Call him what you will — king of the soundtrack, captain of yacht rock, or just plain Kenny — but don’t ever count Kenny Loggins out. At this point in his long and mega-successful career, it would be entirely understandable for Loggins, who has made Santa Barbara his home for several decades, to relax, tour with Jim Messina occasionally, and let the royalties from his songwriting portfolio roll in, but he’s not about to stop. In fact, as of Tuesday, January 29, when Finally Home was officially released, he became a member of what could be country music’s next big thing: Blue Sky Riders. The group, which pairs Loggins with ace Nashville singers/songwriters (and husband and wife) Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman in a powerful vocal trio format, has a sound that’s already been compared to Lady Antebellum and Kenny Chesney. They’re also coming off two extremely well-received performances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and at the Sundance Film Festival’s prestigious ASCAP Music Café.
The album, which took a couple of years to come together, combines the lush production, soaring guitars, and pounding drums of contemporary pop with country’s graceful, heartwarming harmonies. There are 15 original songs, all of them the product of an unusually cohesive group writing process. Burr and Middleman are both successful Nashville songwriters, and the craft and passion displayed here communicate both the collective years of professional experience involved and a sense of fun that gives the project the kind of immediacy that just might propel this music up the charts. I spoke with Loggins and Middleman recently by phone, and they shared some of the excitement they are feeling as this music hits the masses. Although Blue Sky Riders are on tour, Santa Barbara is not at the moment a part of their plans. However, since they are booked for the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio on April 28, maybe that’s a good excuse to head out there this spring.
Why did you decide to start a group now?
Kenny Loggins: I hit a place where I couldn’t see another Kenny Loggins record. I just didn’t have the juice. The first thing that came into my head was “Call Gary.” He’d written a few of the songs on How About Now [a well-received 2008 Loggins solo project], and I get a boost out of working with him. But then I also thought, if we were going to do it right, we’d need a third voice. Fortunately, Gary had someone in mind.
Georgia Middleman: That would be me. I knew Gary was talking to Kenny about forming a group, and I actually sat there listening to him as he kind of volunteered me.
What was the collaboration process like? How did you write together?
KL: It was interesting at first because we are all pro songwriters, and we were living in different cities, so we were used to doing things very fast, writing songs together on the fly in just a few hours. For the Blue Sky Riders, we had to make a deliberate decision to slow down the process and treat ourselves like artists again. Of course that’s a great luxury, but then again, at the back of it, we still all had that experience of being professional songwriters, so there was a real system to it, as well. We were able to come up to speed pretty quickly.
Was there any discussion about who was the front-person?
GM: People tend to put Kenny in the middle, but then he puts us in the middle. It’s really democratic that way — nobody takes more leads.
What were your first gigs like?
KL: We played the Rutledge in Nashville, and that went really well. I got a chance to see how great Georgia can be in front of an audience since I’d never seen her that way. I also found out that Gary is a comedian with the microphone. He’s just naturally funny, and we both try to hang in and volley with him. The onstage chemistry was great. Then we went to New York City, and we booked a week at the Feinstein Room of the Regency Hotel — this kind of elegant nightclub that usually handles cabaret singers. There are only about 50 seats, and the first night in walks Stephen Holden, the critic from the New York Times, and we thought, here we go. But he gave us a great review, and the joint was packed for the rest of the week.
Is Blue Sky Riders a pop group or a country group?
GM: As a writer, I have a lot of influences, and country is only one piece of it. What’s great about this project is that it allows us all to be more of who we really are as artists.
KL: The most important thing with this music is to let it be defined only by itself. The genre we’re operating in is the “create your own” genre.