kenny. Who knows what fantasy she had in her own head about what might happen that night upon meeting him. Maybe he would take one look at her and kick me out of the room, cancel the rest of his tour and whisk her away to his private island. After all she was a tall beautiful amazon and he was well... a Golden God. Hey as long as I got my interview I didn't care what happened. However, when she got in the car I thought to myself "Houston we have a problem." She had a camera with the longest telephoto lens I had ever seen in my life. Unless Kenny was planning on doing the interview from the moon I was pretty sure we weren't going to need a telephoto lens. Something also told me he wouldn't want to take a photo unless it was pre-planned.
We arrived at the venue and his assistant met us and escorted us back behind the stage to the Green Room. It was really cool walking back behind the scenes and seeing the stagehands doing the last minute preparations. I wasn't sure what to expect. Would he be down to earth or aloof or funny or a Golden God like in the movie Almost Famous. As we walked into the room I saw him sitting on the couch with his guitar and upon seeing me he sang a line from a Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon". Hmm do I remind him of a Raccoon? Then Kenny spotted my lady friend and the giant telephoto lens and he stopped singing and turned to his manager and said "I told you they'd bring a camera". I could sense the slight displeasure in his tone so I immediately said, " oh we don't have to take a photo - if you have one we can use for the interview that would be great." He seemed to be satisfied with that and then his manager engaged me in some talk and asked about the publication and would Kenny be on the front cover and a few other things. Once he sensed everything was cool he left the room and Kenny's assistant offered us some water and then also left the room. We took a seat across from him and he said something about my hair being dyed. It wasn't a question as it was more of an observation. Very perceptive I thought to myself. I had never dyed my hair before but I had recently tried one of those hair lighteners that were popular back then in the summer time just to see how it would look. I was also aware that Kenny had recently dyed his hair blond so if it was good enough for my idol it was good enough for me. At least in theory. It looked better on him. Me, not so much. Was he insinuating that I dyed my hair cause he had dyed his hair?Why did he make that remark? What the heck? Before my brain could derail me and sink me into an abyss trying to figure out what he meant with that random comment I was able to compose myself and utter a somewhat intelligent sentence. I thanked him for the opportunity to interview him and how much it meant to us fledging songwriters.
I turned on my tape recorder and started the interview by asking him about his youth and how he got into songwriting and I learned that two of his early songs that became popular were written when he was still a teenager. Danny's Song and House on Pooh Corner "popped out of him" as he put it, when he was a senior in high school. Danny's song was from a letter his brother had written to him professing his love for the woman he was going to marry. He said a lot of the lyrics were lines from the letter. House on Pooh Corner was based on the children's book of the same name, which featured the characters of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. I thought it was a cute song about those characters but Kenny explained that he had written it as an allegory for loss of innocence and nostalgia for childhood. Really? At sixteen years old you were astute enough to comprehend the loss of childhood innocence portrayed in a series of books about a cute bear? Either he was completely making that up or he truly was on a different plane then the rest of us mortals. Well as the interview progressed I realized, yes - he is definitely much more evolved, enlightened and talented than the average Pooh Bear. It was evident in the way he spoke, the thoughtfulness in his sentences and references to such things as his shadow and other spiritual inferences. During the interview his assistant came in a few times. She didn't really seem to be coming in for anything specific so I just figured he told her to check in and if the interview was a bust he would give her a code word and she would then end the interview under the guise of some problem or time constraint. But the interview was flowing nicely and Kenny was really into it and very forthcoming. I learned that the first time he ever co-wrote with Michael Mcdonald (Doobie Brothers) he was walking up to Michaels house and he heard Michael banging away on the piano and by the time he rang the doorbell, he already knew where the song would go next melodically. That song they wrote that day was the classic song "What a Fool Believes" which went on to win a Grammy for both of them. How cool is that! The first time you co-write with someone new you win a Grammy. Of course we are talking Kenny Loggins and Michael Mcdonald.
As the interview progressed I learned that he was now at a point where he would dream songs and the different parts to the songs such as the bass part and guitar parts etc. He would then just sing the parts into a tape recorder he kept by his bed. At the time of this interview he had just released Leap of Faith and he expressed his frustration with his record company because they initially didn't want to release it because it didn't have any songs on it like Footloose or Top Gun. It was a very personal album for him dealing with a lot of issues in his life at the time and personally I still think it's one of his best albums.
After the interview ended and I turned off the tape recorder we chatted a little bit and I mentioned that I had recently read that Amy Grant was a big fan of his and that she often tried to emulate his style of breathy vocals on some of her songs. He said he wasn't aware of that but that he liked her as well. I said "Hey you guys should do a song together some day. I think you would sound really good together". He agreed and said "that's fascinating." A few years later Amy sang with him on Return to Pooh Corner. I secretly feel like I had something to do with that collaboration for planting the seed.
When the interview ended he thanked me and then signed some photos for us. He mentioned he was recording one of his songs live because it was going to be the next single so if they didn't nail it - it wouldn't get released. That seemed to be the preoccupation of the night.
Later when we were sitting in the audience he got to that song and nailed it. It was a great performance. My friend finally got to use her telephoto lens! So thank you Kenny Loggins... for all the music you have provided to the world, for the interview, for the inspiration and for an awesome night all around.